Preseason week one, A.K.A. Football Amuse-Bouche, kicked off last night to the tune of a 34-25 Vikings win. The Vikings’ first teams looked strong, scoring an opening drive touchdown and keeping the Saints out of the end zone on their first drive. After that was a lot of intriguing things from young players, a lot more penalties and a few eye-opening sequences to draw from. Here are some players who stood out, for better or worse.
*This category is reserved for players with some question about their roster spot. So while Adam Thielen, Kirk Cousins and Eric Wilson all looked great, their spots are not really up in the air.
Holmes played more than any other starter, going well into the second half. Clearly, the coaching staff wanted to get a lot of look at Holmes, and he delivered in all facets. His pressure inside was potent all night, including multiple sacks (one was negated by a holding penalty), he showed excellent chase down speed and he even tipped a pass that resulted in a pick-six. Given his limited playing time a year ago, it was a big step to see Holmes play as well against the Saints’ first team as he did the third team.
Mike Zimmer was not shy about criticizing the young receivers’ camp performance last week, but apparently, that criticism did not fall on Olabisi Johnson. The rookie seventh-rounder saw the field in the first quarter, working with the second-team offense alongside Chad Beebe and Laquon Treadwell. That in itself was a pleasant surprise, even had he made no in-game impact. But then the ball went his way, and boy, did Johnson deliver. He saw only two targets, but accounted for 35 yards, including a beautiful adjustment on an underthrown ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Johnson also had a nice kick return and looked comfortable fielding punts. Between him and fellow seventh-rounder Dillon Mitchell, Johnson was considered the polished one and Mitchell the high-upside athlete. But last night, Johnson showed both polish and considerable potential.
Mata’afa’s name was called a lot in his extensive run last night. He has been the talking point of camp, both for his added weight and his strong performance as an undrafted player in essentially his first NFL season. Those who watched Mata’afa dominate at Washington State should have seen his performance yesterday coming. Still, watching Mata’afa abuse second- and third-team linemen with his quick burst, strong handwork and powerful drive was a sight to behold. He recorded a sack after bull rushing his man into Teddy Bridgewater’s lap, and recorded a couple more hits throughout the night (one was negated when he was called for roughing the passer for going low). The hype was high for Mata’afa’s debut, and he delivered.
Odenigbo is now a preseason star three years running. His is a name most Vikings fans knows how to pronounce by nature of his consistently strong preseason performance. Last night, Odenigbo added several more pressures, a few nice run stops and a sack that was called back due to a defensive holding. Odenigbo has good size and speed and plays powerfully as a bull rushing end. He has jumped off the screen ever since going in the seventh in 2017, but Odenigbo still has yet to make a Vikings roster. This season will probably be his best shot, as Tashawn Bower’s torn Achilles means Odenigbo is comfortably in as the fourth end.
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Dalvin Cook did not play, so Mattison took all first-team and most second-team reps. And they fed him early and often to the tune of 10 touches and 31 yards, including the game’s first touchdown on a play action boot pass to him in the flat. While Mattison’s yardage was not lucrative and he did not have the big plays of Mike Boone or Ameer Abdullah, he looked comfortable running against the ones, showed good patience, vision and power and was solid as a pass catcher. As the offensive line gets more comfortable running heavy outside zone, and gets to full health, Mattison should see his numbers pop a little more these next few weeks.
The first-team offensive line looked solid in its pass protection, though that included only a couple of straight dropbacks. However, Hill was clearly the weak link among them. Starting in place of Brian O’Neill, Hill surrendered some pressure early on, but really hampered the offense with two holding calls. Fortunately for him, Aviante Collins is injured and other tackles behind him need more development time. As such, Hill’s spot is not as in doubt as it probably could be. But his time with the ones yesterday was not promising, should either of the Vikings’ starting tackles go down in-season.
Intention here is not to pile on a disappointing Vikings career. Treadwell did not play poorly per se. Sure, he made an ill-advised blind side block that Zimmer expressed frustration over at halftime. But he did not drop any passes, made a good cut upfield on his one catch and made a strong block on a return. That said, the mere fact that Treadwell is only standing out as a special teams blocker is jarring. To his credit, that is better than a receiver not willing to get his hands dirty.
Recently signed to improve the Vikings’ corner depth, Benwikere did not exactly lend credence to the signing last night. His lowlights were mostly only twofold: a pass interference penalty that gave the Saints 23 yards and a missed open field tackle that allowed Lil’Jordan Humphrey to score. But those missteps were on back-to-back plays in the fourth. With a good amount of corner talent waiting in the wings, the veteran Benwikere could not afford to be a liability, and that is what he looked like on that drive.
All of the penalties
Preseason is about getting the feet wet, so maybe the officials will swallow the whistle more come the regular season. Or maybe the two teams will shore up the penalties a bit and give fans a smoother game. Because last night’s enjoyment factor was awfully low, as seemingly every other play required a break for a penalty announcement. And those came from both teams in high quantities: the Vikings accounted for 13 for 136 yards while the Saints added eight for 73. There was a fair mix of ticky-tack and blatant calls, so the officials did not seem overtly overzealous. It was more a matter of two teams playing their first football in seven months, and it showing a bit too much.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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