Big Week for Vikings Starters and Bubble Players with Titans in Town + Seattle Game Reactions

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The Tennessee Titans come to town for two days of joint practices with the Vikings this week. The good news for Vikings fans attending these practices at the Vikings facility in Eagan is all of the Vikings starters should be in action at these joint practices. 

Big Week for Vikings Starters and Bubble Players with Titans in Town + Seattle Game Reactions

This follows all starters except second-year guard Ed Ingram and third-year nose tackle Khyiris Tonga not playing in the preseason opener in Seattle (although first-round pick Jordan Addison did play in the game, and he will be a starter when the Vikings are in their three wide receiver offense against the Buccaneers on opening day).

But come Saturday night for the home preseason opener against the Titans, most, if not all, of the starters will sit out the game, as was Coach Kevin O’Connell’s decision last year following the joint practices with the 49ers. This makes the game less exciting for the ticket-buying fans at U.S. Bank Stadium, who won’t see the likes of Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, Danielle Hunter, and Harrison Smith in action, along with probably not watching Tennessee stars Derrick Henry, DeAndre Hopkins, Ryan Tannehill, and Jeffery Simmons. 

big week for
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That’s life in today’s NFL, where preseason games for fans in-stadium and watching the telecast almost always involve only observing the backup players battling for roster spots. Truth is, I always found that to be the most interesting part of preseason football since most starters are bored with preseason games and are just counting down the days until the regular season. For the bubble players, this week with the joint practices and second preseason game is critical as jobs are on the line, and by the third and final preseason game against Arizona on August 26 following another important two days of joint practices next week with the Cardinals, almost all of the roster decisions will have been made.

Several of these backup players made a positive impression in the preseason opener in Seattle, a game in which the Vikings played well early with a 10-0 lead behind a productive offense led by backup QB Nick Mullens and a solid performance by the second-stringers on defense until the third and fourth-teamers lost the lead in the meaningless 24-13 loss.

Here’s my list of backup players who were impressive against Seattle and likely helped their chances to make the team and play contributing roles in the regular season:

Ty Chandler: Despite the fact that Kene Nwangwu is listed as the No. 2 running back on the depth chart, Chandler showed that he is the likely choice for that role as Alexander Mattison’s backup after his impressive performance. The 2022 fifth-round pick, who played in only three games last season after breaking his thumb, showed his quick moves and ability to make defenders miss as he produced 70 combined yards rushing and receiving in Seattle. Meanwhile, Nwangwu missed the game and continues to miss camp practices with an undisclosed injury. 

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Johnny Mundt: He showed up as a run blocker and receiver in this game and earned high praise from O’Connell, who called him “the best third tight end in the league who doesn’t get enough credit for how well he runs or blocks and he gives us so much versatility.” For those (including me) who thought Mundt would have a tough time making the team after the signing of Josh Oliver and with Nick Muse a cheaper option (who did make a nice leaping TD catch against the Seahawks), we now must say, “Not so fast.” 

Nick Mullens: He solidified his spot as No. 2 QB with an efficient performance in the first half — completing 14 of 20 for 139 yards, 1 TD, and no interceptions. Fifth-round rookie Jaren Hall did not perform as well (6 of 14 for only 37 yards) as the offensive line’s third and fourth stringers didn’t give him as much protection as Mullens had with the second-string line plus Ingram. Hall also didn’t have as good of a skill position group to work with in the second half. Hall has looked good most of the time in camp, and the joint practices will be important for his development along with the next two preseason games, and we’ll see if he gets in sooner and with better players around him to better judge his progress.  

Luiji Vilain: The second-year outside linebacker/edge rusher had a sack, three QB hits, three tackles, and a forced fumble as he made his presence felt. He showed some nice pass-rush moves and should make the final roster and get some regular season play time as a rotational player in Brian Flores’ 3-4 defense and special teamer.

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Mekhi Blackmon: The third-rounder is in the mix for significant playing time as an outside or slot corner, and he made several fine plays in the Seattle game, including great coverage on an early deep sideline pass. Blackmon also was beat for a TD when he played in the slot, but he may have been expecting safety help on the play. He was more impressive than last year’s second-round pick Andrew Booth in this game, as Booth was beaten badly for a third-quarter TD.

Other Vikings who played well in Seattle and last week’s evening practice at the Vikings facility: 

Jordan Addison: The first-round pick continues to show he’s going to be a significant contributor this season if he can stay healthy. Addison made a nice diving catch for 22 yards in the game and an outstanding catch and toe tap on a sideline play that was ruled out of bounds (but it looked like he got both feet in).  

Greg Joseph: He made all three of his kicks, including a 54-yard field goal, and has been solid in camp. Rookie Jack Podlesny has the difficult task of unseating Joseph, who produced several game-winning kicks last season (but did miss six extra points), and Joseph has a big leg to produce touchbacks on kickoffs.  

N’Keal Harry: The former Patriots’ first-round pick was signed last week and has been very impressive early on. He had two receptions for 2 for 24 yards against the Seahawks after being the star of the Tuesday evening practice last week with three outstanding catches. Harry is a big target at 6-4, 225 pounds and is making noise in the battle for the fourth or fifth receiver spot as a cheaper option than Jalen Reagor (who did look good in Seattle as he led the team with four catches for 55 yards), especially if Brandon Powell beats out Reagor for the punt returning job (and Powell had two catches for 22 yards in Seattle).  

Around the NFL Observations:

1. Dalvin Cook has signed with the Jets for a reported $7 million base salary plus up to $1.6 million in incentives. It’s a good deal for Cook, who was scheduled to make $11 million before the Vikings released him in June. He was patient in a difficult, undervalued market for running backs and wound up with a better deal than Ezekiel Elliott’s $4 million base salary plus up to $2 million in incentives with the Patriots. But Cook is coming off a better year than Elliott (1,173 rushing yards for Cook vs. 876 for Elliott). 

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Now Cook joins Aaron Rodgers and will share time in the backfield with Breece Hall, a dynamic young back coming off an ACL injury.  

2. There are three starting quarterback spots in play with the regular season less than a month away: in Tampa Bay, Washington, and Indianapolis. The Tampa Bay QB decision is of most interest to the Vikings since the Bucs are the opening-day opponent. Baker Mayfield was considered the favorite entering training camp, but Kyle Trask threw fewer interceptions in early camp practices to narrow the gap. However, Mayfield had a much better preseason opener as the starter against the Steelers, completing 8 of 9 for 63 yards, 1 TD, and no interceptions, while Trask was 6 of 10 for 99 yards, no TDs, and 1 interception. 

Trask gets the start this week against the Jets, but I expect a coach on the hot seat in Todd Bowles will go with the much more experienced Mayfield (69 career starts and one playoff win) on September 10 in Minnesota vs. Trask, who has never started an NFL game in his two prior seasons as he sat behind Tom Brady. 

Second-year man Sam Howell has more upside and is favored to win the Commanders starting QB job over the more experienced Jacoby Brissett.

Even though Anthony Richardson started only one college season at Florida, I don’t think the Colts picked him fourth overall this year to sit on the bench. Gardner Minshew knows the offense better from being with Coach Shane Steichen in Philadelphia the last two years as Jalen Hurts’ backup while Steichen was the OC. Minshew would be one of the better backup QBs in the league and ready to step in whenever Richardson struggles, but I expect the talented rookie to be the opening-day starter against Jacksonville unless Richardson clearly isn’t ready for the big stage. 

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl