The Vikings will travel to Denver for their first preseason game on Saturday night. Daniel House discusses the position groups and players fans should be watching closely.
Updated: August 11, 2018, 3:05 p.m.
By: Daniel House
The Vikings will travel to Denver for their first preseason game on Saturday night. It’s the first chance to see the roster compete in more realistic pressure situations. Not only that, but it’s much easier to evaluate the battles up front with other pass rushers lining up against the offensive line. With Nick Easton out for the season, it’s important to monitor the second and third-tier players on the depth chart to see if there is any potential available. The starters will likely play a short period of time (maybe two series), but it will be a night filled with young contributors getting opportunities. There are several players and battles you should be watching closely. Here are a few areas I’ll be monitoring:
The Third Running Back Spot
The reps have been split frequently between Mack Brown, Mike Boone and Roc Thomas during training camp. Boone has put together a strong camp, but was surprisingly listed below both Thomas and Brown on the depth chart. This battle will reach a separation point in the preseason. Brown is an elusive back with decent hands out of the backfield, but Boone has more refined pass catching skills. Thomas missed time in training camp with an injury, but still managed to be ahead of Boone on the depth chart. Each of these running backs have their own strengths, but I’m most excited to watch Boone and Thomas in action because of their upside. One should expect all of them to split carries throughout the game in order to measure their progress.
The Offensive Line Depth Chart
With the announcement that Nick Easton will miss the entire season, it will be worth watching all of the interior players who are lower on the depth chart. Aviante Collins has put together a strong training camp and may be asked to play both guard and tackle during the game. It will be interesting to see if he can translate the technical improvements to live games. In addition, Danny Isidora and Cornelius Edison will both start inside due to injuries up front. Isidora needs to continue improving his stance and ability to hold blocks into the second level. On the other hand, Edison will be tested against another team for the first time. He has shown flashes in practice and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was complimentary of his performance thus far in camp. Josh Andrews is also worth watching because of his position flexibility between guard and center. With Easton’s injury, he may make the roster due to his versatility and fit in the blocking scheme. The team will likely evaluate tape from the younger players to determine the strategy for replacing Easton.
At the tackle spot, Brian O’Neill will be lined up against professional rushers for the first time. As I’ve noted before, he puts together a few positive reps, but still has his fair share of lapses. With Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett as edge rushers in the second-unit, we’ll at least have some professional tape to evaluate O’Neill.
Receivers Battle for the Final Spot
When asked if there were any particular players offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was interested in watching at wide receiver, he responded, “all of them.” At this position, it’s easy to flash in practice, but standing out in games is another story. DeFilippo said the unit will be tested because the Broncos run a plethora of man coverage in their system. Brandon Zylstra missed time earlier this week, so it’s unclear if he will play. His strong camp has put him in a position to potentially claim a roster spot. Veteran free agent signings Tavarres King and Kendall Wright will also have a chance to separate themselves in a chase for a roster spot. Can they fend off a player like Stacy Coley, who has been battling injuries? Not only that, but perhaps one of them could earn a spot until Cayleb Jones returns from a regular season suspension for performance enhancing drug use. How will all of these players respond when the lights come on? We’ll find out.
Mike Hughes and Holton Hill make their debuts
The Vikings have so much young talent in the defensive back room. Mike Hughes has been one of the most impressive young players in camp. It will be interesting to see whether he gets any snaps inside at nickel cornerback with the first-team. Either way Mackensie Alexander has put together a strong camp, so having Hughes as a rotational player in the secondary is just an added perk. Not only that, but Holton Hill has been improving his technique every day with additional reps. His pending development would provide the Vikings with the potential to rotate defensive backs consistently. Watching Hughes and Hill against Broncos wide receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton might be the matchup of the night.
Holmes and Odenigbo inside
On the defensive line, I’ll be watching Jalyn Holmes, who has put together excellent 1-on-1 reps, but is still developing in team settings. He has loads of upside, but must master all of the technique to become a threat in the rotation. However, the flashes of potential lead many to believe he could develop quicker than anticipated. In addition, Ifeadi Odenigbo has been flying up the depth chart and standing out in every drill. He added weight and is improving his hand technique to become more dominant. Could he do enough in the preseason to slide onto the roster? At the defensive end spot, the battle between Tashawn Bower and Stephen Weatherly will be magnified if the team elects to keep an additional defensive tackle. The preseason will again be important for both of them.
Linebacker depth – who emerges?
At linebacker, who will emerge in the depth spots? Antwione Williams has been receiving strong side linebacker reps with Anthony Barr not practicing. He has some burst downhill and stands out as a blitzer. Garret Dooley is a similar player, but will face a challenge from Devante Downs, who has more athletic skills and versatility. The linebacker position is tough to evaluate in camp, so the preseason will help provide clarity.
The kicker battles reaches another level of intensity
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said the preseason will be important for the kicker battle. Kai Forbath and Daniel Carlson have been pretty even in training camp. Carlson needs to show he can be more consistent in the intermediate kicking game. In the altitude, he’ll probably have the chance to kick a very long field goal to get people excited. However, will Forbath display more consistency throughout the preseason? Time will tell, but the team will give a fifth-round pick every opportunity to show what he can do.