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A four pack of Vikings questions: Will Dalvin Cook play, can Jake Browning rebound?

NFL: Denver Broncos at Minnesota Vikings
Aug 14, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Jake Browning (3) prepares to throw a pass against the Denver Broncos during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday that he expects starters to play in the team’s second preseason game on Saturday night against the Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. Zimmer sat more than 30 players for the preseason opener last week against Denver, but with only three exhibitions, instead of four, he has less time to get guys into actual games and take a look at what is currently an 80-man roster.

Zimmer wasn’t happy with what he saw from the many backups who played in the Vikings’ 33-6 loss to the Broncos. So what are the key questions heading into the team’s second exhibition game? Here are four of them.

What starters will play?

Look for quarterback Kirk Cousins, the offensive line and much of the revamped defense (including tackles Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson) to play a series or two but don’t expect to see all of the starters. There are a few players nursing injuries, including wide receiver Justin Jefferson (shoulder), rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw (groin) and linebacker Anthony Barr (undisclosed). One also would think that Zimmer has no desire to put running back Dalvin Cook on the field. Cook will see extensive action this season, as he did last year, and there’s no reason to take a chance on him suffering an injury. It will be interesting to see whether defensive end Danielle Hunter, who missed all of last season after undergoing surgery on a herniated disc in his neck, will get a few snaps.

Can Jake Browning rebound?

Jake Browning impressed with his work at quarterback earlier in camp when Kirk Cousins spent five days in quarantine and the plan for several months has been for him to be the backup QB after two years on the practice squad. But Browning struggled as he got the start against the Broncos — 5-for-10 for 31 yards with a pick six and a 17.1 passer rating — and that had to be cause for concern with general manager Rick Spielman and Zimmer. If Browning struggles again, it likely will push the Vikings closer to looking at the waiver wire when final cuts are made near the end of the month to see if a backup with regular-season experience can be added. Rookie Kellen Mond also saw extensive actions against the Broncos, but Minnesota would be wise to make sure this ends up being a redshirt season for the third-round pick.

Will Britton Colquitt be punted?

In the opening statement of his postgame comments, Zimmer went through a list of things with which he wasn’t satisfied. Only one involved a starter and that was punter Britton Colquitt’s struggles in averaging 40.5 yards (both gross and net) and putting only one punt inside the 20-yard line among his four attempts. Colquitt is coming off a rough 2020 season and he’s only back because he took a pay cut. But Zimmer is losing patience and another bad effort could cost Colquitt his job. Part of the issue is that Colquitt also serves as the holder for kicker Greg Joseph, who made both of his field-goal attempts against the Broncos (34 and 25 yards) and is the latest kicker who is hoping not to end up feeling Zimmer’s wrath. Joseph and Colquitt have spent camp working on developing a chemistry, along with long snapper Andrew DePaola, and switching punters now would mean the chemistry process would have to start all over again.

How much quality is there at linebacker?

The Vikings appear to have an issue with lack of quality depth at linebacker. Barr has been out for much of training camp because of an undisclosed injury and Cam Smith announced his retirement on Wednesday after undergoing open-heart surgery last year. The 24-year-old suffered a concussion against the Broncos. Nick Vigil, who has been working with the first team in the base defense, did not take part in the walk-through practice on Thursday. That could leave middle linebacker Eric Kendricks as the only starter working with the first team on Saturday. Troy Dye and Ryan Connelly are likely to get a chance to play alongside Kendricks. Blake Lynch and rookies Chazz Surratt, Tuf Borland and Christian Elliss are the other available linebackers. This group should get plenty of opportunities to play on Saturday. This will give Zimmer a chance to see if they play better than they did against the Broncos, or if the Vikings will need to explore the waiver wire for help.