The Vikings travel to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans in their fourth and final preseason game of 2018. So, let’s not pretend this is anything other than what it is, which is the most meaningless of the four games in terms of starting personnel for the coming season and one that will feature players battling for final roster spots and practice squad spots. We won’t see many of the starters in uniform, unless you are talking about special teamers, and we won’t see much in the way of game-planning that will give us any clues toward what will happen in the regular season. Quite the opposite, really.
But there is still plenty of reasons to watch the game. There are some position/roster spot battles to keep an eye, as the Vikings (and many observers) pull together their final roster (and predictions). So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at few players to pay attention to on Thursday night.
Backup QB—Last week we saw an underwhelming performance by backup quarterback Trevor Siemian and a decent one by third stringer Kyle Sloter. Did that change anything in the minds of the coaches? Do the Vikings now have to roster Sloter (yes) and even consider moving him past Simian on the depth chart (doubtful)? It will be interesting to watch the amount of time each quarterback gets on Thursday and what they do with it.
Kicker’s response to criticism—Daniel Carlson missed two 42-yard field goals last Friday against the Seattle Seahawks. Head coach Mike Zimmer said after the game that he went for two points on the first touchdown since his kicker missed a kick, and special teams coach Mike Priefer said that NFL kickers don’t miss two in a row. Were both quotes intended to put pressure on the rookie place kicker, who performed better when he was in a position battle? Is Zimmer just fed up with inconsistent kickers (he basically has been for most of his career with the Purple). How will Carlson respond? The pressure is certainly lessened in the meaningless game, but it is higher than it has ever been for Carlson. Kai Forbath is just still a phone call away.
Third RB spot—Mike Boone had edged into the lead for the third RB spot, partially due to his performance and partially due to his competitors (Roc Thomas and Mack Brown) getting dinged up. Well, Boone came out of the Seahawks game with a gimpy knee, but returned to practice this past week. This battle is not over, even though there appears to be a clear leader. Watch the running backs on Friday.
George Iloka’s Progression—The former Bengals safety got some playing time last Friday after just coming to town, and he made the most of it by tipping a pass that was intercepted and fueled the Vikings’ comeback. The Vikings want to get him up to speed quickly, and there was talk this week of him playing some hybrid linebacker in practice, so that will be worth watching. Iloka should get some playing time to continue getting into the flow of things, but it might not last long, as the Vikings have designs for him in the regular season.
Where will Brett Jones play and how much time will he get? The same goes for newly acquired guard/center Jones, who the coaching staff will want to see in the lineup learning the scheme but will also want to get him off the field early because of their depleted offensive line. Jones is going to be an important backup/starter for the interior of the offensive line, and the team can’t afford any more injuries there. I believe he will get a quick look, and his play is worth watching, so see him while you can.
Wideout battle still open—With Chad Beebe hurt and not practicing this week, does Brandon Zylstra reassert himself for a roster spot? Beebe has moved up in many observers’ eyes as a roster-able player, particularly with Marcus Sherels nursing a hamstring and Beebe demonstrating return abilities as well as his pass-catching abilities. Zylstra missed the first two preseason games before seeing a little action in the third (12 snaps and no targets), so look for more of him on Thursday. Add into the mix Jake Wieneke, who had 21 snaps and a touchdown, plus Kendall Wright who is still in the conversation, and the battle here still rages for backup receivers. (Caleb Jones, however, might just have signed his own walking papers.) There is a lot to still be decided.
The game is definitely worth watching.