When the Minnesota Vikings face off Thursday night against the Buffalo Bills for their first preseason game, they will be evaluating young talent and getting extended looks at important position battles for the first time against a different squad. While coach Mike Zimmer and company will not be upset heading back to Winter Park with a win, the main objective will be seeing the lower part of the roster begin to take shape. So instead of getting beat up over the score when the ball is kicked off at 7 PM ET, here is what you should be paying attention to.
Minnesota Vikings Preseason Week 1 Primer
The True Pat Shurmur Offense: Preseason Edition
When former offensive coordinator Norv Turner left Minnesota two days following the team’s 20-10 loss at Chicago on Monday Night Football, tight ends coach Pat Shurmur took over the reins and tried to right a sinking ship that was the offensive line. The line gave up 19 sacks in the first seven games of the season, but 11 of those came in Turner’s final two games. When Shurmur took over, he got away from Turner’s seven-step dropbacks and gave quarterback Sam Bradford more quick passes to lower the amount of shots the quarterback took.
Even with this change in philosophy, Shurmur could only do so much with a line that saw eight different starting combinations. With the off-season acquisitions of veteran tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, along with the drafting of rookie center Pat Elflein, the offensive coordinator should a chance to get more creative, along with improving on the league’s worst running game. While NFL teams generally don’t game plan going into the first preseason game, expect Shurmur to test the first team offense in the one or two series that they’re on the field Thursday.
The Weak Side Linebacker Position
When 11-year veteran Chad Greenway retired this off-season, he left behind a glaring hole at the weak side linebacker spot in more ways than one. While not what he used to be as a player the past few seasons, he was still a leader in the locker room as the team’s longest tenured player before he called it quits.
The team released its unofficial depth chart Monday, and while sixth-year veteran linebacker Emmanuel Lamur was listed as the starter, the reps in Mankato were split between him and third-year player Edmond Robinson. While it’d be easy to consider Lamur the favorite due to his experience, he struggled last season filling in when starters Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks went down for periods of time. The team likely knows what Lamur brings to the table and would probably want a younger player with potential to steal the job, whether that’s Robinson or rookie fourth-round pick Ben Gedeon, who saw reps at all three linebacker spots in camp.
The Battle for the Final Wide Receiver Spots
We all know what Stefon Diggs brings to the table, and there’s no reason not to believe that last year’s breakout receiver Adam Thielen can’t continue to be a solid number two wideout. Beyond that, there are questions for a position group that usually holds five and no more than six players on an active roster.
While veteran newcomer Michael Floyd has turned heads this off-season, he is set to serve a four game suspension to start the season. He won’t hold a spot on the active 53-man roster those four games, though, so the battle will be fierce during preseason. While fifth-round rookie Rodney Adams had more hype than seventh-rounder Stacy Coley coming into camp, Coley has shown more refined route running since getting healthy. He will be fighting for a spot on the practice squad at the very least, but a strong couple of games could get him on the active roster. Adams is listed as the team’s second returner on both the kick and punt teams, so his value there should be enough to get him on the active roster. They still need to leapfrog second-year wideout Cayleb Jones, who was probably the main surprise on the team’s unofficial depth chart after joining the team’s practice squad near the end of last season.
As for the other incumbents, second-year wideout and 2016 disappointment Laquon Treadwell was making plays early in training camp, receiving praise for a more focused mindset and more consistent route running. A hamstring injury relegated him to the sideline and walkthroughs the past week, though, so there are still many questions surrounding a player who needed all the reps he could get.
Sixth-year receiver Jarius Wright returns after only catching 11 passes for 67 yards in 2016, but even as a forgotten man throughout the years he has performed well as a role player and is the unit’s longest-tenured player. Sam Bradford seems to have developed a chemistry with him this offseason, though, and Wright could again make the team and be a solid number four option.
So instead of worrying about getting bragging rights over your poor Bills Mafia buddy on Thursday, keep an eye out for these storylines and battles, while, above everything else, praying that the injury bug doesn’t hit the team again. If all goes according to plan, the there will be a little bit more clarity for the team around 10:30 PM ET Thursday.