MINNEAPOLIS –The Vikings for the first time this preseason had all healthy offensive linemen.
Riley Reiff and Alex Boone started at left tackle and left guard, respectively, after both missing time due to injury.
"To have everybody out there for the first time together, talking, communicating, playing together, it was good for that," Boone said. "But we have to do more on offense. We have to run the ball a lot better, and we have to convert more third downs."
Alongside Boone and Reiff, the Vikings started the game with Nick Easton at center, Joe Berger at right guard and Mike Remmers at right tackle.
While everyone was present, there were gaps in performance.
The starting five played the Vikings first three series, during which Minnesota gained three first downs but did not convert a third down. Sam Bradford was sacked three times, for losses of five, seven and eight yards, during the Vikings first two offensive series.
"Offensively, we started out with two negative plays, and it kind of went from there," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said after the game. "So we've got a lot of work to do. We'll try to get back on track and try to get this thing turned around.
"I thought it was sporadic tonight," Zimmer said of the first-team offensive line. "It's hard to see which guys are getting beat from where I'm standing [on the sideline], or if they are getting beat. When Reiff was in there, I assume he did OK because I didn't notice him. I'm going to go in tomorrow and watch the tape."
Five minutes into the second quarter, Minnesota shuffled the line, rotating in Rashod Hill for Reiff and sliding Easton over to left guard in place of Boone. Rookie Pat Elflein subbed in at center, and Berger and Remmers stayed in place.
Bradford stayed upright for the remainder of the half. The Vikings moved the ball more efficiently through the air, with Bradford completing three passes of 10 yards or more.
"Different plays, different situations," Hill said. "We came in there, we had situations and different plays. It got better when we kept coming along with each other and just relaxing.
"But we have to get better," Hill added. "Those mistakes tonight – Coach [Zimmer] didn't like it, we didn't like it as a unit, so we just have to go in and get better each week."
Hill started for the Vikings in their first two preseason games but viewed Sunday night as an opportunity rather than a demotion.
The 25-year-old said he's grateful to be learning from more experienced teammates.
"It's a brotherhood here," Hill said. "We learn from each other. When Riley was in, he taught me what to do when, how they were rushing, how they were coming, so when I came out there, I tried to use those tools. It's good to have vet guys and guys that played more than me. We just have to come together as a unit so we can be better."
Preseason or not, the 49ers didn't hold back from throwing multiple situations at the Vikings. San Francisco blitzed a number of times, and Elflein said the unit should have handled the defense better.
"They were giving us a bunch of different looks, and they were blitzing us a good amount," Elflein said. "I mean, we work on that; we just have to adjust to it and make the calls for it."
Bradford said it was good to see how both Elflein and Easton reacted to the pressures.
He said he thought they "did a good job" after making adjustments and communicating accordingly.
"I think the preseason is winning different situations that you can put yourself in," Bradford said. "I think it's better in the long run. I think especially in the third game tonight you'd rather see blitzes tonight than just straight coverage – and then entering into Week 1 [getting] teed off on with a bunch of blitzes.
"We [faced] some tonight, we'll go back and look at it and see how we picked them up, see what we can do different," Bradford continued. "But overall, I think it's good to see those."
Elflein, who started at center against the Seahawks, and Easton have been sharing first-team reps throughout the preseason. The rookie said he's taking the rotations in stride and just trying to perform at his best when he gets his shot on the field.
"There's still a lot of competition going on within the whole room," Elflein said. "We're all competing for jobs still, and that's what preseason is for."
In the second half, Case Keenum came in at quarterback behind another line combination: Aviante Collins (LT), Jeremiah Sirles (LG), Zac Kerin (C), Danny Isidora (RG) and Willie Beavers (RT). Keenum was 10-of-14 passing for 139 yards and two touchdowns, finishing with a passer rating of 142.6.
The Vikings switched up the line one more time, inserting T.J. Clemmings at left guard and Austin Shepherd in at right guard.
Taylor Heinicke finished out the game for Minnesota, recording 73 passing yards and scrambling for the game-winning 2-point conversion after Terrell Newby's 1-yard rushing touchdown.
The Vikings finished the game with 15 first downs and just 50 rushing yards on 16 carries.
"We have to be better," Hill said. "We have to go out there, we have to fight, we have to move the ball, we have to make plays come together. I feel like we should have done better tonight. We just have to go in there, look at the film, correct our mistakes and get better."