After perfect preseason, Vikings ready to raise the curtain
Dress rehearsals are finished. Roles have been cast. The curtain is about to be raised. Showtime for the 2014 Minnesota Vikings. Game planning for their Week 1 visit to St. Louis started Monday when the Vikings reassembled for practice at Winter ...
Dress rehearsals are finished. Roles have been cast. The curtain is about to be raised. Showtime for the 2014 Minnesota Vikings.
Game planning for their Week 1 visit to St. Louis started Monday when the Vikings reassembled for practice at Winter Park following a newsy three-day break.
Roster intrigue continues as the team figures to tweak the 53-man squad after backfilling its 10-man practice unit Sunday. But the core is intact and an identity has started to take shape under first-year coach Mike Zimmer, five weeks after the Vikings reported for training camp.
Minnesota posted a 4-0 preseason record without a single carry from running back Adrian Peterson. That bodes well but guarantees nothing in the regular season. Still, the collective performance established certain expectations, such as:
COMPETENT QB PLAY
Ten-year veteran Matt Cassel earned the starting job and credibility in the huddle despite a strong push by rookie Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater’s team-high 111.2 passer rating included five touchdown passes and an 83-yard game-winning drive in the final minute Aug. 16 against Arizona. Cassel (103.3) was equally proficient, completing 66.7 percent of his passes in three starts.
Third-stringer Christian Ponder, devalued and facing an uncertain future elsewhere, remains a viable and experienced backup.
Cassel will have to maintain high efficiency, avoid interceptions and a losing streak or the “Teddy! Teddy!” chorus is sure to become deafening.
The Vikings allowed an NFL-worst 30 points per game in 2013. They often could not get off the field on third down. And they routinely wilted in the fourth quarter.
Their vanilla preseason schemes offered a taste of exotic blitzes, roving down linemen and more aggressive pass coverage. The defense forced six turnovers, held opposing quarterbacks to a milquetoast 66.4 passer rating and allowed just 286 total yards per game.
Minnesota should be able to score enough points to contend. Success, however, hinges on its ability to stop opponents who shredded the secondary and ran the ball at will in 2013.
THIN SAFETY NET
Saturday’s cuts included veteran three-year starter Jamarca Sanford, Kurt Coleman and Chris Crocker - safeties with 23 combined years of experience.
Third-year man Robert Blanton gets the nod at strong safety in front of journeyman Andrew Sendejo, although the Vikings are certain to add another veteran here.
Uncertainty in the defensive backfield extends to second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes. How will he match up one-on-one with bruising NFC North receivers like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Jordy Nelson?
Special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer started his three-game suspension Monday for making a homophobic remark during a 2012 position meeting, a team punishment that can be reduced to two games if he completes sensitivity training.
Longtime special teams coach Joe Marciano replaces Priefer on an interim basis. The unit appears to be in good hands.
Kicker Blair Walsh, who raised eyebrows when he missed a pair of field goals and an extra point in the first two games, closed the preseason strong with four field goals against Tennessee. He was 11 for 11 inside 50 yards.
Punt coverage was spectacular as opponents combined for 10 return yards on 16 punts.
The Vikings had the fifth-youngest roster following Saturday’s cuts.
Minnesota retained nine of its 10 draft picks while jettisoning Crocker and 30-year-old defensive tackle Fred Evans, the third-longest tenured Viking behind Peterson and long snapper Cullen Loeffler.
Wide receivers Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith played well during the preseason, both earning jobs while veteran Jerome Simpson serves a three-game suspension for a DUI arrest. If Thielen and Smith produce in Weeks 1-3, Simpson could become expendable.
Not only did the Vikings retain veteran fullback Jerome Felton but second-year man Zach Line as well. And they added second-year fullback/tight end MarQueis Gray, the former Minnesota Gophers quarterback who was cut by Cleveland.