Friday, August 14, 2015

Vikings vs. Buccaneers Preview

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The Vikings will continue their preseason slate as they square off with the Tampa Buccaneers at TCF Bank Stadium. Daniel House previews the game and tells you what to expect as the Vikings play in their second preseason contest. 

Updated: August 14th, 2015 7:00pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings will be looking to build upon their first preseason game as they return home to square off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last week against Pittsburgh, there were some positives and negatives when you evaluate the Vikings' performance. There were mental mistakes and technique lapses that resulted in problems. However, many young players were seeing their first NFL action, while playing on a national stage. With another week under their belt, they know what to expect when entering week two of the preseason. The Tampa Buccaneers will be watching 2015 number one overall pick Jameis Winston make his NFL debut.

According to reports out of Florida, Tampa Bay will be playing their starters for at least one quarter. Jameis Winston will be seeing an extended amount of action as he tries to develop continuity with his teammates. Not to mention, he will be trying to adapt to the speed of NFL action. As for the Vikings, the coaches will continue rotating players on the defensive line to find the right mix to pressure the quarterback. The young defensive backs will continue to see extending playing time as they look to improve their technique. On offense, the young offensive lineman will keep trying to acclimate themselves to the finesse level of NFL pass rushers. With all of the positions on the team, the coaches will be trying to rotate players into different situations. The preseason is a time to find which players can make the best impact during the regular seasons. Also, it's important for the players to gain continuity with each other before games really count. Both Tampa and Minnesota have young rosters that will be trying to gain experience in this preseason matchup.

Here are five things to watch for as the Vikings square off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday at 7pm CT from TCF Bank Stadium:

More action for the Vikings first-team units

As we all are fully aware of by now, Mike Zimmer will leave his starters in preseason games until he feels they perform to his standards. At the end of this week, he was very unhappy with their practice habits and was vocal about that during his press conference. No limit has been set on how long the first-team will play, but you have to believe it would be at least one quarter. Last Sunday, the starters on both sides of the ball only played one series in the Hall of Fame game. This week will be the first extended look we will see with the first-team units squaring off with an opposing group of starters. It will be important to see how the players respond when they witness extended action on the field. Three areas to monitor with the first-team group will be: pass protection, run defense, and overall coverage in the backend of the secondary. Those are all situational aspects of the game that must be improved upon in 2015.

How will the offensive line perform in the second exhibition game?

The first-team offensive line kept the pocket very clean for the one drive they were on the field. The Steelers held out many starters, but this is still very encouraging. Now, the group will play more than one series and the Bucs will likely have the majority of their first-team unit on the field. Tampa Bay re-tooled their defensive line in the off-season in hopes of garnering more pressure in 2015. This off-season, they added the likes of George Johnson and Henry Melton to bolster their defensive line. This will be a good test for the Vikings starting offensive line. The Vikings second team unit is filled with a flurry of rookies. The day after the Pittsburgh preseason game, Mike Zimmer commented that Austin Shepherd was efficient, T.J. Clemmings looked good, and Tyrus Thompson needed to improve. The young players are trying to adjust to the rushers of the NFL and they will have a second chance to potentially show growth as protectors. It is important to see growth from all of these players as the coaches decide who can provide the best depth for the roster this season.

Will the coaches rotate more at safety?

At the end of Thursday's training camp practice, reports indicated Antone Exum Jr. started rotating into the first-team grouping at strong safety. Robert Blanton was missing some assignments and Mike Zimmer decided to rotate Exum Jr. into the fold for a few snaps. There have been several instances where he has rotated into the fold with the starting group. Could this potentially be the week the snaps are more divided between Exum Jr. and Robert Blanton? Exum Jr. performed well with the second unit in the Hall of Fame game and his physical edge could be an excellent fit alongside Harrison Smith. This job is up for grabs and if there was any week Exum Jr. could steal some snaps, it would be in this matchup against Tampa Bay.

Can the specialists improve upon a poor showing? Will Sherels or Diggs gain separation as the punt returner?

Last week, Blair Walsh missed a 48-yard kick wide right, but made all of his 33-yard extra points. Jeff Locke didn’t look good punting the ball either. He shanked a 32-yard punt and boomed a 58-yard kick out of the end zone. These are the same types of inconsistencies that were an issue with this group of people last year. This week, Mike Priefer said both of them are continually working to improve their consistency. However, it will be very important to start seeing better performances from Jeff Locke, specifically. The Vikings can't lose the field position battle on a consistent basis this season. In the early portion of the season, Jeff Locke hasn't successfully shifted field position very much. That is something that is very concerning and needs to be fixed immediately. After an electrifying 62-yard punt return last week, Stefon Diggs is starting to gain some steam as a player that could potentially unseat cornerback Marcus Sherels as the starting punt returner. Mike Priefer said they will continue to rotate, but that he was very impressed with Diggs' performance in the Hall of Fame game.

"I would like to continue to work Marcus [Sherels] in there because if he’s going to be the guy, then we need to make sure he’s ready for the season as well. You can’t just roll the ball out there against San Francisco and hope Marcus is the guy. So, were going to continue working the top three returners as we go forward," Priefer explained at his weekly press conference.

Diggs and Sherels will each get their chance and it will be very intriguing to see how they each perform as the battle continues to intensify.

Can Waynes bounce back in his second career game?

Last week in the Hall of Fame game, rookie cornerback Trae Waynes didn't have the best debut. He was called for holding and pass interference on multiple occasions. Waynes is trying to adjust to the NFL as he played in a more physical system at Michigan State. He was relying a little bit too much on his speed and needs to learn how to have the correct blend of speed and physicality as a cornerback in the NFL. Mike Zimmer isn't worried in the least about how Waynes performed in his first outing.

"[Waynes] is fine. There’s no issues. He’s a good, competitive kid. I liked what I saw in a lot of things. Obviously the penalties weren’t good, but he got into a couple of situations where he started reverting back to some of the college things. I am not worried about it at all and he was fine after the game," Zimmer explained at his press conference.

Developing into a top-tier cornerback won't happen overnight and it will take an extended amount of experience for him to improve. However, the preseason is a perfect time for Waynes to learn the technique and fundamentals of playing at an NFL level. Last week, he played for 84% of the snaps and will likely continue to see more action against Tampa Bay.

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