The Vikings closed out the preseason by holding out the vast majority of their contributors on both sides of the ball. Daniel House explains which fringe players helped or hurt their cause.
Updated: September 1, 2017, 2:45 p.m.
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
The Vikings closed out the preseason by holding out the vast majority of their contributors on both sides of the ball. It was one last opportunity for fringe players to make a strong impression before roster cuts are made by 3 p.m. on Saturday. After being on Gopher football duty, I sifted through the tape and compiled a few quick observations.
Heinicke showing growing pains
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke really struggled throughout this game. His throws to the sideline were particularly poor. He had trouble driving the ball out to his receivers and they were waiting on throws. There were certain stretches in this game where he delivered the ball accurately and they generally came on deep crossers over the middle of the field. For the most part, he was very inaccurate. At one point, he was just 4-for-14 and launched passes over the heads of his receivers. There were glimpses in training camp where Heinicke appeared to improve his arm strength, but last night was very discouraging. He looked very uncomfortable in the pocket and tried to force throws into spots he shouldn’t. Heinicke left the game with a concussion, but needs to continue working on his mechanics and progressions if he makes the 53-man roster. I still believe he can be a developmental third-string quarterback for the Vikings. However, the preseason showed there are still obstacles as he adjusts to play in game situations.
Isidora puts together a strong preseason
Right guard Danny Isidora will eventually be a starter on this team. His progression throughout training camp and the preseason has really justified why many people thought Isidora was a hidden gem in the draft process. He had multiple strong pass protection reps and helped spark a Bronson Hill run. Isidora is very technically sound and displays a strong base and push to the second level. He has been the best young offensive lineman in training camp and the preseason. On the other hand, tackle Willie Beavers really took a step back last night. He lost multiple pass protection reps and was put on skates as he struggled to read his man. He reverted back to his technique issues from a year ago. In addition, Aviante Collins was poor at left tackle. He nearly got quarterback Taylor Heinicke killed by taking a poor angle and was awful in pass protection.
At tight end, I had Kyle Carter down for two poor run blocking reps, one of which led to a tackle for loss. He also was beaten in pass protection, forcing quarterback Mitch Leidner to step forward in the pocket. This was something Carter needed to improve upon as he strives to be a versatile player on this roster.
Jones shines in his opportunity
Wide receiver Rodney Adams struggled in his final showing of the preseason. He had three drops and failed to tally a catch. He still struggles to get separation unless he is isolated in space or is helped by design. There are inconsistencies in Adams’ game, which may lead him to the practice squad until he develops.
On the other hand, Cayleb Jones finally got an opportunity after showing what he can do in training camp. If you have been reading my content over the last few months, you know how much I like his upside. He’s a big-bodied target with above average ball skills. Jones is the type of player that can stretch the field vertically. He made an impressive grab between two defenders to haul in a high Taylor Heinicke pass. Jones also settled into the coverage soft spot and made a nice play after the catch to score a touchdown. He snatched nine catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in his final audition before roster cuts. Jones will certainly have interest from other teams if the Vikings decide to part ways.
The defensive line rotates
It was worth focusing on the rotation on the defensive line as the Vikings will have difficult roster cuts to make. The coaches got creative up front by using Stephen Weatherly at the three-technique defensive tackle spot a few times. He could potentially make the team if he can be versatile as a defensive end and interior player. Defensive end Tashawn Bower was disruptive as a pass rusher, but had at least two instances where he struggled against the run. He either got too far up the field or lost his balance as the running back made a cutback. I still think he has done enough to claim a roster spot this preseason.
The one player the Vikings might consider keeping is Ifeadi Odenigbo. He had two notable plays against the run and caused a quarterback hurry with a strong push-pull move off the snap. In addition, defensive tackle Will Sutton had a run stop and continues to show his athleticism and upside in the system. The team didn’t play Datone Jones, which may be an endorsement for him. The Vikings will likely keep two players between the trio of Bower, Odenigbo, and Weatherly. Jones making the team might mean the team is unable to keep Will Sutton as well.
Jaleel Johnson also continued his strong preseason, blowing through double teams by keeping his arms extended and exploding with his strong lower half. He had several interior pressures to force plays outside, along with a notable run stop.
A potential practice squad candidate is defensive tackle Dylan Bradley. He was buried on the depth chart, but showed flashes in training camp. More importantly, he had impressive tape at Southern Mississippi. Last night, he had two quarterback pressures and showed his unique blend of speed, power, and versatility as a rusher.
At linebacker, Edmond Robinson had a poor night. He struggled to fight through blocks in the running game and got too far up the field on a few occasions. He also lost once in coverage on a pass in the flat because he was unable to diagnose the play. Robinson has struggled throughout the preseason and certainly didn’t stand out as a player who could emerge as the starting weakside linebacker.
Mack plays for a half, picks up a taunting penalty
Cornerback Mackensie Alexander picked up a terrible taunting penalty and played the entire first half. It’s clear to see the coaches feel he needs more experience to develop as a player. He needs to develop maturity and remain composed as a player. The Vikings will be relying heavily on Alexander and the reps he received Thursday show that he needs to continue playing to progress.
In the backend, safety Jayron Kearse took a poor angle to help cornerback Sam Brown over the top and lost badly on a touchdown grab by MarQueis Gray. He still struggles handling his coverage duties in the backend. He took poor angles on each of the above instances. However, he has displayed his ability to perform incredibly well in the box this preseason. His physicality and length really show up in those situations. It would be interesting to see how Kearse played in a system like Seattle or Atlanta’s.