The Minnesota Vikings kick off their preseason against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. Since the last time the Purple and Gold took the field, they have a new general manager and coaching staff with an all-new vision for the team.
This preseason probably won’t give us much insight into what Kevin O’Connell‘s regular-season offense will look like. Still, it will be our first glimpse at the new additions on the roster and some inkling of the depth chart.
Here are five things Vikings fans should watch for in Week 1 of the preseason.
The Young Secondary
We all know that Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson are potentially Canton-bound when their careers are over. They are both on the wrong side of 30 and the back nine of their careers, although they’re still impact players who will contribute significantly as leaders of the secondary. The part of this unit you should be paying attention to is the younger players.
Andrew Booth Jr., Lewis Cine, and Akayleb Evans have all impressed so far in training camp. They will attempt to make an immediate contribution to a secondary that was abysmal last season. Though it is easy to focus on the rookies, we shouldn’t forget about guys like Cameron Dantzler and Camryn Bynum, who are also under 25 years old and looking to keep their starting jobs. Vikings fans should pay attention to the position battles for the second safety and cornerback positions.
The Interior Offensive Line
The Vikings look like they have their bookend tackles for the next decade or so, with Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill sealing the edges. But how will the interior offensive line pan out? Ezra Cleveland looks to have solidified his spot at left guard, but the other two positions feel very much up for grabs. While this new regime has pledged its loyalty to Garrett Bradburry, his play on the field over the last few years — and his training camp performance — have left much to be desired.
The right guard spot is the position of interest among the offensive line. Oli Udoh seems to have fallen out of favor and looks like a long shot for the starting position. The real battle for the starting spot is between veteran journeyman Jesse Davis and second-round rookie Ed Ingram. While Davis is most likely the favorite to cement himself in the starting spot for Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, it will be interesting to see how Ingram performs given the high expectations for him from this regime.
While the old coaching staff was hesitant to start rookies early, it feels like Ingram will at least be given a fair shot to start Week 1 if he impresses.
Last season, kicking remained a bit of an issue despite the vast improvements on special teams. Everyone remembers when Joseph missed the 37-yard potential game winner against the Arizona Cardinals. Joseph finished the season 33/38 on field goals and 36/40 on extra points, putting him 16th and 25th in those categories.
In this training camp, Joseph seems to be making almost every kick he attempts, including a 60-yarder that he converted with about eight yards to spare. While I don’t think we will see Joseph attempt such kicks in regular season games, we could potentially see him try some long-range kicks during the preseason and see if he is comfortable with this range.
Hopefully, Joseph can end the long-running trend of Vikings kickers coming up short in crucial moments.
The QB2 Battle
Perhaps the most interesting element of this first week of the preseason is the backup quarterback battle. On the one hand, you have the veteran Sean Mannion, who has managed to stick around with the organization for three seasons and through two regimes. Last season fans got a glimpse of him in regular-season action against the Green Bay Packers in a game that ended in a blowout. Most were left thoroughly unimpressed.
On the other hand, you have last year’s third-round pick, Kellen Mond, who the previous regime never gave a fair shake. The Vikings listed Mannion and Mond as co-backup quarterbacks on the first unofficial depth chart after both struggled. It should be interesting to see who gets the most snaps in Week 1.
It should also be noted that there have been rumors swirling that the front office could make a move for a new backup quarterback if Mannion and Mond don’t impress in preseason.
The Backup Tight Ends
Irv Smith recently had surgery on his finger. The Vikings had Tyler Conklin fill in admirably in his stead when Smith missed the entire year to a meniscus injury last season. Minnesota’s tight end room looks thin this season behind Smith, with guys like Johnny Mundt, Ben Ellefson, Zach Davidson, and Nick Muse all vying for roster spots.
While Smith says he should be back in time for the Week 1 matchup against the Packers at US Bank Stadium, this is the perfect time for the Vikings to test their depth at the position.