It’s time to put a bow on the 2017 preseason.
The Vikings will close out their exhibition slate at 7 p.m. (CT) tonight with a home game against the Miami Dolphins at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Minnesota rallied for a 32-31 win over San Francisco on Sunday and is now 2-1 in preseason play. The Dolphins lost their most recent game and are 1-2 in the preseason.
Here are three areas to watch in Thursday’s preseason contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:
The Vikings have assembled considerable depth on the defensive line, a group that features Pro Bowlers Everson Griffen (2015 and ’16) and Linval Joseph (’16), longest-tenured Viking Brian Robison, who is tied for ninth in franchise history with 56 sacks, and rising star Danielle Hunter.
The team also has benefitted from contributions by Tom Johnson, who has been with the first-team this offseason, and Shamar Stephen in recent seasons, creating a scenario in which 2017 arrivals via free agency, the draft and post-draft signees have competed since spring for what likely will be limited remaining roster spots.
Veterans Datone Jones and Will Sutton, along with fourth-round pick Jaleel Johnson, have added to the competition in the middle, and second-year pro Stephen Weatherly, seventh-rounder Ifeadi Odenigbo and undrafted rookie Tashawn Bower have pressured quarterbacks from the edges.
It will be interesting to see how the Vikings deploy the veterans and younger players in the final exhibition contest.
The Vikings mixed up their offensive line over the past few weeks in both practices and games while trying to determin the five starting linemen. Minnesota has primarily mixed in the group of Riley Reiff, Alex Boone, Pat Elflein, Nick Easton, Joe Berger, Jeremiah Sirles, Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill at some point with the first-team offense.
It’s a safe bet that not every lineman will play against the Dolphins, but it will be telling who sees action and who does not.
If a lineman doesn’t play, it could mean he has locked up one of the starting roles. And if he does play, it could mean coaches want to get an extended look to finalize assessments.
The Vikings fourth preseason game signals that a final decision on kicker and punter is just around the corner.
Throughout training camp and the preseason, Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer has been evaluating veteran kicker Kai Forbath and rookie Marshall Koehn. Last week, Priefer said during a podium session with media that the competition has been extremely close between the two. The Vikings called on Koehn alone for all kickoffs and field goal attempts during their preseason game against the 49ers; Koehn knocked through a 58-yarder but later missed one from 47 yards out. He kicked off five times, and four of them resulted in touchbacks. It will be interesting to see if both kickers receive reps against the Dolphins tonight.
The competition also continues between Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank – both punted against San Francisco. Quigley punted three times with a net average of 38.7 yards, while Symmank’s two punts had a net average of 41.5 yards. The Vikings have largely used Quigley as their holder during the preseason.
Minnesota also has been looking for a new primary kickoff returner, after Cordarrelle Patterson – who had manned the job for the past four seasons – signed with the Raiders in free agency. A number of players have received reps at returner, including rookie receivers Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley, but running back Jerick McKinnon may have won the job after returning a kick 108 yards for a touchdown Sunday night.
— The Vikings have to reduce their 90-man roster to 53 players by Saturday at 3 p.m. (CT). They can also sign up to 10 players on the practice squad on Sunday.
— Vikings defenders have 8.0 sacks this preseason. Tashawn Bower has 2.0 sacks while Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jaleel Johnson and Will Sutton each have one.
— Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano was as the Dolphins Head Coach from 2008-2011. Sparano coached Miami for 61 games. The Dolphins went 11-5 and won the AFC East in his first season.
— Koehn hit a 58-yard field goal Sunday against San Francisco; the kick would have set a franchise record for longest field goal if it had happened in a regular season game.
“I’ve made up my mind, but I haven’t told the team yet or anything like that. I haven’t told the coaches yet either. After the other night, I feel like they should play but we’ll see.” — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer on whether or not the starters will play against Miami.