Spirits were pretty high following the Vikings’ win over the Broncos in week one of the preseason. The offense looked flawless, the defense forced three-and-outs and many of the young guys came to play. This week, the Vikings try to build on that success at home against last season’s AFC runner-up, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here are the five things I am keeping tabs on as U.S. Bank Stadium sees its first action of the 2018 NFL season.
Defensive tackle rotation
Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson are the starters at the two tackle spots. That much is certain. And the assumption is Jaleel Johnson will hold down double duty as the spell at both nose and three-technique. However, Ifeadi Odenigbo and David Parry both showed something in the Vikings’ first preaseason game, so there is a chance that each will see a few extra snaps on Saturday.
While he is probably the most viable option, Johnson still has developing to do as a run stopper before he can be fully trusted as a multi-down nose. Parry, on the other hand, has a history of making plays on the interior and Odenigbo is already showing some promise as an inside pass rusher. And that is also not to mention the rookie Jalyn Holmes, who deflected a pass last week and, like Johnson, was a fourth-round pick. There is still a lot to be determined at this position.
Hughes and first team reps?
Fans wanted it, and the Vikings finally obliged. Mike Hughes was outstanding in his first NFL action last Saturday, and in practice this week, he actually bumped starting nickel Mackensie Alexander for a few reps. It is still early, but the sky appears to be the limit for Hughes, given how quickly he has taken to NFL defense. The question is how many, if any, snaps Hughes gets against the Jaguars’ first offense in week two. And furthermore, if Hughes keeps boosting his stock as a corner, will the Vikings feel a little itchy about having him return kicks?
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Back end of receiver group
There are a few injury questions with the receiver group, but the outlook seems to be that Stacy Coley and Kendall Wright have the fourth and fifth receiver spots more or less cinched. The sixth and final spot, however, seems to be wide open. Just a few of the names in play: Chad Beebe, Brandon Zylstra, Jeff Badet, Tavarres King, Cayleb Jones and Jake Wieneke. The most likely scenario is one of those names makes the roster and one makes the practice squad. Last week, Beebe had three catches and a touchdown. Zylstra was the star of spring practice. Wieneke is the hometown kid with tremendous college production. King is the veteran with game experience. Badet has the 4.27 speed. Jones was on the team last season and had a great camp before being cut. Every single one of these guys has a case to earn one of those spots on the Vikings roster. These next three games will play a major role in separating them.
Rookie Daniel Carlson already has the fan vote in the kicker competition for several reasons. One, he was a fifth-round selection, so cutting him would ultimately make it seem like a wasted pick. Two, his leg power is enormous. And three, Kai Forbath did not exactly set the world on fire last season. Plus, if those reasons were not enough, Carlson went out and made all five of his kicks last week, including a 57-yarder. While that seems to have all but put a lid on the competition, Forbath is probably going to get the chance to match against Jacksonville. But if he misses even one kick, this could be an open-and-shut case.
New-look offense stacking against elite defense
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings’ offense were impeccable against Denver. They marched down the field effortlessly, Cousins looked Sharp, the line blocked well, Latavius Murray ran hard and Stefon Diggs made a couple of nice catches, including a touchdown. They were essentially perfect, and thus played only the lone series before donning the baseball caps. This go-around, expect the first group to get at least two series, if not more, considering they have the opportunity to go against one of the best fronts and best secondaries in all of football. True, Jalen Ramsey is not playing. But A.J. Bouye is, and the rotation of pass rushers the Jaguars boast is fearsome, even on its worst day. This is the perfect opportunity to get a glimpse of how the Vikings’ offensive overhaul stacks up.
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