Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Get your countdown clocks (and your coffee) ready; Minnesota Vikings football returns one week from tonight! For those not on the west coast, the Vikings will take the field against the 49ers at 9:15 pm CT, making this one of the latest starts in recent memory and a tough early test for this young roster.

Rain or shine, late or early, head coach Mike Zimmer is confident in his team’s development this preseason and optimistic heading into Week One:

“We’re never going to stop working,” Zimmer said. “I think that our guys feel good about … training camp. I think they feel good about the effort they’ve given and about the preseason. I’ll probably feel a little better after tomorrow than I do tonight.

“This team has a chance if we’ll figure it out. You don’t want to lose. You’d rather lose a preseason game. There’s some things that we can correct from tonight’s game. … It’s probably a good eye-opener for these guys.”

In true Zimmer fashion, the Vikings’ second-year head coach refrained from wholeheartedly calling his team a playoff contender, but didn’t completely disregard their strong preseason. Save for their loss last Thursday to the Titans, the Vikings finished the preseason 4-1 and looked mostly solid doing so.

Teddy Bridgewater, Xavier Rhodes — who didn’t allow a reception through five games — and Charles Johnson played well, while a number of rookies stepped up and showed promise in their first NFL action. In particular, Eric Kendricks looks to be the eventual successor to Chad Greenway and Trae Waynes steadily improved his play from the Hall of Fame Game, showing signs of becoming the team’s No. 2 cornerback at some point this season.

There are areas, however, that will need to be addressed quickly. The offensive line, for one, is in a state of flux after injuries to right tackle Phil Loadholt and center John Sullivan. Loadholt will miss the season with a torn achilles, while Sullivan has missed multiple practices with reported back spasms. In Loadholt’s place, rookie T.J. Clemmings has performed admirably, but must improve his technique against speed rushers if Teddy Bridgewater is going to succeed this season. He’s still learning how to channel his “mean streak’ into solid line play in the NFL, but like Zimmer said, has a chance to be a serviceable right tackle if he”figures it out.”

The same can be said for the offensive line’s performance run blocking. Before last week’s final preseason game, the Vikings averaged three yards per carry and lost many of the individual battles up front. It’s impossible to blame the team’s rushing issues solely on the offensive line, but thats where success up front begins. Adrian Peterson won’t magically fix missed assignments and split double teams, putting the onus on the unit to resolve or remedy these issues before next Monday.

Like Zimmer, I’m taking the approach of cautious optimism. It’s an exciting time to be a Vikings fan — the roster, especially the skills positions, are loaded with talent, national media outlets are beginning to take notice, and the division champion Packers are reeling in the face major injuries. However, concerns are holing me back from proclaiming the Vikings as Super Bowl-bound, even if I’d love to watch them live in Santa Clara next February.