10 (or so) players who stood out in the Vikings preseason opener

The Minnesota Vikings opened up their preseason slate against the Saints in New Orleans. Here is a look at the notable performances on Friday night…

QB, Kirk Cousins

The Vikings offense looked similar to the version we have seen at practice during camp. They ran multiple play-action passes with a mix of two tight end looks and packages with fullback CJ Ham on the field. Cousins went 4-for-4 with 65 yards, including a 35-yard pass to Adam Thielen that set the Vikings up at the 1-yard line. It appears the Vikings want Cousins to throw the ball up to Stefon Diggs and Thielen more often this season and it showed on the deep throw down the sideline. Cousins finished off the night with a touchdown pass on a play-action.

QB, Sean Mannion

If there is a competition for the No. 2 job, it certainly hasn’t shown. Mannion has taken all the second-team reps during camp and played all but the first drive in the preseason opener. At first half’s end, he was 7-for-13 with 102 yards and one touchdown. His TD pass came on a touch pass in which he took a big hit at the release. Overall Mannion executed the offense well. In total they gained 270 yards in the first half at 8.7 yards per play.

WR, Bisi Johnson

Following a strong performance in the night practice, Johnson got a shout out from Mike Zimmer and some first-team reps. He came out with the second team on Friday night and immediately made his presence felt. The seventh-round pick out of Colorado State grabbed two passes, including a touchdown on a terrific route to create separation. He made a jumping grab over a Saints cornerback for the score.

RB, Alexander Mattison

The Vikings’ third-round pick got the call with the first and second teams inside the Superdome. He caught a touchdown pass on the first drive and found space to create positive runs on a number of occasions. He also made a difficult catch on a play that was ultimately negated by penalty. Mattison appears to be a back that will push defenders forward for an extra yard on a regular basis.

RB, Ameer Abdullah 

The former Lion has put together a strong camp performance with his best plays often coming in the passing game. On Friday night, he exploded for a 42-yard rush on a delay handoff, flashing his quickness. He could be a third-down back option when the Vikings want to give Dalvin Cook rest. Abdullah also returned two kicks for 43 yards. On the down side, Abdullah had a fumble that was recovered by the Saints (upon replay review).

The young defensive linemen

Looking for answers on the interior in the post Sheldon Richardson/Tom Johnson era, Zimmer saw his young D-linemen put together strong performances. Hercules Mata’afa and Jalyn Holmes both had sacks (Holmes had another negated by penalty) and backup nose tackle Jaleel Johnson was part of a solid run defense against the Saints.

Mata’afa blew threw the offensive line to get a hit on Teddy Bridgewater but hit him late and was called for a personal foul.  Playing in the third quarter he also put a pressure on Hill that forced the Saints’ QB out of the pocket.

It is notable that Holmes and Odenigbo both played into the third quarter. The Vikings clearly want to get every look they can at them.

TE, Tyler Conklin 

The Vikings dialed up a creative screen for Conklin to sneak behind the line of scrimmage and find space in the open field. It resulted in 34 yards. The fact that the former fifth-round pick was seeing playing time with the second team is evidence that the Vikings like what they have seen from him in camp. Conklin opened the third quarterback with a deep reception from Kyle Sloter. It’s possible the Vikings keep four tight ends if David Morgan gets healthy.

WR, Laquon Treadwell

The 2016 first-round pick stuck out for two reasons and neither are good for his chances to make the team. Aside from a goal line play, he didn’t see any first-team reps. Treadwell was still playing into the third quarter. Toward the end of the first half he committed a blindside block that took the Vikings out of field goal position. Zimmer mentioned his irritation on the TV broadcast. His chances of making the squad are certainly in question.

CB, Nate Meadors

An undrafted corner from UCLA, Meadors made an impact on his first drive, picking off a Taysom Hill pass and taking it back for a touchdown. He was the beneficiary of a good bounce as the ball flew out of the hands of tight end Dan Arnold and right into his mitts.

QB, Kyle Sloter

While he has not put together overly impressive performances in practice, Sloter continued his run of very good play in actual preseason games. He opened the third quarter by going 3-for-4 for 44 yards and a touchdown. He finished 6-for-7 with 62 yards.

Mike Boone

Following a strong preseason in 2018, Boone was bumped down the depth chart by the Vikings drafting Alexander Mattison and signing Ameer Abdullah. In order to lock in a spot on the team, he needs to repeat or surpass last year’s performance in exhibition play. He went a ways toward doing that in the fourth quarter when he cut back through a huge hole and went 64 yards for a touchdown.