EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –The Vikings third preseason game – and first preseason contest at home – is slated for Sunday night at 7 p.m. (CT).
With two preseason games behind them, the Vikings have the opportunity to further evaluate players and potentially add a few new wrinkles into plays as test-runs before the regular season.
Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer told Twin Cities media members Thursday morning that he is approaching Sunday's game against the 49ers "a little bit like a regular-season game."
"[We] might use a couple schemes that might work better against a certain opponent than it would in the first two games, basically stuff we've been working all spring," Priefer said. "So, we might tweak our schemes a little bit. I'm still looking for the same things.
"I'm looking for the guys that are going to play fast, the guys that are going to use our techniques and fundamentals," Priefer continued. "The guys that are going to be in the right place and put themselves in positions to be successful and then make plays when the plays are there to be made. So, I'm still looking for that type of stuff."
Defensive Coordinator George Edwards also said that much of what they're watching for in a third preseason game is the same as it's been in the first two, but there is the opportunity to try some new things, as well.
"Any time you have a new group of players and a different skill set at some of the positions, you have to try to get them in the best position to be successful," Edwards said. "And that's kind of what we do throughout the preseason each year, try to get better schematically, also.
"But the big thing [is that] the fundamentals and the techniques of the position aren't going to change that much, so our biggest thing is to be consistent with those things and effort to the football, and [we still prioritize] situational defense," Edwards said. "So from that aspect of it, it doesn't change a whole lot, but it is a time where you get to see different skill sets of guys and how we can apply them."
Here are four other topics covered by Edwards and Priefer in Thursday's podium session:
1. Kearse's comfort level
Safety Jayron Kearse, whom the Vikings selected in the seventh round in 2016, is taking some strides forward in year two.
Edwards said he's seen Kearse increase his awareness on the field.
"Number one, I think he feels a lot more comfortable with what we're doing schematically, and then number two, what people are trying to do to us from an offensive standpoint," Edwards said. "I think the first year you're just worried so much about what you have to do, and then you grow through the next season and into training camp, [and] you start to learn what other people are going to do. Because it's pretty consistent throughout the league what people try to attack you with."
Edwards said that Kearse has done well when he's playing around the box but feels less comfortable in the middle of the field. The defensive coordinator has been working to put Kearse into those situations now to help him feel more acclimated.
"[To help him] make better decisions and quicker decisions as far as the angles and the techniques that we use in the middle of the field – whether you're playing quarters, whether you're playing a half, whether you're playing single-high in the middle of the field," Edwards said. "So just getting him more comfortable and making quicker decisions in those aspects of his game."
2. Not rushing a decision on specialists
The Vikings have now had two preseason games in which to evaluate the competition between punters Taylor Symmank and Ryan Quigley and kickers Kai Forbath and Marshall Koehn.
Priefer was asked if there is a timeline he'd like have a final decision made and said it likely won't happen until after the game against the Dolphins on Aug. 31.
"Because the competition is so close, I think what we're going to do is hopefully go through four preseason games and then have that 11-day period prior to the New Orleans game to finalize that," Priefer said. "The good thing is that they've been working together since May. I know we've had different competitions. They don't have the same amount of reps as they would in a regular-season week, but we'll get there. We'll have plenty of time to get that work in."
Priefer added: "Because the competition is so close, I think it's more important we make a right decision."
3. A pair of strong legs
In continuing to assess Forbath and Koehn, Priefer said that both kickers have the ability to kick long-range field goals.
When asked about Koehn's range, Priefer stipulated that it's dependent on the situation but that "he can kick somewhere in the 60s." But he added that he would try Forbath from that distance, too, saying that the veteran has a stronger leg than he's often given credit for.
"He's a better kickoff guy than he was even a year ago," Priefer said of Forbath. "He's kicking the ball off well in games and practices. Either one of those guys I feel comfortable with a long field goal at the end of the half; we just have to be ready to cover. You guys saw what happened in the Chicago-Arizona preseason game last week. That was obviously something we work on with our field goal block team as well. You just don't want that to happen. You're hoping, if it's indoors, probably be in the mid-60s and let's see what happens."
4. Next steps for Hunter
Vikings defensive Danielle Hunter has impressed in each of his first two seasons. Hunter is entering year three with 18.5 sacks and has earned the majority of first-team reps throughout training camp.
Edwards has been pleased with Hunter's performance thus far and said he's looking for him to continue working hard and being consistent.
"Staying low coming off the ball, [he's] still working on his pass rush, being physical with the 6-technique when he has to do that, the 5-technique," Edwards said. "Just continuing to work the different techniques and just be consistent."
He added that Hunter has been "very good" at reading the offense and identifying the run, pass and screen game.