The Minnesota Vikings open up the preseason on Friday night with a road contest against the New Orleans Saints. Here are the 10 players we’ll be watching closest (in no particular order)…
Tight end, Irv Smith
The Vikings’ second-round pick has been asked to process a lot of information in training camp, from lining up in multiple places to focusing on routes and blocking to understanding calls from his quarterback. Gary Kubiak said he was “swimming” but Mike Zimmer noted that the team will pare down the gameplan to use what works best with his skill set. In the preseason opener we may see him play a large number of snaps with Kyle Rudolph unlikely to see much (if any) action.
Wide receiver, Bisi Johnson
Following a few strong practices, Johnson was given a handful of first team reps, putting his name on the map to potentially climb the depth chart. Coming out of college, the seventh-rounder was known as an advanced route runner, which could give him a shot to shine during preseason. However, he will have plenty of competition. He is listed on the “unofficial” depth chart behind Laquon Treadwell and Brandon Zylstra, both of which are more experienced.
Wide receiver, Jeff Badet
You won’t find too many players running around in Friday night’s game who are faster than Badet. The speedster has struggled to stay healthy but has shown his deep-threat ability at times during practice and he appears to have improved underneath route running as well. One big downfield play could put him on the map.
Center, Garrett Bradbury
It isn’t easy to watch a center closely without the benefit of coaches tape but the first-round pick will have his first chance to block other teams’ top defensive linemen. He has put together a solid camp so far and appears to be exactly the right fit for the zone scheme. Will we get a glimpse of the athleticism that made him a top draft pick?
Defensive tackle, Jalyn Holmes
The Vikings need an interior defensive lineman to prove they can create pressure on the quarterback. Shamar Stephen will be the starter and play on first downs and second/third-and-short situations but in clear passing situations someone will have to fill the shoes of Tom Johnson/Sheldon Richardson. Holmes was a fourth-round pick as a defensive end in 2018. He saw only a handful of snaps last year, so this will act as his first opportunity to earn significant playing time.
Running back, Alexander Mattison
The third-round pick out of Boise State has been one of the standouts at camp — as much as a running back can stand out when there is no tackling. He is likely to receive the vast majority of playing time, assuming he’s fully healthy, and get an opportunity to show that there is solid depth behind Dalvin Cook.
Defensive end, Ifeadi Odenigbo
Having been cut by the Vikings last year, Odenigbo was brought back this year and moved back to defensive end, where he played in college. When he played DE in one preseason game in 2018, he was arguably the best player on the field. The door is open for the former Northwestern pass rusher to make the team and earn a rotational role.
Kicker, Dan Bailey
During practice Bailey has struggled at times, putting him under the white hot light — as every Vikings kicker will be for the rest of time. Having only made 75% of his kicks over the past two years, Bailey must show that he’s going to pick up his performance this year or the Vikings will be looking elsewhere.
Cornerback, Craig James
A little-known defensive back, James was cut last season but brought back when the Vikings suffered injuries. With Holton Hill suspended and Mike Hughes still yet to put on pads, the door is open for James, seventh-rounder Kris Boyd and former AAF’er Duke Thomas to make an impression.
Quarterback, Sean Mannion
There hasn’t been any question about Mannion being the No. 2 quarterback in practice. Will that hold up in the games? Kyle Sloter has performed at a high level in the last two preseasons but not well enough in practice for the Vikings to buy into him as their backup. Plus, will we get a glimpse at Jake Browning? After some decent practice performances, will he play before Sloter?