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Monday Morning Mailbag: Preseason Ups and Downs & Possible 2021 Vikings Captains

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Vikings.com Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Vikings.com Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

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Kellen Mond, A.J. Rose, Jr., and Greg Joseph were bright spots in a dismal Vikings performance. We should not get too down after one preseason game, but it must raise the level of concern regarding our team depth if our Nos. 2s and 3s perform so poorly with little or no passion! Coaches must light a fire under this team going forward.

— Randy in Las Vegas

Randy starts us off with a pretty honest and accurate assessment of how Saturday's game went.

On one hand, the Vikings chose to rest 31 players — most of them key starters — to give them some rest after back-to-back tough practices with the Broncos last week. And that's sort of how the league-wide trend went, as most teams sat important players to ensure their health in the preseason opener.

And with so many notable players out, that might have dampened some game-time expectations, especially considering Denver played more first-teamers than Minnesota did.

But that lackluster performance from all three phases is certainly cause for concern, and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer certainly didn't hold back after the game.

"We were going to give these other guys some opportunities to see if they could make the club," Zimmer said. "Some of them proved us right, some of them proved us wrong."

The fact is that most of the players in Purple on the field Saturday won't be counted upon to play starring roles in Week 1 at Cincinnati.

But the output against the Broncos certainly raised some eyebrows. Teams that routinely make deep playoff runs mention all the time how they need contributions from the back half of the roster at some point.

What if the Vikings get hit by injuries at a certain position partway in the season, or even late when the playoff push is on?

The players who were on the field Saturday will need to be much better than they were. Zimmer knows it, which is why he was so blunt, and the players probably know it, too.

As for the three players Randy mentioned, I thought Rose and Joseph performed well. Rose obviously got more work than expected due to Kene Nwangwu's injury, but getting to 100 rushing yards is a nice achievement.

And although both of Joseph's field goals were relatively short (under 35 yards), he made both, which is a heck of a lot better than missing one. He started strong in camp and then dipped a little, but has looked sharp in the past week or so.

Mond is a bit more polarizing, likely because of the position he plays. He showed a great ability to scramble and demonstrated his athleticism, but some throws left a little bit more to be desired.

And there's his timing and tempo, something Zimmer brought up again Saturday.

Give Mond some credit, he's endured a whirlwind by being away for 10 days and then getting thrust into joint practices and a preseason game.

But while he has talent, perhaps the 2021 season will be purely a developmental one for Mond, even on the active roster.

Hi, Eric. How concerning is the schedule difficulty for the Vikings? I read one strength of schedule, that has all four NFC North and all four AFC North teams in the top 10. And the Vikings play the AFC North this year, with their three playoff teams from 2020.

— Steve Jones in Goldsboro, North Carolina

A good inquiry from Steve, who's question comes as we are now 27 days from the start of the Vikings regular season. I'm not sure if he read the one we had on Vikings.com, but here's a rundown for all 32 teams, and sure enough, based on 2020 results, the NFC and AFC North are all in the top 10.

I like to think that every NFL schedule is tough, but some do seem to have a higher degree of difficulty than others. And the Vikings certainly don't have any cakewalks in the coming months.

View photos of the Vikings 2021 schedule at U.S. Bank Stadium and on the road.

Part of that is what division you end up playing from each conference based on the schedule rotation. This year it just so happens that Minnesota plays the AFC North and the NFC West. (Last year, for example, the AFC South and NFC South were on the docket).

Steve correctly points out that the AFC North had three 3 playoff teams in 2020, and that division should be among the league's best again.

The NFC West might also have a claim as the toughest in the NFL, as the Cardinals, 49ers, Rams and Seahawks all have legit playoff chances.

Sometimes it's the luck of the draw with how the rotation is set up. Tampa Bay, for example, plays the NFC East and the AFC East this season. The Bills and Dolphins were the only two teams between those two divisions with winning records in 2020.

I know we're all glad that Tom Brady caught yet another break in his gritty career.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Oct. 19, 2021.

Should Kirk Cousins be relieved of his offensive captain status? Hard to be the leader of the team when refusing basic science when it comes to health during a pandemic while also making a decision that has a very realistic possibility of costing the team games in the regular season.

— Jared Matthew in Minneapolis

Do you think Kirk Cousins should step aside as starter for refusing to get vaccinated?

— Michael Dorr

Jared and Michael both had similar questions regarding Cousins, and I'll answer the latter first.

No, there is zero chance Cousins voluntarily steps aside as the starter. Once again, NFL players are not required to be vaccinated.

Jared's question is an intriguing one, though. For reference, Cousins has been a captain in all three of his seasons in Purple so far. And Minnesota's captains in 2020 were Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Kyle Rudolph, Riley Reiff, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith.

The Vikings usually have six season-long captains, and they'll need to fill two spots with the departures of Rudolph and Reiff. There are emerging players drafted by Minnesota as well as veteran additions through free agency that could fill vacancies.

For all the hoopla that has gone on in recent weeks, Cousins is still viewed as a leader and is one of the faces of the franchise. We'll be sure to let you know when captains are selected.

Do you have any idea why Kene Nwangwu is not getting reps as a returner? I haven't heard him mentioned as being in the conversation to return kicks? The kid ran a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash!

— S. Lord

This question came through before Saturday's preseason game, where Nwangwu handled the opening kickoff for an 18-yard return. He then played one more snap on special teams before exiting the game with a knee injury.

Nwangwu had been getting plenty of reps at kick returner, which was noted here in my Observations from Wednesday's joint practices with the Broncos.

And he obviously had made a good impression, especially with the blazing speed we referenced, by getting the first crack at a kick return in game action.

We'll see if Nwangwu practices this week or if he misses any time. The Vikings practice Monday afternoon, and it should be a spirited session for many based on how Saturday's game unfolded.

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