Training camp in Mankato is over and the camp battles are really heating up. Although some battles might have cooled down and been all but decided in public, there are still plenty of battles to watch in Saturday night’s preseason week 2 match-up against the Arizona Cardinals at TCF Bank Stadium (tip for those going to the game, take the train).
The quarterback seems to have settled down as Matt Cassell continues to play steady in practice and last week’s preseason game against the Raiders, while Teddy Bridgewater continues to show us that he is a mortal rookie. Not to say that things won’t change at some point during the season, but it looks as though Cassell will be starting under center once the regular season starts.
Charlie Johnson seems to have held onto his starting job at guard. His consistency, not necessarily outstanding play, has held off rookie David Yankey and second year pro, Jeff Baca. As with all things NFL, things can change in a hurry. Just ask former Jets guard, and current Vikings guard, Vlad Ducasse.
But where are there still battles to be won? Who still has something to prove to the coaches, and who has something to prove to themselves? In other words, which guys should we be keeping our eyes on during the game? I’ll give you two guys to really watch on both sides of the ball, heck even special teams too.
Guys on Offense:
Adam Thielen – Wide Receiver
The local product from Minnesota State University – Mankato finished up another strong training camp in Mankato on Thursday. He’s looking to win the fifth wide receiver job and is doing his best to stand out. After averaging over 17 yards per punt return, having a huge 3rd down catch, and making a strong tackle on special teams last week against the Raiders, Thielen is doing everything right. His spot on the roster isn’t set in stone, however. He still has competition from guys like Rodney Smith, and Kain Colter. Thielen needs to continue to show off his good stuff if he wants to secure a spot on the roster to start the season.
Jerick McKinnon – Running back
The rookie from Georgia Southern impressed fans last week with his shifty running style and smooth burst to the outside. He impressed coaches with solid vision and maintaining a firm hold on the football. While he finished with a team leading 45 rushing yards, I’d like to see him get some work in the passing game. He’s a talented athlete who can make defenders miss in open space. I have no reason to believe that he wouldn’t be able to pull off a big play on a screen pass from time to time. Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner loves to use quick running backs in the passing game, why should McKinnon be any different?
Guys on Defense:
Gerald Hodges – Linebacker
There’s still an open spot in the linebacker corps and the second year player from Penn State had a solid game last week, recording 5 tackles and blocking a field goal with the second and third team defense. Look for him to get a solid look again this week as it is being reported that Hodges is taking a more mature approach to his career as an NFL linebacker this season. Coaches will want to see if the young athletic linebacker can continue the recent uptick in his stock. He could see a lot of playing time in the nickel defense should any of the current linebackers struggle in coverage.
Chris Crocker – Safety
Crocker did not play last week against the Raiders as he signed with the team only a few days prior to the game. There is talk that Crocker, a twelve year veteran who has played under head coach Mike Zimmer in Atlanta and, more recently, Cincinnati, could start this week against Arizona. He has more career interceptions than all of the Vikings’ current defensive backs put together. That is not only a nod to his productivity over his career, but to his age as well. Crocker turned 34 this spring so he is no spring chicken and his legs aren’t as fresh as the other guys around. He does know Mike Zimmer’s defense and the type of players his coach is looking for. That knowledge and experience could give the younger guys on defense a kickstart and could pay dividends for Zimmer for more than just this season. I’m only looking for steady work from Crocker. I don’t expect a Pro Bowl season from him, just for him to come in and be a leader and a role model for the younger guys.
What do you think Vikings fans? Are you excited to watch any of the other guys during the game? Let me know in the comments below.