5 Items to Watch in Titans/Vikings Joint Practices and Preseason Game
This week, the Minnesota Vikings welcome the Tennessee Titans to Eagan as the teams hold joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday before meeting in a preseason matchup on Saturday.
As the teams kick off the joint practices today, here are 5 items to keep an eye on with the Vikings and Titans over the next few days.
How Do the Vikings Hold Up Against Tennessee’s Mobile QBs?
Last season, the Minnesota Vikings put together a few dismal defensive performances against dual-threat QBs with Ed Donatell as defensive coordinator. They allowed Jalen Hurts and the Eagles to put up nearly 500 yards of offense in Week 2, did the same against Josh Allen and the Bills in Week 10, and Daniel Jones’ Giants totaled 876 yards between their Week 16 matchup as well as Minnesota’s loss in the Wild Card round.
Over the next few days, the Vikings will get to practice against and play an exhibition game against both Will Levis and Malik Willis. Willis totaled 95 rushing yards over the course of his three starts in 2022, and on the season, he recorded 123 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. At Liberty, he was praised for his improvisational skills, totaling over 1800 yards and 27 rushing TDs during his final two collegiate seasons. Expect to see him moving around often this week.
As for Levis, he finished his 2021 season at Kentucky with 494 rushing yards and 9 rushing TDs before becoming more of a pocket presence during his final collegiate season. Regardless, he is plenty capable of moving outside of the pocket in a pinch, and Brian Flores’ group must be prepared for both of Tennessee’s mobile QBs this week.
A Huge Opportunity for the Vikings Cornerbacks
The Vikings saw a mass-exodus at the cornerback position this offseason, parting ways with Kris Boyd, Cam Dantzler, Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley, and Chandon Sullivan. Outside of Boyd, the other four all started at least five games during the 2022 season for Minnesota.
Now, Minnesota finds themselves moving forward with veteran Byron Murphy and a largely unknown group. Mekhi Blackmon, Andrew Booth, and Akayleb Evans are all Kwesi Adofo-Mensah draft picks that are in the mix for a starting spot, but outside of Murphy, Evans is the only Vikings CB with multiple NFL starts under his belt.
The Vikings CBs have a great opportunity to begin silencing any doubters this week with Tennessee coming to town. DeAndre Hopkins remains one of the best receivers in the entire NFL when healthy, and Treylon Burks is expected to take a leap forward in his second NFL season.
Minnesota’s Interior O-Line vs. Tennessee’s Defensive Line
The Tennessee Titans have boasted some of the best defenses in the NFL during Mike Vrabel’s tenure as head coach. Even during a disappointing 2022 season, they still had the very best run defense per EPA and DVOA in the entire NFL.
Much of this success has to do with the talent on their defensive line, headlined by Jeffrey Simmons and Denico Autry. The duo combined to put up 17 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks last year, and they should remain a fearsome combination.
Currently, the Vikings interior offensive line is in flux. Chris Reed remains on NFI, and as a result, Blake Brandel has made the switch over to guard. Meanwhile, questions still remain regarding the abilities of 2022 second-round pick Ed Ingram at RG. The line will need to stand up to a big challenge in order to open up running lanes for Minnesota’s RBs.
Growth from the Rookies
Week 1 of the preseason was a bit of a mixed bag for the Vikings rookies. QB Jaren Hall showed promise during his snaps, but he will need to be more willing to push the ball downfield this week against a rather porous Tennessee secondary.
Meanwhile, RB DeWaynce McBride was a bit underwhelming, and this may have caused some doubt in the front office and coaching staff if he will be able to step up as RB2 if either Ty Chandler or Alexander Mattison suffer an injury this season. As a result, Minnesota has brought in a number of free agent RBs for visits in the aftermath of the team’s first preseason game at Seattle.
Finally, Mekhi Blackmon’s physical play was on full display on Thursday evening, but it became his downfall on a couple occasions. He was flagged for DPI on a touchdown pass during the loss, and his coverage technique needs to be crisper if he hopes to find lasting success at the NFL level.
What’s Up with Kene Nwangwu?
Vikings RB and return specialist Kene Nwangwu left last week’s preseason game with an injury, and since then, it has been radio silence as to what the ailment was. Hopefully, it is a positive sign that Kevin O’Connell and the Vikings haven’t said anything in regard to the injury yet, and that it simply wasn’t all that serious.
However, Nwangwu has been battling injuries so far in training camp, and it will be interesting to see what his availability is over the next few days.
The return man has completely changed Vikings games over his first two seasons in the NFL, totaling three kick return TDs to this point in his young career. Based on what we saw from that unit without him, Minnesota will need him this year.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.