The NFL regular season is one step closer to being officially underway this weekend as preseason games for all 32 teams kick off this weekend. The Minnesota Vikings begin the Mike Zimmer era this preseason at TCF Bank Stadium against the Oakland Raiders. Many eyes will be on both teams as fans continue to get pumped for the regular season. We must all remember that this is only preseason. Week 1 preseason at that.
These are not games for established NFL superstars to waste their disproportionate amount of talent. These are games for new players to show the coaches what they can bring to the team. These games are for imperfect players to hone their skills to continue being productive NFL players. Guys like Adrian Peterson and Tom Brady will likely sit out the entire preseason as they have established themselves as the class of the NFL and and are susceptible to injury. Nobody likes losing their best player in the preseason.
For some players, the preseason is their only opportunity to showcase their skills in a game setting. Not all players even get that chance (-cough- A.C. Leonard), ahem. Coaches will be watching the player’s every move, every mistake and every nice block or successfully filled gap.
With that said, each week during the preseason, I will pick a couple guys (or whole position groups) to take a look at during the game. These could be fringe players looking to make the roster, or players who are expected to get a good amount of playing time that week. So, without further adieu, I present to you, my preseason pregame preview.
Guys to watch on offense:
Teddy Bridgewater - Quarterback
This one seems easy. He’s been the talk of Vikings camp and the coaches claim that he is further ahead than a rookie should be at this point in training camp. With that said, he’s still a rookie and it is only practice. Remember how good Tarvaris Jackson looked in training camp every year? No? I do, he looked phenomenal, but he could never bring it to the games. Don’t be surprised to see Bridgewater make the typical rookie mistakes from time to time. It is totally okay if he does too. This is what preseason is for, to make mistakes and learn from them. Now, if he repeatedly makes the same mistakes, then I might worry a bit. Matt Cassell will get the start, but coaches say that Bridgewater will get some time with the first team. I look for Cassel and Bridgewater to split the first quarter, with Bridgewater playing into the third quarter and Christian Ponder wrapping it up with the third team.
Jerick McKinnon – Halfback
Another seemingly easy choice. With Adrian Peterson not expected to play there will be plenty of opportunities for McKinnon and primary backup Matt Asiata to prove themselves to the new coaching staff. McKinnon has to prove that he can catch and block if he wants to supplant Asiata as the team’s third down back. I’m sure he will get plenty of opportunities in the second half to provide a spark and make some good plays.
Guys to watch on defense:
This one right here is important. This battle is the most wide open battle on the team. Jasper Brinkley is written in as the starter, in pencil. Audie Cole hasn’t done anything to hurt himself in camp and is right in the mix with Brinkley for the starting job. Rookie Brandon Wattsfound himself getting some time with the first team last week in camp. Mike Mauti has worked in the middle as well as on the outside, showcasing his versatility for the coaches. Gerald Hodges is another guy who could see some time at the “Mike” linebacker position Friday night. All five players have extensive special teams experience, but someone needs to prove to Coach Zimmer and Coach Edwards that they can handle the job on defense.
Anthony Barr – Outside Linebacker
This is another guy who fans will need to be patient with. Barr has only two years of experience as a linebacker. He has freakish athleticism that will help him cover up his lack of experience, but he will make mistakes, he will be picked on. He’s going to take some time to learn coverage techniques as a linebacker. He will need to learn how to fill a gap in the run game. He has all the tools. He’s big, strong, fast, smart, and instinctive. I’ll be watching how he’s used in the defense. We will likely see him play most of the first half and he will likely be asked to take on a variety of responsibilities. Don’t be surprised to see him out of position in pass coverage once or twice during the game.
Overall, the gameplan should be pretty basic. Stick to the fundamentals, run the proper routes, fill the right gaps and make the right blocks. Don’t expect to see any wildcat plays with McKinnon and Cordarrelle Patterson running reverse options or anything else spectacularly awesome just yet. Expect a slow paced fundamentally sound game from both sides of the ball.
Here’s to hoping both teams come out of the game with no injuries and a better grip on who they have on their roster. I wouldn’t be upset if the Vikes pulled out a win, either. After all, we do have the best third string QB in the league.
What do you think? Are there any other guys you’ll be watching during the game?
Let me know in the comments below!