Tonight will mark quite the occasion. The Minnesota Vikings will begin the much anticipated 2016 season by taking on the Cincinnati Bengals in a preseason exhibition game that means very little in so many ways.
However, that doesn’t mean this game is meaningless.
Preseason injuries can immediately and dramatically shift a team’s outlook and is always a primary concern this time of year. Many Minnesota Vikings are going to play their first live-action NFL football under the Paul Brown Stadium lights tonight. A number of roster spots, and even some starting spots, are up for grabs on this highly talented and competitive roster that Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer have assembled.
So, with all of that being said, I wanted to take some time before packing up my purple-clad family and heading to Cincinnati and jot down a list of the five things I am hoping to see out of our Vikings tonight.
1. Trae Waynes Taking Advantage
I’ve been on the Trae Waynes wagon months before the Vikings selected him and, if you follow along here at VT, you’ll notice that I consistently make it known that I am a believer. I think Waynes is destined to be a bright spot in this defense and that the slow start to his career can be attributed to the old-school approach that Mike Zimmer brings to the defense.
Do you remember the days when it was normal for a defensive back to be allowed time and patience when it came to adapting to the NFL level of competition? I certainly do, and Coach Zimmer has been coaching cornerbacks since before I was born.
With that being said, Waynes has a golden opportunity to climb the ladder with the ancient Terence Newman absent. Waynes will start across from Xavier Rhodes tonight and has a great chance to prove, against some high level talent, that he belongs there.
2. Tony Sparano, Andre Smith, and Alex Boone Make a Difference
Right about the time that Minnesota’s offensive line began to trend upwards in terms of positive buzz, some illnesses and injuries stole some optimism away and now we’re all worried again. And rightfully so. A repeat performance of 2015, where Teddy Bridgewater was constantly under fire, could again be the unbearable weak link on this roster.
Three offseason additions, however, can keep us all hoping that better days are ahead.
Coach Tony Sparano, right tackle Andre Smith, and left guard Alex Boone will make their first in-game appearances tonight and all eyes should be watching closely. Whether it be fundamentals, leadership, attitude, bullish strength, or whatever… this fan base is eager for any signs pointing towards an improved group of blockers this year.
3. Tre Roberson Could Cause a Domino Effect
Is Tre Roberson really that good?
This year’s favorite for the “Mr. Mankato” award has a chance to continue that momentum with the cameras turned on. Roberson, unanimously praised for the coverage skills displayed in Mankato, could make waves when it comes to the final 53-man roster if he keeps showing that his transition from college quarterback to NFL cornerback is going to be successful.
Trae Waynes coming into his own, the selection of Mackensie Alexander, and the pleasant surprise that has been Roberson could make for some very awkward conversations when the final cuts roll around and, if was a betting man (I am) I would guess that Terence Newman could end up being on the receiving end of one of those conversations.
4. All Those Receivers
The starters not playing very long could tempt some Vikings fans to tune out early on in tonight’s game, but the receivers group alone is going to be worth observing through the entire evening (assuming the backup quarterbacks can get it to them).
It doesn’t matter which one you pick this year, every Vikings wide out has an intriguing storyline worth following. Is Stefon Diggs developing into the next Antonio Brown? Was Laquon Treadwell worth the first round pick? Has Jarius Wright regressed? Is Charles Johnson back after an injury hampered him in 2015? Can Cordarrelle Patterson return to form? Is Adam Thielen going to continue his incredible climb? Is Moritz Boehringer destined for greatness or to be a footnote in the NFL history books?
This position has perhaps the most intrigue of any and they will be a blast to evaluate tonight. All of them.
5. How’s Teddy Look?
And, of course, the most important aspect of Vikings football is going to be the intense and careful scrutiny of our starting quarterback’s performance.
Teddy Bridgewater has been praised for his improved deep ball so far this offseason and there will be a very limited opportunity to showcase some of that excitement tonight. Additionally, we’ll want to evaluate his vision, footwork, arm strength, accuracy, adjustments, pocket presence, leadership, and, well… you get the point.
You all are in luck, however!
Vikings Territory’s own Austin Belisle has taken “How Does Teddy Look?” to the next level and plans to chart every throw of every game and make the results and analysis available to you all as immediately as possible.
So be sure to tune in tonight, and every game day, for the answers to that all-important and ever-persisting question!