EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings are back. Well, kind of.
The games might not count in the standings, but Minnesota’s preseason opener Saturday night in Denver is an opportunity for many.
The starters get the chance to get prepped for the regular season, while those looking to make the roster will try to use their playing time to impress the coaches.
This will also be a test for players and coaches to adjust to a variety of new rules, including the new helmet guidelines plus a host of changes on kickoffs.
Kickoff between the Vikings and Broncos is at 8 p.m. (CT) from Mile High Stadium.
Here are three areas to watch in Saturday’s contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:
A bevy of talent | By @Eric_L_Smith
There isn’t much game-planning and schematics that go into the first preseason tilt, as players and coaches use the time to get on the same page and test out new concepts.
But in terms of individual matchups, there is plenty of intrigue between the starters on these two teams.
When the Vikings are on offense, Riley Reiff and Rashod Hill will have their hands full with Von Miller and his 83.5 career sacks. And cornerback Chris Harris, Jr., will be a fun matchup for both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
On the other side of the ball, cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes will go up against Denver’s wide receiver tandem of Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.
The starters are likely to play a series or two Saturday night, meaning the above matchups will likely be brief. But they’ll definitely be ones to keep eyes on.
First impressions of rookies | By @pcraigers
Vikings rookies, from first-round selection Mike Hughes, to the undrafted free agents will have the joy of suiting up for their first NFL game.
Hughes has arrived with a willing-to-do-anything mentality that has served him well. He has impressed as an outside corner and inside when the Vikings have used their nickel. Hughes also received a strong endorsement from Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer.
The Vikings — and the rest of the league — know about Marcus Sherels’ excellence as a punt returner. Hughes could get an opportunity to show what he can do on punt and kickoff returns.
The rest of the eight-player draft class includes tackle Brian O’Neill, defensive tackle Jalyn Holmes, tight end Tyler Conklin, kicker Daniel Carlson, guard Colby Gossett, defensive end Ade Aruna and linebacker Devante Downs.
Look for undrafted free agent running backs Mike Boone and Roc Thomas to get some carries as they compete with Mack Brown for Minnesota’s third running back spot.
New-look offense | By @LindseyMNSports
Fans on Saturday will get their first look at the 2018 Vikings offense.
While the Vikings first preseason game against the Broncos likely won’t fully showcase the team schematically, everyone will still see new Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo at work.
DeFilippo, who served as the quarterbacks coach for the Eagles last season, told media members earlier this week that he plans to coach the game from the sidelines and see how it goes before making a season-long determination on location.
Saturday night’s will be quarterback Kirk Cousins’ first in Purple. Cousins has been working to master the Vikings playbook and continuously build chemistry with his new teammates since signing with Minnesota as a free agent in March.
Fans also should keep their eyes on the Vikings offensive line in Denver.
Minnesota announced Thursday that Nick Easton will be placed on Injured Reserve, while Pat Elflein is still on the Physically Unable to Perform list and Mike Remmers has been a non-participant in practice since suffering an injury on July 31.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer addressed the offensive line situation Thursday afternoon; it will be interesting to see which players rotate in at what positions on the line throughout the evening.
— Minnesota’s defense ranked first in the NFL in yards allowed (275.9 per game), points allowed (15.8 per game) and on third downs (25.2 percent conversion rate allowed) in 2017.
— Dalvin Cook ran for 354 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry in three-plus games as a rookie.
— Minnesota’s last game in Denver was in 2015 when Anthony Barr intercepted Peyton Manning and Eric Kendricks recorded his first career sack on the future Hall of Famer. Receiver Stefon Diggs caught six passes for 87 yards in his first regular-season game.
“By now, you are ready to change scenery and go play against a different defense. I think schematically, you get too familiar with this defense. We are getting the same looks, we understand it, and they know all of our stuff. It is time to change the script up and get ready for something different. That is also a huge benefit of dealing with noise, road environment, substitutions from the sideline, game situations that are constantly changing and not working off scripts anymore. All of that is very different from a practice setting and we need that work.”
— Cousins on the preseason opener