In their first preseason game, the Vikings looked just okay as they traveled to San Francisco to play the 49ers. Last week, in their second preseason game, the Vikings looked much, much improved. You know what? I’ll just say it: The Vikings looked great against the Bills at home. This week, the Vikings will get another chance to show that they are an improved unit when they host the Chargers tonight at Mall of America Field.

As it is the third preseason game, the starters will likely play an entire half. (And maybe even a drive into the second half.) We should get a really good idea of what our team could look like come the first regular season game September 9th. With that being said, I just found out this morning that neither Phillip Rivers or Antonio Gates will be starting for the Chargers so our defense will be working against backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.

So, as we head into the game tonight, here are some things I’ll be specifically looking for. Don’t forget to check back here sometime after the game for my notes and analysis.

Can Christian Ponder keep it up?

I know this probably seems like a cop-out. And I know you’re probably tired of hearing us talk about on VT about how this year is about Ponder. Blah, blah, blah… But really, Ponder had a great game last week. It was very, very impressive in my opinion. And since tonight’s game will be the preseason game that is most like a regular game, I’ll be watching him closely again. Almost as a confirmation that what we saw last week wasn’t some sort of fluke or something. The poise he showed in the pocket. The decisions he made. The way he went through his reads and directed hot routes at the line. Those are all things that I want to see again tonight through the first half.

I’ll also be watching to see how he does with Jerome Simpson being on the field less. Leslie Frazier said earlier this week in a press conference that the Vikings were going to start throttling his involvement because of his three game suspension at the beginning of the regular season. All indications at this point are that Ponder and Simpson seem to have a pretty good connection and have done well together. It will be interesting to see what happens when Simpson is absent and another wide receiver (Aromashodu?) needs to step up.

Audie Cole and Jarius Wright

Kind of two different stores with these guys so far, huh? On one hand, you have Audie Cole who has been very splashy so far in preseason. Last week he had two interceptions returned for touchdowns (within 17 seconds of one another). The prior week he had a sack against the 49ers. Jarius Wright, on the other hand, has been incredibly quiet. He hasn’t had a single reception and has only returned one punt for decent yardage.

I’ll be looking for Audie Cole to show more this week. While I doubt he’ll get much playing time in the first half, if he can come out in the second half and make some big plays again, I think it is a lock that he will make the roster.

Jarius Wright just needs to show some sign of life if he is going to make this team. I was high on the Wright pick in this year’s draft and I’m really hoping he turns out to be a weapon for this team. Hopefully, in the second half of tonight’s game he can come down with a few grabs and/or show some of that speed on a punt return.

Who will be RB3?

There are a lot of names in the basket for the third running back spot on the roster. The Vikings Age pointed out that Rick Spielman has said he would prefer the third running back to be a running back/full back hybrid. While you would think Lex Hilliard would fill that role quite nicely, he hasn’t really shown anything in the preseason to solidify his place. Matt Asiata, on the other hand, looked really good last week against the Bills (as I mentioned in last week’s notes and analysis). If he can come out and have another really good game, I definitely think he deserves consideration for the role.

Other quick notes

  • There is a battle going on at the tight end position. With John Carlson out with an injury, other guys like Allen Reisner, Mickey Shuler and rookie Rhett Ellison have been stepping up. One of them will probably end up getting cut in the next couple of weeks, though. Who will it be?
  • Is Erin Henderson really being pushed by Marvin Mitchell for the Will spot? I’ll be watching these two tonight.
  • Chris Carr will get to start in place of Chris Cook who is out with concussion concerns. Carr has looked pretty bad so far in preseason. Can he improve tonight as a starter?
  • Who will get the nod at backup quarterback tonight? Joe Webb has looked ghastly in preseason so far. Does he get another shot tonight or does the team decide to give veteran Sage Rosenfels a shot for the QB2 position?