The bulk of the preseason openers are tonight for NFL teams, with 11 games on the docket.
The Vikings won’t open their preseason slate until Friday in New Orleans, with kickoff at 7 p.m. (CT). All three of Minnesota’s division foes, however, play Thursday night.
And, as is always the case this time of year, each of the four NFC North teams have high hopes for a successful 2019 season.
A group of beat writers at The Athletic recently looked through each roster among the Vikings, Bears, Lions and Packers and put together a preseason “All-NFC North Team.” Minnesota led the way with nine selections.
The Vikings had five players on offense, including wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, who were included along with Green Bay’s Davante Adams.
View images from the Vikings training camp practice on August 7 at TCO Performance Center.
The panel wrote:
Neither Thielen nor Adams received votes outside of the top three, while Diggs ran away from fourth and fifth place with a heavy lead, making the cutoff fairly easy for this position. All of them averaged over 60 yards a game the past two years, and all three are recognized as top-level receivers. Between the three of them, Thielen has more yards, Adams has more touchdowns and Diggs is the youngest.
It’s a talented group, and the rank order between the three of them already causes debates among Vikings and Packers fans — and this probably won’t stop it. For the record here, Thielen received two first-place votes and two-second-place votes, while Adams received one first-place vote, one second-place vote and two third-place votes. Diggs received a first-place vote, a second-place vote and a fourth and fifth-place vote.
Minnesota also had running back Dalvin Cook, fullback C.J. Ham and tight end Kyle Rudolph on the offensive team.
The Vikings also had four defensive players, including defensive end Danielle Hunter, who has racked up 40 total sacks in his first four seasons.
Hunter is tied for fourth all-time in sacks produced before the age of 25 — a mark he still has time to improve upon — if he generates more than 5.0 sacks by Oct. 29, eight games into the season, he takes the record.
Linebacker Anthony Barr was praised for his coverage skills, while safety Harrison Smith’s versatility landed him on the team. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes also made the group.
[Barr has] largely been excellent and has some of the best coverage numbers of any linebacker in the NFL. He might be the most athletic linebacker in the NFL, and certainly has the speed to match any of those in the division.
Smith is known as a do-everything safety, and has historically done it all well. He typically ranks as one of the top safeties in coverage, run defense and as a pass-rusher.
The All-NFC North Team was voted on by Vikings writer Arif Hasan, Chris Burke with the Lions, Kevin Fishbain (with the help of Adam Jahns) with the Bears and Matt Schneidman with the Packers.
Joseph-Stephen tandem could anchor Vikings run defense
There’s a good chance neither Linval Joseph nor Shamar Stephen will play Friday against the Saints.
Joseph has yet to participate in team drills in training camp. Stephen hasn’t either, and is working his way back after beginning camp on the Active/Non-Football Injury list.
But when the two do finally take the field together, the expectation is that they will create a stout duo in the middle, especially when opponents try to run the ball.
Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune looked into Joseph and Stephen and how they can impact Minnesota’s defense in 2019.
The duo teamed up in 2017 as the Vikings finished second in the NFL by allowing 83.6 rushing yards per game.
A great run defense can force offenses into long third downs, easing the pass rush. That’s why the Vikings viewed Stephen as the ideal “Plan B” at defensive tackle, where he’s impressed coaches with his work ethic and intellect since he was a 2014 rookie out of the University of Connecticut.
Reading offensive line splits and backfield alignments help Stephen make educated guesses about where the ball is headed before it’s snapped. Those natural talents — standing 6-5 and 309 pounds — also certainly help, especially next to a 329-pound wrecking ball named Linval Joseph.
[Linebacker Eric] Kendricks, who has led the Vikings in tackles in each of his four seasons, could only smile when thinking about the space they can create.
“You have to account for those guys; otherwise they’re going to make the play,” Kendricks said. “It’s kind of a good thing for me — a great thing. I can’t complain at all.”