We’re finally here. The final preseason game is upon us and real football is around the corner. But until the season opener against the Rams, the Vikings have their final exhibition game against the Titans on Thursday.
The big names and most of the starters likely won’t play, which will probably steer away the casual Vikings fan. Nevertheless, this game is important. It’ll be head coach Mike Zimmer’s last opportunity to evaluate his team before the Vikings trim the roster from 75 to 53 by Saturday at 3 p.m. CT. With that said, here’s three things to watch:
1. HOW MUCH WILL TEDDY PLAY? There’s a “good chance” rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will start, according to Zimmer. The quarterback competition was settled this week with Matt Cassel named as the starter, but this is still a good opportunity for Bridgewater. It’d be his first chance to start, and the last time Bridgewater will face another opponent for the foreseeable future. It’s unknown how much Bridgewater will play and when quarterback Christian Ponder will enter the game, but Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner would like to see the rookie wrap up a solid preseason against the Titans on a high note.
2. WHICH CORNERBACKS WILL START? A veteran like cornerback Captain Munnerlyn probably won’t play, but will Zimmer want to give Xavier Rhodes another game to get comfortable with the new scheme before the regular season? He made a few good plays against the Chiefs last week and will need to take that next step in his second season with the questionable depth at cornerback. Also, keep an eye on Josh Robinson and Shaun Prater, who had an interception against the Chiefs, and how much they’ll play against the Titans.
3. WHO WILL STAND OUT ON SPECIAL TEAMS? There’s a lot of pressure on some of players on the bubble to perform well one last time to make the 53-man roster. Keep an eye on who starts on the return and coverage teams on kickoffs and punts. The final guys vouching for a roster spot will likely make their biggest impact on special teams during the regular season and will be used accordingly in the final preseason game.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in a June telephone call he would like to play for the Cowboys at the end of his tenure with the Vikings, according to an “Outside the Lines” report.
“Well, I understand, Adrian,” Jones told Peterson during the call. “I’d like that, too … Well, I love your story. I love your daddy’s story. I’ve always respected what you’ve been about. I’ve always been a fan of yours.”
The telephone call is recounted as part of an expansive “Outside the Lines”/ESPN the Magazine profile of Jones by ESPN senior writer Don Van Natta Jr. that was published Thursday.
What’s interesting, of course, is that in the actual longer profile the version is a little different. Peterson never explicitly says he wants to play for the Cowboys — or at least we don’t get to hear that part of the conversation.
Then a man taps Jones on the shoulder, says Adrian Peterson wants to say hello and hands over an iPhone. Jones says hi to the Minnesota Vikings’ star running back and listens, nodding but not smiling. “Well, I understand, Adrian,” he says into the phone. The slanted smile returns. “I’d like that, too. … Well, I love your story. I love your daddy’s story. I’ve always respected what you’ve been about. I’ve always been a fan of yours.”
Listening to half the conversation, it is obvious Peterson is telling Jones he wants to play for the Cowboys. Peterson, 29, is in the fourth year of a seven-year, $100 million contract that will pay him $11.75 million this autumn to play for the Vikings.
“Well, we’ll see what we can do, if we can make that happen,” Jones is now saying. “Hmm-hmm. … I’d like that, too.”
We look forward to seeing how the Vikings try to handle this, but we do not look forward to the endless hand-wringing of Vikings fans. Then again, Peterson is 29 years old, and some have suggested this could be his final year in Minnesota because of the way his contract is structured. Peterson, of course, is a Texas native and has said in previous interviews he was a big Cowboys fan growing up.
The Gophers football team won eight games last season, including four consecutive Big Ten contests for the first time in 40 years. The offense was ragged at times, but the defense made huge strides. In the hard to quantify “eye test,” the Gophers looked the part of a Big Ten team for the first time in a while. They were fundamentally sound and rarely made those crushing mistakes that cause fans (and coaches) to rant and rave. It made them enticing to watch, if not always exciting to watch.
As such, Minnesota enters a season with honest momentum for the first time in many years. A lot of established players are back — most notably in the secondary and on the offensive line, two positions that have become even more critical on a football field in recent years — and there are legitimate reasons to think that the team can take another step beyond last year’s progress.
Then again, there are legitimate reasons to think this season could take, at least in terms of achievement, a step back. The schedule is brutal. The passing game is still unproven. And even though the team’s depth looks to be improved, it’s hard to know for sure until the games begin.
As such, this season — which begins tonight with a home game against Eastern Illinois — could become a “defining” season in the tenure of Jerry Kill. If last year was the one that brought the program back to respectability, this one has the chance to either sustain, stifle or perhaps even exceed that.
Ultimately, even with a tough schedule, the year will be defined in a lot of ways by wins and losses. Anything less than seven wins is a step back. Seven or eight wins is a solid holding pattern against this slate. Anything better than that means we can start really getting excited about this program in 2014 and beyond.
Our money is on the solid holding pattern. But decades of Gophers history have told us to expect worse … while a few years of Kill have made us think we could expect even better.