Finishing up a road trip combined with hosting the in-laws meant I was a little delayed in my watching of the Vikings first preseason game of the Mike Zimmer era. I’ll try to make up for the delay by hosting a real-time live chat for the next game.
Overall, what we saw from the Vikings in their preseason debut against Oakland was encouraging. Tomorrow, I’ll turn around and focus on the “Five Things I Hate About You,” but I first want to ride the optimism and give you five positive takeaways.
5. Adam Thielen Looks Legit
The Vikings have invested a lot into their wide out position over the last couple of years and it is showing. Quality depth is still a concern, especially with Jerome Simpson facing a suspension this season, but Adam Thielen is looking like a reliable backup option with special teams value. He caught a pass for 15 yards, made a hell of a coverage play, and averaged over 17 yards on three punt returns. He looks fragile to me, and that very well could be my imagination, but I otherwise can’t think of a single reason he shouldn’t be on this roster in Week One of the regular season. He made plays all over the field this week.
4. A Rookie Class Providing Hope
It is hard not to read too much into preseason action sometimes, but I always have a sense of relief when I watch high draft picks take those first snaps and they look the part. It is a rare occasion when you get a guy that looks like he’s never seen a football before in his life, but it doesn’t look like we have any sure-fire busts on our hands. Anthony Barr got in on a sack. Teddy Bridgewater didn’t self-destruct. Jerick McKinnon showed good vision on offense and on returns. Even lesser known guys like Shamar Stephen, Kendall James, and Jabari Price flashed at times. This class looks to be another solid one for Rick Spielman to add to his resume.
3. This Running Game
The Vikings offensive line looked much better on run plays than passing downs, which isn’t surprising, and it was nice to see this offensive look potent without Adrian Peterson. In a perfect world, Peterson will not miss any games from now until he’s 47 (or whatever age he retires at), but our backup plans of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon are reassuring in the event of a disaster. Both showed some nice moves carrying the ball, and it was good to see each of them throw some quality blocks throughout the game, and I think it is clear those two guys will be Peterson’s backups come opening day.
2. Secondary Appears Much Improved
I had a feeling I would love Mike Zimmer’s impact on this secondary and the first preseason contest was an indication that my feeling will be correct. The coverage was generally tight and it seemed like almost every member of the secondary did something positive and contributed to the win. Captain Munnerlyn played how I would expect him to. Derek Cox and Shaun Prater each made cases for themselves with excellent pass breakups. The safeties, led by Harrison Smith and Kurt Coleman, looked aggressive and confident. Alert the overreaction police if you like, but I think this pass defense is going to take a huge leap in just one year… dare I say top ten?
1. That Defense As A Whole
I know, I know… it was the Raiders. Still, this defense looks for real. For. Real.
For me, watching the defense used to entail finding Jared Allen and watching how close he’d get to the quarterback before the Vikings gave up decent yardage on soft coverage. Under the previous regime, we certainly wouldn’t expect to see anything other than the most bland defensive looks in the preseason, but is no longer the case at all.
This defense looked tough and aggressive. They looked energetic. They looked well-rounded and confident. Assuming this offense can be at least as good as they were last year, such significant improvement on defense might just give the Viking playoff hopes as early as this season.