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Vikings Continue Evaluating Young Receiving Corps Against 49ers

MINNEAPOLIS — Last season, the Vikings big question at wide receiver was who would step up as a third option behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.

K.J. Osborn was able to answer that with a strong second year, but now Minnesota is looking to add more depth to that position.

With Jefferson and Thielen not seeing any action this preseason, and Osborn also getting Saturday off after two days of joint practices with San Francisco, the Vikings turned their eyes Saturday toward the young corps of receivers competing for the remaining spots.

Trishton Jackson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Bisi Johnson, Jalen Nailor and Myron Mitchell — along with veteran newcomer Albert Wilson — have seen significant playing time during the Vikings first two preseason games. Dan Chisena played at Las Vegas but was out Saturday with an injury.

Wilson was a key standout in Minnesota's opener against the Raiders, catching a pair of touchdowns. During Saturday's 17-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, though, the offense wasn't able to get much going.

 The Vikings were outgained 344-195 in total yards of offense, with 136 of Minnesota's yards coming through the air.

Johnson and TE Nick Muse led in receiving with 29 yards on three catches each. Smith-Marsette added four receptions for 27 yards. Jackson recorded a 17-yard reception, and Nailor had two catches for 11 yards.

"I just feel like we've got to execute better on the offense more," Nailor said. "We got a few third downs that we probably shouldn't have been in, but we just have to keep working. We've got to go back to the drawing board this week and see how we can improve on this game during this week in practice."

The strongest offensive drive for the Vikings came near the end of the first half. Smith-Marsette put Minnesota in good field position at its own 40-yard line with a 14-yard punt return.

Sean Mannion then connected with Jackson for a 17-yard gain before finding Johnson and Smith-Marsette on 7-yard plays. Then, with the Vikings at the San Francisco 11, Smith-Marsette hauled in another pass from Mannion to set up a three-yard touchdown run by Ty Chandler, Minnesota's lone score on the day.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said all of his receivers have shown signs of improvement throughout the preseason.

"I thought on that drive to go score, Ihmir had some nice, timely catches on that drive, really coming off his punt return where he kind of got us some yards back after fumbling the previous one. I did like seeing him respond that way," O'Connell said. "I think Jalen getting into the game obviously flashed. He didn't always get [the ball] when he maybe had a chance to, but ultimately I think right now when I look at that room, I see Bisi doing consistent things, doing so many things to help our offense. Ihmir has got a pure ability that everybody can see, and then you just continue to look at the Myron Mitchells, Trishton Jacksons and Jalen and these guys, I just see everybody fighting and competing."

Smith-Marsette added they're continuing to grow with each opportunity.

"We're getting our feet up under us," Smith-Marsette said. "We're going out here, getting a plan in place and doing what we can to make this team. Each week, I feel like we've been getting stronger. Go out there, we make plays, third-down conversions, tough catches, I feel like we're improving as a room and just moving forward."

Smith-Marsette is also handling the primary punt returning duties, something he said he's never experienced before, although he was a dangerous kickoff returner at Iowa.

"First year [punt] returning, at the highest level, so I'm getting acclimated to it," Smith-Marsette said. "I was able to get one with no mishaps but I got one where I went up the middle and didn't tuck the ball away. That's on me, it starts with me. You can't go out and do that at this level, but I'm improving week-by-week."

The Vikings will have one final test in the preseason, a road matchup on Aug. 27 in Denver. As they move forward, Nailor said they need to be locked in, especially on offense.

"[We've got to] have more urgency in and out of the huddle, getting on the ball and just knowing what we've got to do and take care of our assignments."