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Preseason Opening Series No Sweat for Vikings 1st-Team Defense

Forgive the Vikings first-team defense if they barely worked up a sweat Saturday night.

They were only on the field for three plays after all, and the unit surrendered just eight total yards before forcing a punt. Then, they kicked back, relaxed and supported younger teammates the rest of the way.

In short, it was a quick yet impressive performance for a unit that prides itself on being among the league's best defenses.

"It felt good going against [another team]," said Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes. "Sometimes you love going against your [teammates] and competing with them and getting each other better, but it's also good to go out there and see the work you've been working on in the offseason.

"All that work you put in, you want to see it on the field. It was good to see that," Rhodes added.

The Vikings were the NFL's gold standard in 2017, leading the league in points allowed per game (15.8), yards allowed per game (275.9) and third-down defense (25.2 percent conversion rate by opponents).

The defense returned all but one starter for the preseason opener, but Pro Bowlers Linval Joseph and Anthony Barr did not play against the Broncos.

All-Pros such as Everson Griffen, Rhodes and Harrison Smith were in the lineup, although they didn't see much action.

The Broncos opened the game with a 5-yard completion by Broncos [and former Vikings] quarterback Case Keenum, but that yardage was negated by a false start before the next snap.

Denver then picked up three yards on the ground before Keenum's third-down attempt fell incomplete thanks to solid coverage by cornerback Trae Waynes.

It was time to head for the water cooler for the rest of the night for the defense, save for cornerback Mackensie Alexander and linebacker Ben Gedeon, who continued to see reps with the second-team defense.

The second unit also fared well, surrendering 53 yards of offense on 18 plays against Denver's first-and-second teamers. The unit did allow a 23-yard touchdown run for the only points allowed by the defense in the opening half.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the performance was a mixed bag once the starters cane out.

"We gave up a big run on third-and-3 in the second quarter," Zimmer said. "The third quarter and fourth quarters weren't very good … too many open receivers.

"We tackled the quarterback out of bounds, things like that," Zimmer added. "We have a lot of cleaning up to do."

There were some bright spots on the second-team defense as the unit forced a turnover and defensive end Tashawn Bower recorded a sack.

The quarterback takedown was on a stunt move during which defensive tackle Ifeadi Odenigbo took on the guard and the tackle, and Bower swooped underneath for a clear shot at quarterback Paxton Lynch.

"Ifeadi did a great job of taking the guard up the field and the tackle kind of bit on it as well," Bower said. "I came free underneath, but it wasn't just me.

"It was him and the other guys around me," Bower added. "It was a good feeling and nice to get one right away."

The turnover came when safety Anthony Harris corralled a tipped Lynch pass early in the first quarter.

"That's what we talk about in that room … you're going to get some tips and overthrows and he was right there at a good time," Rhodes said. "The ball was tipped, and he got it, it was beautiful."

Safety Jack Tocho later recorded an interception, and defensive end Jonathan Wynn notched a sack in the win.

But that was long after the starters had taken off their pads.

"The older guys, the vets, they got out of there pretty quick," Bower said.