EAGAN, Minn. — The wait is over.
Vikings football returns tonight with a preseason contest in New Orleans. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. (CT) in the preseason opener for both the Vikings and Saints.
Minnesota went 8-7-1 and missed the postseason in 2018. The Vikings spent much of the offseason focusing on the offense, bringing in a handful of new coaches and using their first four draft picks on two linemen, a tight end and a running back.
New Orleans went 13-3 and won the NFC South this past season, but the Saints lost in the NFC title game at home to the Rams.
Here are three areas to watch in tonight's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:
View images as the Vikings traveled to New Orleans in advance of Friday's first preseason game vs. the Saints.
1st-team offense | By @EricLSmith
As mentioned above, the Vikings have poured plenty of resources into their offense since the 2018 season ended in December.
There are familiar names such as Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook, along with Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who has been with the organization in different roles since 2006.
But there are also newcomers such as Garrett Bradbury, who immediately stepped into the starting center role and New Orleans native Irv Smith, Jr., along with coaches led by Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak.
Minnesota's offensive starters will likely play a series or two Friday night. If they can put together a drive or two and score points, that should be considered a win.
The unit doesn't need to be in tip-top form until Sept. 8, but a strong start against the Saints would help build confidence with a month remaining until the regular season.
Rookies making their debuts | By @LindseyMNSports
Vikings rookies got a little taste of under-the-lights NFL action during the team's annual night practice at TCO Stadium on Aug. 3, but tonight will offer an even bigger stage.
It will be interesting to see if Bradbury, Minnesota's first-round draft pick, will take additional reps or be placed on the same "pitch count" as his fellow first-teamers.
Bradbury, Smith, running back Alexander Mattison and nine other draft picks are scheduled to make their pro debuts.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Stefanski each spoke this week about what they will be watching for when new names take the field Friday.
"We're looking forward to being in a game setting where they get to go out and play. And we're really looking for their technique to stay true to what we've been coaching them," Stefanski told Twin Cities media members. "Sometimes when you get out in a game setting, whether it's under the lights in the stadium or down in New Orleans, guys will [have a lapse]. So we're just looking for those guys to play with the technique that they've been coached."
Young rushers will get reps | By @pcraigers
Everson Griffen is a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end. Danielle Hunter, who went under the radar at LSU, already has 40 career sacks before turning 25. Stephen Weatherly has been on a steady incline and has been utilized in more ways this training camp.
Beyond that trio, however, the Vikings are again assessing Ifeadi Odenigbo, as well as newcomers Karter Schult, Stacy Keely and Anree Saint-Amour. We've posted 2-minute drills with Schult and Saint-Amour, and one with Keely will be posted later this month.
With the game not counting in the standings, it seems unlikely for the Vikings to do much exotic against a team it could see if both make the playoffs. Instead, it will be about winning 1-on-1 matchups and demonstrating the technique and hand usage that has been emphasized this offseason.
Also, be on the lookout for players who have an opportunity to cause pressure from the interior of the defensive line. Jalyn Holmes and Jaleel Johnson have manned the middle in place of Shamar Stephen and Linval Joseph. After that, Hercules Mata'afa created quite a bit of buzz by stepping in at the 3-technique after missing all of his rookie season.
— Minnesota is 17-4 in the preseason under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. The Vikings have gone undefeated twice in the preseason in his five seasons at the helm.
— The Vikings return 19 starters from the 2018 season, including 10 of 11 on the defensive side of the ball.
—Saints quarterback Drew Brees is currently the NFL's all-time passing leader with 74,437 yards and ranks second in league history with 520 career passing touchdowns. (Brees can pass Peyton Manning's mark of 539 touchdowns with 20 passing scores in 2019).
— New Orleans has five former Vikings on its roster who played for Zimmer: Teddy Bridgewater, Nick Easton, Zach Line, Latavius Murray and Marcus Sherels.
"Any time you strap it up, you want to win. We talk about how it's an exhibition game and we're not going to do too much, but every time I've lost a preseason game, the coaches aren't happy and the players aren't happy. You're still trying to win the game, and I know that will be important to us as it draws to the end."
— Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on preseason play
Home on the horizon
The first home Vikings preseason game of 2019 is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 18, at U.S. Bank Stadium.