MINNEAPOLIS – The Vikings got an entire half of Jacksonville’s first-team offense Saturday afternoon.
Minnesota forced a three-and-out by Jacksonville on its first possession of the game, capping the series with a near-pick by slot corner Mackensie Alexander and a valiant effort by Anthony Barr to snag the tipped ball as he fell to the ground.
The Vikings got their turnover on the next time around, however.
On second-and-1 from the Jacksonville 26, Harrison Smith jumped the route and snagged Bortles’ pass. Smith, who had two near-interceptions against Bortles earlier this week during the teams’ joint practice, returned the ball three yards.
The Vikings took over on offense, but a fumble by Latavius Murray immediately put Minnesota’s defense back on the field. The Jaguars were able to find success on their third drive, moving down the field with a couple of double-digit gains, and ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette on the first play of the second quarter.
While Minnesota then switched to its second-team units, Blake Bortles led the Jaguars offense until halftime, giving the Vikings back-up defenders extra “practice” during their second preseason game.
“I was surprised when we went out there and they were still out there, but I took it as an opportunity to truly show what I have against another team’s starters,” said defensive end Stephen Weatherly, who finished the game with four tackles, one-half sack and a tackle for loss. “And that is what’s important to be able to show coaches.”
Fournette was held to just 12 rushing yards on eight attempts, thanks in part to the Vikings second group.
Jaleel Johnson, who got reps at 3-technique and nose tackle, said the team didn’t put a special focus on Fournette but wanted to contain Jacksonville’s offense across the board.
“They had a good running back, a good quarterback, the line was pretty physical,” said Johnson, who forced a fumble by running back T.J. Yeldon. “Our main focus really was just to go out and make sure we executed to the best of our ability.
“It all goes back to OTAs and everything like that,” Johnson added. “Making those little steps, [focusing on] those little things, making sure we’re moving forward so when we’re up against their, whoever’s in there, their starting offense, when the first defense [comes out] and we’re in there, it’s like we’re not missing a beat.”
The Vikings second-team defense made a number of plays against the Jaguars starters throughout the second quarter.
Linebacker Eric Wilson caused a fumble by tight end James O’Shaughnessy, but the ball rolled out of bounds and stayed with Jacksonville. Wilson also had five tackles (four solo), one sack and one tackle for loss.
Wilson emphasized that he tries to be around the ball whenever possible so that he can make a play when the opportunity presents itself. He appreciated the chance Saturday to play against Bortles and company.
“It’s cool for me to see where I am against other teams’ first teams,” Wilson said. “I think we held our own there. We definitely have some things that we need to clean up, but it’s good to get that experience.”
Following the game, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer talked about the advantage of seeing his second-string players going up against Jacksonville’s 1s. He pointed out that it’s a “great evaluation” opportunity, and he wanted to see how things played out after two days of joint practices with the Jaguars at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
“I wanted to evaluate some of the younger guys and felt like I could get some of the older guys out a little bit sooner,” Zimmer said.
Ifeadi Odenigo, who came in to replace an injured Ade Aruna at defensive end in the second quarter, said that the Vikings depth at defensive line was demonstrated Saturday afternoon.
“[Defensive line coach Andre Patterson says], ‘Hey – don’t be complacent.’ Every single day in practice he tells us, ‘Hey, it’s hard to be great. It’s hard to be great,’ ” Odenigbo said. “So I think it’s just a testimony to see our first, second, even third unit hold up against those guys. It really shows how deep we are on d-line.”
The Vikings defense continued to make plays after the Jaguars first-teamers hung it up for the day.
Non-starters combined for 50 of Minnesota’s 64 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed.
Defensive end Brian Robison, entering his 12th season in Purple, said he was proud of the younger players’ performances.
But in the next breath, Robison added that it’s what the Vikings “have always done” as a team.
“We’ve always prided ourselves, doesn’t matter if first group or second group is in, you go out there and you play ball to the best of your ability – you do your job,” Robison said. “Try to have success doing it, and if you can’t have success, make sure you’re doing your job so somebody else can have success. I think they did a great job out there today.”