As the Vikings take the field for their second preseason game, the roster battles will intensify as the regular season quickly approaches. Daniel House provides five under the radar players to watch vs. Seattle on Thursday night.
Updated: August 17th, 2016 4:10pm
Updated: August 17th, 2016 4:10pm
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
As the Vikings take the field for their second preseason game, the roster battles will intensify as the regular season quickly approaches. With the starters generally playing less than a half of football in the second preseason matchup, the focus quickly shifts to players many fans might not know. However, those names are some of the most important ones when it comes to formulating a roster. Finding under-the-radar talent is the key to building depth to withstand a 16-game regular season slate. Several of those players will bolster their resume by taking advantage of the extended playing time they will receive in the preseason. In this post, I will describe five players to monitor closely as the Vikings travel to Seattle for a exhibition matchup with the Seahawks.
Center Nick Easton is making an impression as a potential developmental center for the future. The Vikings traded linebacker Gerald Hodges to the 49ers in the middle of the 2015 season in exchange for Easton. The Harvard product put together an impressive training camp and stood out on film in the first preseason game. His technique has consistently evolved since he first hit the field for training camp. What I like most about Easton is his physicality. He isn't afraid to take on a double team or peel off his block and blow up a linebacker. Easton gets up the field and blocks in the second level and was a key force behind C.J. Ham's 10-yard touchdown in the Vikings most recent preseason game. With Joe Berger and John Sullivan both over 30 years of age, the team could elect to keep one of those veterans and stash Easton on the roster as the future center. He certainly needs to perform consistently well in the preseason and tomorrow night he will see extended action.
Defensive tackle Toby Johnson was one of the players I told you to keep a close eye on before the Bengals preseason game. He definitely didn't disappoint. Johnson had two quarterback pressures and nearly notched a sack late in the game. He did over pursue a running play and missed a tackle trying to recover, but for the most part performed very well. He moves well with his 325-pound frame and makes his presence known as both a run defender and pass rusher. What's more, he has a nice blend of power and is light on his feet. His technique and footwork have been impressive and he has a chance to continue improving. Johnson spent time on the Vikings practice squad near the end of last season and is a young defensive lineman that position coach Andre Patterson could develop into a rotational interior defensive lineman.
With Mike Harris' injury lingering, Zac Kerin might play a larger role as a rotational piece among the offensive line. Kerin can play both guard or center and has been developing over the last two years in Minnesota. His training camp was rather inconsistent, but his film from the first preseason game was very solid. Kerin can set his anchor and deliver a punch smoothly. He has a strong base and his fundamentals gradually improved throughout training camp. I think that can be said for almost all of the offensive lineman on the roster. The hands-on approach and technique-based coaching style of Tony Sparano has really done wonders for the young blockers on the roster. Kerin has been one of the players that has benefited from this change. He shoved a defensive lineman 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and into the ground during the last preseason game. Also, he sprung a couple runs by opening up some nice holes in the second level of the defense. If Joe Berger gets the starting center job, Zac Kerin could secure his old role as the dependable backup.
After watching the Cincinnati game back twice, Stephen Weatherly really caught my eye. According to Pro Football Focus, Weatherly had five quarterback hurries in 22 snaps. Weatherly was a seventh-round pick in this year's draft and is well-known for his athletic skill-set. He measures in at 6'4", 264 pounds and used his length as an asset at the college level. In training camp, he looked behind the curve in terms of being a consistent pass rusher. In his final collegiate season, he shifted to outside linebacker in Vanderbilt's 3-4 defense. Another year of being a pure pass rusher would have been instrumental to his growth. At the NFL level, Weatherly needs to refine his technique and develop more pass rushing moves. In the Bengals game, he was rushing mostly with pure athleticism off the edge. If he can become more fundamentally skilled, he has the chance to be a very good player. I want to see his growth as a player over the next couple preseason games to see how he is using the coaching he receives.
After missing the joint practices in Cincinnati, Jhurell Pressley made it to the preseason game, but didn't play. With a full week of practice, it seems likely he will get a chance to see carries. Pressley is quick, shifty, change-of-pace running back that produced at the college level. In 2015, Pressley played in 13 games, recording 907 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. In training camp, he was very elusive running on the edge and executed some shifty moves in space. It was hard to analyze Pressley without contact in practices, but his burst, combined with his vision really stood out. Pressley will need to show he has more to offer than fellow undrafted teammate C.J. Ham who performed well in the last preseason game. Coach Zimmer indicated he would get some snaps in this game and it will be the first time he can be evaluated separate of his college tape (which was impressive).