|Photo Courtesy of Vikings.com|
The third preseason game is a time for the starters to slowly progress towards playing a complete half of football. The Vikings starters could see extended action as they close out the home preseason schedule against the Oakland Raiders.
Updated: August 22nd, 2015 8:30am
By: Daniel House
The Raiders used the draft to add Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper to their passing game. The Oakland front office needed to find a weapon to pair with young quarterback Derek Carr. All indications suggest he is getting separation and will translate his route running skills to the NFL level. The offensive line will be tested by Raiders pass rusher Khalil Mack early and often. It will be important to see how Matt Kalil handles him in passing rushing situations. On the other side of the offensive line, T.J. Clemmings will be making his first start. He will need to fill the shoes of Phil Loadholt, who suffered a season-ending achilles tear last week. Clemmings will be seeing some action from Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck and it will be important to see how he handles the veteran pass rusher.
According to AccuWeather, there is a significant chance of heavy rain Saturday night, which could impact how long (or if) the starters even play.
The offense needs to start converting on third down
As I said earlier, the Vikings first-team offense converted on just two of their ten third down situations last week. Over the last few days, the coaches placed a major emphasis on improving this in practice. It all starts with running routes and making the quick throws that help you convert. Also, it's critical to prevent being in third-and-long situations frequently. All of this is done by running plays more efficiently in the earlier downs. It will be important to solve this issue so the offense has a flow when the regular season begins. Thus far in the preseason, opposing teams are 8-of-17 on third downs against the Oakland defense. This will be a good test to see how the players responded to additional coaching this week.
How will T.J. Clemmings perform in a starting role?
T.J. Clemmings has been thrust into the starting role after Phil Loadholt tore his achilles last week. As a rookie, he will be making his first career NFL start in this game. He will be tested by a Raiders front that is led by Justin Tuck and Khalil Mack. Polishing his technique has been the biggest transition for Clemmings at the next level. Last week, Clemmings didn't have any issues, but the Bucs didn't bring many rushers. The Raiders will surely bring more pressure this week and we will be able to get a more accurate assessment of how much T.J. Clemmings has developed over the last few weeks. Carter Bykowski will miss the entire season with a torn pectoral muscle and that means the depth behind him will need to take the next step. David Yankey has the chance to be the swing tackle and Mike Zimmer has commented on how much he has improved. The offensive line as a whole will need young players to step up as injuries have struck an already thin position group.
The middle linebacker competition
Mike Zimmer said this week that he hasn't decided who will start at middle linebacker in the base 4-3 package. We do know it will be a two-horse race between Audie Cole and rookie Eric Kendricks. Kendricks had a splashy week against the reserves last week and certainly made a statement. Cole has performed well in both games too, but the coaches really like the idea of having an athletic specimen like Kendricks on the field. Based upon Zimmer's comments this week, it seems as if Kendricks could see some snaps with some of the starters this week. Kendricks was easily the better play in training camp and if he can continue to play well, he might be the starting middle linebacker when the Vikings open the regular season in San Francisco.
Anthony Barr returning to action
After missing time with some knee inflammation, it appears Anthony Barr will make his return this week. Many analysts have indicated Barr might be out of shape because he has missed so much time. It never showed in the limited time he was on the field in training camp, but the stamina to play in a game is a totally different type of physical exertion. It will be critical to have Barr at 100% health when the regular season begins. Placing Barr, Kendricks, and Hodges together could be a very prominent package for the defense. He probably won't play an extended amount of time, but this is a good barometer to see where he is at in his recovery.
Keep your eyes on the rotational pass rushers
After missing most of training camp with an ankle sprain, Scott Crichton will be returning this week. He looked much-improved in practice, but this will be the first live action he has seen in the preseason. Crichton wasn't overmatched physically and had the strength to handle opposing offensive lineman. His footwork and technique improved, but now it needs to be applied to a live game. Danielle Hunter has been working very hard to improve his rushing angle and he will rotate more with Crichton retuning to the fold. Both of these players are worth keeping an eye on against a Raiders offensive line that allowed the sixth-most sacks in the league last season.