5 Vikings to Watch in Their Week 2 Preseason Game Against the Buffalo Bills

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2012

EDEN PRAIRIE, MN - MAY 4: Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman of the Minnesota Vikings look on during a rookie minicamp on May 4, 2012 at Winter Park in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Vikings didn't win in their first preseason game, but I'd say they held their own against the San Francisco 49ers, even giving up 17 points and scoring only six.

Unlike last week, this game will see every healthy starter playing at least a little bit, and that might make a pretty big difference.

Winning or losing preseason games isn't the point, though, watching to see how people are (or aren't) improving is.

So here are five players (well, five-and-a-half) I'll be watching Friday night.


Christian Ponder

Sure, one could assume that we'll be watching him closely every week, but I want to see how he does with both Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson. Since both are healthy, Ponder should have what will be his best two weapons available to him against an improved defense.

He made some good throws—and some bad ones—against the Niners, but overall, he looked far more calm, confident and poised than he did in all of 2011.

The Vikings need Ponder to take a big step forward this year, and each game we need to see a little more progress.

A full offseason and an improved offensive line seem to have done a lot for him so far, and he has clicked with several of the receivers and is a leader for the team.

I'll be watching carefully to see how that continues this week.


Matt Kalil

Those sparring sessions with Jared Allen seem to have helped get Kalil off to a great start, and he'll be tested again this week when he sees the likes of Mario Williams, Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison coming after Ponder.

So far, Kalil has made a huge difference on the line, and the move of Charlie Johnson to guard has paid dividends as well.

Kalil will continue to be tested and he'll make mistakes (as always the caveat with watching the offensive line is, you have no idea what the play is or who might have blown what assignment), but so far he's done well.

As with Ponder, I expect to see more steady progress on Friday night.


Kyle Rudolph

Rudolph only caught a pair of balls, but he compiled 22 yards while doing so. While he may not get a lot of love with Harvin and Simpson around, he and Ponder have a good chemistry, so we will see him get used.

I want to take a little time to watch where he lines up and how, as well as how his routes and even blocking are coming along.

I'm not much of a believer in John Carlson and have said on many an occasion that Rudolph is poised for a big season.

If he can continue to block well and hang onto the ball (an issue last year), then he will be a big part of the offense.

I'm also interested in seeing what wrinkles the team might throw in using the tight ends. When Carlson was healthy, they were talking about some two-tight end sets—to spread the defense. 

So maybe we'll see some of that as well.


Jamarca Sanford/Mistral Raymond

Harrison Smith will be someone to watch as well, but he's going to end up with one of the starting safety jobs. I have no doubt about that.

Who gets the other one? There's a lot less clarity on that front.

Both players had at least one big mistake last week, both taking some form of a bad angle on a run, one of which resulted in a huge touchdown.

While head coach Leslie Frazier has said it's an open competition, I've never bought that—Smith was always locked into one of the starting spots.

Raymond gets the edge in my mind right now because he has had a little less time to develop, but he has played better. Sanford is a special teams guy, so it's not like he'll lose a roster spot, but he hasn't shown them he can make plays downfield the way they wanted him to.

If either guy stands out, we can expect to see a lot of him in Week 3. The guy who doesn't may be on the bench, watching.


Audie Cole

OK, honestly, this is my own thing here. Cole isn't going to be a starter this year, no. However, I have been excited by this guy since they drafted him and believe he will be a contributor on special teams and could play his way into a sub-package role on defense by the end of the year, though next year is more likely.

Cole had—at best—a mediocre camp, but he looked very good against the Niners last week. He has a lot to prove, but he's a smart, physical player who brings a lot of energy to the table.

I'm a fan, what can I say?

I am really hoping to see him keep the momentum going from last week and have a second solid game this Friday. Cole is one of those late-round guys who can pay off in a big way down the road.

I need to see his technique stay sharp, his motor on high, his tackling form solid and his instincts on full display.

A mediocre game won't kill his chances, but a good game can make a huge difference for him.

With this one guy, I'll be cheering for a Vikings win. Since I am not in the press box this week, I can do that.


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