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Coaches have commented they wouldn't be able to make certain evaluations on players until the pads come on. Now that pads have been on a while, are there players that have shown in a stronger light and maybe risen in the coaches' eyes more than they did in shells and shorts? -- Jeff Kilty
I cannot speak for any of the coaches, but I did see every training camp practice and there's no question standing out in Mankato is different than being a standout during the offseason program. I thought LBs Anthony Barr, Darnell Sankey and Eric Wilson, WRs Stacy Coley and Michael Floyd, OL Pat Elflein and Danny Isidora, and DBs Horace Richardson and Jack Tocho all either emerged or continued to look good once the team was in Mankato and had pads on most days.
Do you think the first-team offense's performance was due to a lack of familiarity with each other, or was Buffalo's defense just a little ahead of the offense at this stage of the preseason? -- Cullen Dillard
It's fair to give Buffalo's defense credit for making plays. We probably don't do that enough when we are analyzing/critiquing our own team's performance. I wouldn't cite lack of familiarity as an excuse or reason for the starters' inability to move the ball down the field. To me, the biggest issue was the negative plays – namely the two sacks and a holding penalty. Eliminating or even reducing those negative plays is going to give Bradford and the running backs a much better chance to keep the chains moving.
With the pickup of two starting tackles in the offseason, I was very optimistic that our front five would be improved enough to be proficient and keep Bradford upright. In the first series in Buffalo, our starting right tackle gave up a sack. Am I over reacting or is this a serious concern? -- Joe Tyler Freeport, NY
You're right that the first-team offensive line didn't have the kind of performance many hoped for given the struggles of last season and the aggressiveness with which the team addressed the position in the offseason. But it's too early to panic about the group. Let's keep in mind that Riley Reiff did not play, the group had only 13 snaps together before the second-team was inserted into the game and there is plenty of time between now and the start of the regular season to demonstrate improvement. Head coach Mike Zimmer expects a lot out of this group this year and their next chance to provide some hope is Friday night in Seattle. I expect they'll play much better.
With Riley Reiff's injury, how has Rashod Hill looked at left tackle? He did well against the Bears last year. Could he push for a starting job? -- Gregg Lestina**
The silver lining in the Reiff training camp injury was that Hill saw additional reps with the first-team offensive line and against the first-team defensive line. This provided him with valuable experience and it gave the coaching staff an opportunity to evaluate and develop Hill more than they otherwise would have. That benefit does not outweigh the value of having Reiff in the lineup, though, so the hope is that Reiff is back in action full-time very soon.
With Antone Exum becoming healthy again, do you think he could compete with Andrew Sendejo for the starting safety position opposite Harrison Smith? -- Brad Roberts
Vikings fans have been trying to push Sendejo out of that starting spot for three seasons now but he just keeps winning the job despite a seemingly countless number of worthy suitors who've competed with him. There is something to be said for continuity, knowledge of the defense and familiarity when it comes to Sendejo's place in this defense. He fits in well and I think he's the guy for 2017. With that being said, Exum still has a chance to have a role on this team. He's been training at nickel cornerback lately and he's a core special teams player; he was on the first-team punt, punt return and kickoff return units in Buffalo.
Depending on what happens throughout the preseason, do you think Jerick McKinnon would be a good fit for a kickoff returner? -- Ian Gorges Kaukauna, WI
Sure. To me, he has two important attributes for kickoff returners – speed and vision. There are other candidates, too, including Rodney Adams and Marcus Sherels.