Say what you will about preseason football, it’s still football right? Sometimes, barely but yes it is football and our favorite team is in the limelight tonight on the road against the Buffalo Bills. While that might be enough to wet the whistle for most of you to tune in, there are those of you who might have little interest in preseason football action. That’s where I come in.
Here are five things to look for, five reasons if you will, that you should watch tonight’s MIN vs BUF game…
The debut of rookie running back Dalvin Cook…sort of.
By now you’ve probably heard a lot about new Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Not only is the running back position one of interest after the departure of the greatest back in franchise history, but it would appear that early on the replacement is a good choice. It’s been all Dalvin Cook all the time coming from the media all the way through rookie minicamp, OTAs and now wrapping up Training Camp. But this will be the first exposure that Cook will have against a real opponent and the first time that he’ll be tackled to the ground by the opposition. From the coaches to the veteran players, it appears as if there’s gold in them thar hills with Cook. He’s listed as the number one running back on the depth chart so he’ll probably play one, maybe two drives but the Vikings offense is still a run-first offense and getting this kid rolling will be important to the long-term success. If he rips one off tonight, Vikings fans are going to go bonkers.
Can Michael Floyd show up against the Buffalo twos?
There have been a handful of good reports coming out of Mankato this summer surrounding the performance of one Michael Floyd. Floyd came to Minnesota under interesting circumstances but since putting on the purple it’s been good news left and right, so much so that people are starting to throw out some pretty high praise. It’s now to the point that people are expecting him to play a large role in the offense this year. He’ll miss the first four weeks so the measurement of success begins tonight. Floyd has some big time experience but will get decent run tonight against the Bills second team defense and he should show up. It should be noted that he’ll also be paired with a second team quarterback and a second team offensive line so it’s not all on him but I would look for Floyd to stand out tonight and in the weeks to come when he squares off against “lesser” competition.
Check out the backup quarterback battle…
I know, whoopee…the backup quarterbacks. Well, it’s one of the only real position battles for the Vikings this preseason and it’s a heated one. A year ago, Taylor Heinicke was likely in line to beat out Shaun Hill for the backup quarterback spot. He had the quarterbacks coach in his corner, the offensive coordinator in his corner and then he showed up to Training Camp in a walking boot after kicking his foot through a glass window. Ultimately he missed the entire season, the Turners are no longer with the team and Case Keenum was brought in for a 1-year $2 million contract. Keenum has actual NFL experience with 24 starts under his belt and he was handpicked to join this team by Pat Shurmur, the guy who runs the current offensive scheme. Heinicke and Keenum have been traded reps with the second and third team through camp so far but it’s Case Keenum listed as the second-team quarterback and that means that he’s going to be the one paired up with Michael Floyd, Jarius Wright and Isaac Fruechte while Heinicke gets something called Cayleb Jones, R.J. Shelton and Moritz Boehringer. That same effect trickles down the offensive line, tight ends and running backs as well. It would appear that Keenum is the favorite but the battle rages on.
Can the offensive line develop any sort of flow?
It’s unlikely that they’ll play much more than one drive tonight but it was all eyes on the offensive line this summer and the results have been a little slow to come to date. Riley Reiff won’t play tonight so it won’t be the starting five across the front but there will be something to learn from the center position, the guards and much to prove at both tackles. Not sure if you were paying attention but that’s the whole line. Saturday’s night practice didn’t go all that well for the o-line but this will be their first test against another team to gage where they are at, and Buffalo’s line is no slouch. Upper half of the league and armed with Marcell Darius in the middle, it will be a good test.
The super special battles occurring on special teams…
I know what you’re thinking, Aj’s getting cute telling us how important special teams are and how certain players can impact their backup linebackers spot by their contributions on special teams. I only wish it was that in depth, instead it’s the reality that there is an open competition at both kicker and punter. For the kickers it’s Kai Forbath vs Marshall Koehn and the punters it’s Ryan Quigley vs Taylor Symmank. They are listed in that order on the depth chart but nobody has done enough to really rise above the competition. That doesn’t make me feel great about these spots, I’ve been told there is more confidence surrounding the kicker than there are the punters but that’s not a ringing endorsement of any kind.