The Minnesota Vikings kicked their preseason off with a win Thursday night as C.J. Ham and Rodney Adams scored touchdowns in a 17-10 win over the Buffalo Bills that was rarely exhilarating and often sloppy.
But that’s par for the course with preseason football.
Instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of the game itself, let’s take a look at a few players that stood out — and a few that struggled — in the preseason opener.
The undrafted free agent linebacker shined in his preseason debut, playing most of the final three quarters and compiling a team-high seven tackles, five of them solo. Wilson, out of Cincinnati, was strong against the run and pass and frequently found himself in good position to make plays.
He also generated two pass deflections, but one of them was a dropped interception on a poor throw. In the final two minutes of the game he had three ‘almost’ sacks of Nathan Peterman during a wretched stretch for Buffalo’s interior line.
Wilson got his first action with the second team alongside Ben Gedeon and Emmanuel Lamur, which is a nice endorsement. It likely helped his cause that Kentrell Brothers was out with a hamstring injury.
If the Vikings elect to keep seven linebackers, Wilson could certainly earn a spot. He was one of the best defensive players on the field Thursday night.
The offense wasn’t very crisp in the win, but seventh-round rookie Stacy Coley looked the best of all the fringe receivers. While Isaac Fruechte failed to capitalize on any of his targets and Rodney Adams struggled in special teams, Coley made three catches for 67 yards, including a superb sideline catch inside the 5-yard line to set up the team’s first touchdown.
Coley separated himself from his rookie counterpart Adams in training camp and continued to look the part against Buffalo. His acceleration on routes looked far smoother than Adams’, and his speed seemed a notch above as well.
Many people counted Coley out when he missed OTAs with an injury, but he’s made up ground rapidly to position himself as a likely roster addition.
How about another linebacker? Robinson got the start and finished with four tackles and a leaping pass deflection. He made one impressive tackle on special teams and later had an emphatic body-slam tackle on a Bills ball-carrier.
Robinson has alternated first-team reps with Lamur during camp, but he certainly looked like the better of the two linebackers Thursday.
It was a tough night for backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who finished the game 3 of 8 for 20 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He’s fortunate it wasn’t more.
Heinicke dangerously airmailed a pass through the secondary when faced with pressure. He also forced a ball into traffic that serendipitously ricocheted in the air and was caught by Terrell Newby. His interception came on a forced throw on the right sideline when a throwaway would have been more prudent.
Having third-string protection certainly didn’t help, since Heinicke was forced from the pocket more than a few times, but his decision-making was suspect and made him look as rusty as a quarterback who hasn’t played since 2015, which Heinicke hadn’t.
First-team offensive line
Many will leave the win feeling sour over the way the new-look offensive line played, and for good reason.
-Sam Bradford was sacked twice, once because Mike Remmers whiffed badly against Eddie Yarbrough. The other time because Dalvin Cook missed on a pass protection.
-All of Bradford’s completions were short, four of them to Dalvin Cook, and Alex Boone foiled the most successful screen play with a holding call.
-The run game generated just 3 yards per carry during the first three drives.
-The unit produced just one first down on those drives.
Perhaps there is one encouraging caveat: the starting left tackle, Riley Reiff, did not play, and potential Week 1 center, Pat Elflein, played with the second team. The first unit could look different when the Vikings play New Orleans on Sept. 11.
This is certainly not because Sankey hurt his knee, which came on his best play of the night by far. But prior to that 14-yard run, he gained just 15 yards on seven touches — three carries and four catches. Part of this was bad blocking that gave Sankey very little room, but he didn’t show much nimbleness on any of his receptions, nor elusiveness on his carries.
Unfortunately for Sankey, a knee injury may eliminate any outside chance he had at making the roster.