The Vikings kick-off the pre-season against the New Orleans Saints this Friday. While it’s the pre-season, and the starters will only play a handful of snaps, there’s still plenty to watch for. There are players to watch at every position, especially on the defensive line and defensive backfield. The rookie class will also be on display for the first time in a game situation, giving us a look at players like Garrett Bradbury, Alexander Mattison, Irv Smith Jr., etc.
So, let’s take a look at the match-ups that we have to look forward to this Friday night at each position, so we know what to look for in all four quarters in terms of the starters as well as the back-ups and bubble players.
Drew Brees vs the Vikings First-String Defense
It’s been reported (and overtly stated, by coach Zimmer) that the defense has had a really rough start so far this training camp. Getting out to a fast start against a hall of fame Quarterback will do wonders for their confidence and the fans confidence as well, especially considering the slow start they had last season. Xavier Rhodes vs. Michael Thomas is always a great battle, and Alvin Kamara vs. the Vikings linebackers will be interesting to see. Granted, it will only be for one drive or a couple of plays but the first game action of the season is extremely exciting, especially considering the history between these two franchises.
Garrett Bradbury vs. Sheldon Rankins
Sheldon Rankins is a budding star in this league, as he had eight sacks last season. That makes this the perfect test for the Vikings rookie center Garrett Bradburyl. The zone blocking scheme that off-season addition coach Kubiak (and new offensive line coach Rick Dennison) brough should give Bradbury favorable positioning and shouldn’t leave him exposed. However, passing sets will be different, as they’ll have Bradbury drop back and handle the rusher in front of him. While it’ll be too early to tell either way, a strong start from Bradbury, especially against someone like Rankins, will help show whether he was worthy of a first-round pick (as a center) and if he can solidify the interior offensive earlier than later (or at all).
Vikings Backup Quarterbacks vs. Second and Third-String Saints Defense
The battle for the back-up quarterback position has become one to watch during camp. Kyle Sloter won the job last year (behind Trevor Siemian), but it seems like Jake Browning and Sean Mannion are not gonna make it easy for him to find a roster spot this year. According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press (Link?), Mannion has taken the majority of the second-team reps with Sloter and Browning working with the third team. Mannion was not very good in his last pre-season starts with the Los Angeles Rams (throwing for one touchdown and two interceptions). Sloter on the other hand has been a fan favorite, last year he tossed four touchdowns including a game winning TD to Chad Bebee, with no turnovers to boot. While I fully expect the back-ups to rotate during the pre-season (with Sloter and Browning, especially, getting their shots), who plays when (or at all) at the third quarterback spot on Friday will be pretty telling as to where the Vikings coaching staff has these guys ranked after the first week of camp.
Saints Quarterbacks Vs. Vikings Second and Third-String Defense
This will be a tough start to the preseason for the newcomers on the Vikings defense. The Saints are loaded at the quarterback position, and both Taysom Hill and Teddy Bridgewater are capable of playing against first string defenses. There are question marks with the depth of the Vikings defensive line and the defensive backfield (especially with Mike Hughes still coming back from last years devastating knee injury), but they will get their chance to impress.
Other Players to Watch:
WR Olabisi Johnson
WR Dillion Mitchell
DB Marcus Epps
DB Kris Boyd
WR Jordan Taylor
G Dru Samia
T Oli Udoh
RB Alexander Mattison
DT Hercules Mata’afa
DT Armon Watts
DE Ifedi Odenigbo
QB Jake browning