The games don't count, but they matter.
The Vikings will kick off their preseason schedule on Friday night in New Orleans with a matchup against the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It's fair to expect limited playing time from the starters on both teams, but that only sets the stage for a significant opportunity for so many other players fighting to earn a roster spot. So while these games may not count in the standings, they still have a profound impact for many on the team.
There will be some familiar faces on the field for the Vikings. Teddy Bridgewater may start at quarterback for New Orleans, and the offense could also feature offensive lineman Nick Easton and running back Latavius Murray, both former Vikings. Another former Viking on the Saints roster is Marcus Sherels, who is the best punt returner in Vikings history.
View images as the Vikings traveled to New Orleans in advance of Friday's first preseason game vs. the Saints.
While familiarity will be at the root of many subplots of Friday's exhibition game, newness is also at the heart of a separate storyline. The Vikings have a new special teams coordinator – Marwan Maalouf. Among his challenges at this stage are to find a new kickoff returner and punt returner because Sherels departed for New Orleans this preseason. Many eyes will also be on the place kicking game, where veteran Dan Bailey seems to be poised for a good season but he will be pressed to continue developing rhythm and synergy with his long snapper(s) and holder (Matt Wile).
Ultimately, though, the top priority for teams in the preseason is to stay healthy. So long as there are flashes of improvement and productivity in some aspects of all three phases, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer will be more capable of accepting whatever happens on Friday evening if he heads back to Minnesota with a healthy roster.
Defense answers the bell
Overreaction is an annual right of summer in the NFL. At this stage, NFL fans are so starved for real football that they'll jump at anything thrown their way. That's why when coach Zimmer offered up some criticism of his defense last week, a bit of panic crept into the psyche of many in Vikings Nation.
Rest easy, Vikings faithful. Zimmer indicated late this week that his defense has responded.
"I've been with those guys now for basically six years, so they kind of know when I need to push the needle a little bit," Zimmer explained. "They have an idea of what I am looking for. Like one of the players said, 'The coach is usually right, so we better pick it up a little bit.' They have done good this week. It's been much better, much more edge to them and that's how we have to play."
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins offered some candid insight into his perspective on the Vikings offense. While Kevin Stefanski is entering his first season as the full-time offensive coordinator, he is familiar with Cousins because he was the team's quarterbacks coach a season ago. Also, Gary Kubiak has been brought in as an offensive advisor, but Kubiak's influence will likely include concepts familiar to Cousins from his days running the Washington Redskins offense under Mike Shanahan and Sean McVay.
But even with all that familiarity, Cousins admits there is still a sense of newness to the 2019 offense.
"I'm very curious. It's funny, because I did play in this system for two years, and yet I still feel like you're dealing with something brand new, for whatever reason," Cousins said. "Maybe just because for five years I did something a little different. I'm interested to see how my instincts are reacting, because with football you really do have to react instinctually. If you drop back and you're thinking and have to pause a second, you're getting hit or you're missing the open guy. You have to have it become instinctual, and nothing exposes you more than a game."
The Vikings will fly home from New Orleans immediately following Friday night's game, per usual. Saturday will be a players' day off from training camp and then on Sunday the team will return to the practice fields at TCO Performance Center to being a full week of practices leading up to the second game of the preseason – a home contest against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, August 18
I am excited to see how the battles for backups at linebacker and safety unfold. I would love to see some of those backup guys come in and play at the same level as the starters. So who are some players you see coming in as backups and being able to make an impact?
-- Vincent Newcomb
The ideal scenario is that you have backups who, if called upon, can come into the game and not represent a significant dropoff from the starter. The Vikings saw this with Anthony Harris over the past couple of seasons. The starter was Andrew Sendejo and he was a very good player for the Vikings. But when he was unable to play, Harris consistently stepped in and played at a starter-caliber level. He may have had different strengths than Sendejo, but the level of play was similar. I will give you four names to watch this preseason who have a chance to follow Harris' path. At linebacker, it's rookie Cameron Smith and veteran Eric Wilson. At safety, it's rookie Marcus Epps and veteran Jayron Kearse. These players may not have the identical skill sets or strengths as the starters ahead of them, but they have their own strengths and style of play that may allow them to develop into the caliber of players who won't represent a steep dropoff from the starter who is ahead of them on the depth chart.
Friday night's preseason game is slated for a 7:00 p.m. CT kickoff. The broadcast will be a television/radio simulcast. FOX 9 (Channel 9 in Minneapolis/St. Paul) will handle the television broadcast and KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130 will handle the radio broadcast. Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen will handle play-by-play duties while former Vikings linebacker and coach Pete Bercich will be the in-booth analyst. Greg Coleman and Ben Leber will handle sideline reporting duties.
The Vikings Radio Network pre-game show will be hosted by Mike Mussman and will begin at 5:00 p.m. CT.