When the NFL announced that there would be no preseason games in advance of the 2020 season, some met it with a sigh of relief. With appearances by starters dwindling over the years, the preseason has turned into a glorified set of scrimmages designed to get players lower on the depth chart in-game action — and of course to line the pockets of owners — making the four-week schedule a grind for fans.
But as the Vikings sit 17 days from their 2020 season opener with the Green Bay Packers, there are a lot of things that are missing. With no chance to watch Minnesota in even an exhibition setting, fans have been robbed of several things that could have made slogging through fourth-quarter preseason tape a little more exciting.
Seeing Justin Jefferson on the field
One of the biggest unknowns heading into Week 1 is just how ready Jefferson is to take over Stefon Diggs‘ role in the offense. After sending the disgruntled receiver to Buffalo, Jefferson was unintentionally dubbed an important piece in the recovery process for fans who may still occasionally throw on the Minneapolis Miracle game during quarantine to cope.
In a normal season, you could make the trip to TCO Performance Center to see how Jefferson looks on the field and then tune in to a Friday night game to see how that translates to the field. In this scenario, a couple of nice preseason catches and perhaps a glimpse of how he could be used in the offense could put Vikings fans at ease and be even more excited about his potential.
Of course, this isn’t a normal offseason. And with no games to speak of, we don’t know anything except that Bisi Johnson is running with the first team as the second option in the offense.
Without actual footage at their disposal, there is a sense of deja vu because just four years ago the Vikings drafted a receiver that showed up to Mankato not knowing how to run a route tree or where to line up. Although Laquon Treadwell never figured that stuff out, we can go on the word of reporters who say that Jefferson has had his ups and downs during camp.
However, with Jefferson’s development being one of the critical points of the Vikings’ future, seeing may be believing — in addition to the occasional Twitter highlight.
Is the offensive line good?
There wasn’t going to be a sign that the Vikings would suddenly have five All-Pros along the offensive line, but like with Jefferson, evidence would be a good start in proving they won’t be a walking disaster. As the decade-long struggle continues, the offensive line continues to be shuffled like a deck of cards. While Minnesota has a pair of locked in aces in Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill, the flop is a little confusing.
Garrett Bradbury was anointed as a set-it-and-forget-it starter, but his rookie season was filled with ups and downs including two games with a 0.0 pass-blocking grade, per Pro Football Focus. He’s 25 and needs to get stronger or else he’ll continue to get bowled over into the lap of Kirk Cousins. After living in the weight room, seeing Bradbury stuff an opposing lineman would be a great start, but here we are.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Vikings to give him some help and have a full-blown guard competition at both spots. As part of the “Can He Play Guard?” Battle Royale, evidence of Pat Elflein being more comfortable at right guard and whoever is playing left guard would be another game-changer for fans who are probably sick of seeing Cousins unsuccessfully run for his life on a check down to C.J. Ham.
For years the snap of the ball has looked like the opening of the floodgates along the offensive line. Finding a successful combination against someone other than Minnesota’s second-string defensive line would be good, but Vikings fans come up empty-handed here too.
Good old-fashioned hype
Before you read this article, you probably didn’t know how many days there were until the season started. I even had to look at my phone to see the date of the Vikings’ first game to put it at the beginning of the article. For all the trashing we do of the preseason, it serves as the unofficial hype man of the regular season.
Think of the normal routine a fan goes through during the preseason. They turn on Week 1 and it’s just exciting to see the Vikings on the field, even for a quarter. The game leans into reserves and you see some players begin to make some splash plays and you’re excited to see what’s next.
The second week comes along and for the first half, you’re fully invested. The starters are on the field a little more so you start to notice things that could be worked on heading into the regular season. Although the channel is probably changed when the backups come in, you’re starting to see how this team comes together.
Then the third week is the “dress rehearsal” where teams presumably treat it like a regular-season game. Over the years, more teams have taken starters out of this game, but you’re really feeling it now. Football is coming and when the backups are in, you have no appetite for these imposters. Week 4 is an afterthought, but you are excited for the season to begin and start jotting down 53-man roster projections and studying your opponent.
Sure, the games may be meaningless to most, but it gets you in the mood to start the grind that is the regular season. Odds are by next year, we’ll still be sick of preseason games by Week 4, but it’s the unofficial kickoff to the real thing. Until then, we’ll patiently wait until the season sneaks up and reveals everything we want to see.