Football is back.
The Vikings get their preseason schedule underway tonight in Cincinnati as they square off against the Bengals at 6:30 p.m. (CT) at Paul Brown Stadium.
The exhibition contests might not mean anything in the standings, but there is plenty of value in preseason. Besides serving as a warm up for the regular season for veteran players, preseason games also give Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer an evaluation of young players and rookies in real-time and on film.
Tonight's game will undoubtedly be special for Zimmer, who was Cincinnati's defensive coordinator from 2008-2013. Each team won their respective divisions in 2015 as the Vikings captured the NFC North title and the Bengals claimed the AFC North crown.
Simulcast: The game will be broadcast in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market via simulcast on KMSP FOX 9 television and KFAN 100.3 and across the Minnesota Vikings Radio Network by the team of Paul Allen, Pete Bercich, Greg Coleman and Ben Leber.
Three things to watch:
O-line vs Cincy D-line
By Craig Peters
The Vikings addressed their offensive line in multiple ways this offseason, hiring Tony Sparano as offensive line coach, signing former 49ers left guard Alex Boone and former Bengals right tackle Andre Smith. Boone is a clear-cut starter, allowing Brandon Fusco to move back to right guard this season, and Zimmer said in Mankato that the Vikings are leaning toward Smith to start at right tackle.
Fusco had a great camp, but did not participate in Thursday's joint practice with the Bengals. The Vikings subbed with Joe Berger, who has been alternating first-team reps with John Sullivan at center. Zimmer mentioned Thursday that he wants to continue to evaluate the offensive line. The defense of Cincinnati still has a considerable about of Zimmer's influence, but teams are likely to keep things pretty vanilla schematically and save the exotic looks for regular-season games, so look for how the Vikings fare against an intimidating front four early.
Keeping tabs on Trae
One key thing to keep an eye on during Minnesota's preseason matchup against Cincinnati is cornerback Trae Waynes and how he fares against the Bengals receivers. The first-round draft pick contributed on special teams as a rookie in 2015 and showed flashes of defensive prowess throughout the season.
Waynes has made strides heading into year two, especially in gaining confidence of the defensive system, and Zimmer is looking for him to continue things he's seen in practice. A full season now separates Waynes from his college days, in which defensive backs are often allowed more contact with receivers than in the NFL.
By Eric Smith
MyCole Pruitt was the star of Minnesota's preseason opener in 2015 as he hauled in four catches for 51 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown, in a 14-3 win over Pittsburgh in the Hall of Fame Game.
A year later, the tight end looks poised for another strong preseason as he enters his second season in the league. A fifth-round pick out of Southern Illinois in 2015, Pruitt had 10 catches for 89 yards last season but could see an increased role this season behind Kyle Rudolph. Be on the lookout for Pruitt against Cincinnati and beyond.
— The Bengals were stellar in the red zone on both sides of the ball in 2015. Cincinnati's defense was fifth in the NFL in red-zone percentage (47.4 percent) while the Bengals offense was also fifth with a touchdown-scoring rate of 65.5 percent.
— The game features two of the top five scoring defenses from 2015. The Vikings were fifth 18.9 points allowed per game while Cincinnati was second at 17.4 points allowed per game.
— The aerial combination of Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green has been historic. The pair, both 2011 draft picks, have the most completions (395) and yards (5,789) for any quarterback-wide receiver over the first five years of their careers.
— Friday's matchup is one of four preseason games that features 2015 division winners meeting up. Arizona (NFC West) is at Houston (AFC South) in Week 3, while Carolina (NFC South) is at New England (AFC East) the same week. Denver (AFC West) plays at Arizona in the final week of preseason games.
"I'm excited about the preseason game and getting to see some of the young guys go out there. I'm excited to see Jayron (Kearse), Mackensie (Alexander) and those guys just go out there and compete and have some fun. — Teddy Bridgewater
Worth a watch
If you missed it, make sure to watch as Zimmer was wired* *for Wednesday's practice.