MINNEAPOLIS — The overarching team goal Saturday was for the Vikings starters to sharpen their collective blade in the last presumptive preseason-game action.
Running back Dalvin Cook showed he is ready for Week 1, highlighting a fairly strong day on the ground with an 85-yard touchdown run, and linebacker Anthony Barr zipped sideline-to-sideline to help contain fleet-footed Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray on scrambles.
Vikings coaches don’t have question marks on Cook, Barr or plenty of others.
Some players, however, are in a different category.
They are continuing to challenge for coveted 53-man roster spots when Minnesota and the 31 other teams reduce from the preseason limit of 90 to the regular-season max.
Vikings reserve running backs and linebackers have had some memorable moments this preseason.
Mike Boone racked up another 41 yards on 10 carries and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 7-yard run in the fourth quarter. He caught a pass for a gain of 6 and also contributed on special teams, a factor not lost on Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
“I think everything he's doing, he's doing much better,” Zimmer said. “He’s really working hard at special teams. He made a play as a gunner one time. He’s been doing better in the kickoffs. He’s been running the ball very hard. He’s had some good catches in his preseason. I think he’s done really well. He’s worked extremely well. He’s a good kid and needs to keep doing the same things he’s been doing.”
Seven days after sending Seattle home with an interception on the final play of the game, Devante Downs recorded five tackles (second-most by a Viking behind Barr’s six, according to press box stats) that included Minnesota’s lone sack.
Downs was part of a blitz dialed up by Zimmer on a third-and-5 early in the fourth quarter. He sacked Brett Hundley for a loss of 10 to force a punt.
“I’m just trying to make the most out of every opportunity I get,” said the 2018 seventh-round pick. “Fortunately for me and the team, I’ve been able to make some plays this preseason.
“I think everyone [in the linebackers group] really knows their stuff this year,” Downs added. “Everyone is capable of making a play when they get in the game. Everyone brings his playmaking abilities, I can say that. I think everyone of us is a playmaker.”
The sack preceded Minnesota’s go-ahead touchdown drive, which brings us to Kyle Sloter.
After Kirk Cousins waded through an out-of-sync first half that wasn’t like his more limited performances this preseason, veteran Sean Mannion played the third quarter and into the fourth before Sloter stepped in with 11:03 remaining.
Sloter converted a third-and-8 with a 22-yard pass to Bisi Johnson, with help from a
nifty spin move by the rookie, and delivered a strike to Tyler Conklin for a gain of 20 a play after Johnson drew a 21-yard pass interference penalty. Conklin, a tight end in his second-year, secured the football despite taking a big hit.
Sloter finished 6-of-7 passing for 102 yards with a 15-yard touchdown pass to rookie fullback Khari Blasingame and a maxed-out passer rating of 158.3.
“Every time he's come in the game, he does well,” Zimmer said. “He makes plays, gets the team going. I think he’s done a good job all preseason.”
The score was Blasingame’s third of the preseason (two receiving, one rushing).
In contrast to the continued production, the Vikings are continuing to evaluate players at different spots.
One such player is Nate Meadors, a rookie corner who opened the preseason with a pick-six at New Orleans, but recently has been lining up at safety.
Meadors is embracing the challenge, trying to bolster his NFL resume and enjoying a different view of the game.
“I just really started a practice or two before the last game versus Seattle. I’ve just been trying to learn everything to make things easier,” Meadors said. “The coaches wanted to see if I could go back there and play, and I think I’m doing an all right job back there so far.”
He said other safeties and defensive backs coaches are helping in the film room and on the practice fields.
“I think the hardest part is just seeing the field from a different angle,” Meadors said. “You’ve just got to fit your angles on certain things, but I think just knowing everything makes it easier for you, so the more reps I get, it’s more helpful for me in the long run.”
So whether it’s a player who wants to keep producing or prove versatility and live out “the more you know” saying, the Vikings have one more week to learn about the roster.
Notes: Zimmer said Adam Thielen and Harrison Smith not playing were “precautionary.” He said Thielen, who practiced all week, was experiencing some soreness and that Smith had a cut that led to an infection.