In what is generally thought to be the most important preseason game (an oxymoron? perhaps), this game against the San Diego Chargers will be a good test for multiple aspects of this semi-rebuilding Vikings team.
It's clear they have more weapons than many thought, but it's also clear they have some rather large holes.
So, here are five things—both positive and negative—to watch tonight.
He was my No. 5 last week, and then, he had two pick sixes.
I seriously considered the list might look like this today:
1) AUDIE COLE
2) AUDIE COLE
3) AUDIE COLE
You get the idea.
I've been standing on the table for him since the draft, but honestly, he's even showing me things I didn't expect. Take a look at his two interceptions for example.
If you were just looking at the stat sheet, you might expect a tipped ball or something, but in both cases, Cole read the play and the quarterback and made a very nice play.
Sure, it was against a third-stringer. That said, in two preseason games, Cole has shown great instincts and good technique above and beyond what I expected.
He's absolutely worth watching in this game, as each play may put him into a bigger role on special teams and defense.
Ponder seems to be settling into a groove even if his receivers' situation is still dicey once you get past Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson.
He's making his progressions more smoothly, reading defenses better and just looks far more comfortable now than at any time in 2011.
Ponder will face a longer period under center against the Chargers, and they've shown some good pass rush in the first two weeks of preseason.
Ponder will get his biggest test of the preseason tonight, and we'll get a good indication of what to expect from him in the tough games to come.
At this point, Harrison Smith should have one of the safety spots locked up. So who gets the other?
We may find out tonight.
Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond will be battling for the second spot. It looks like Raymond will get the job, as reports say Sanford has not done enough to keep his job.
That isn't to say that Raymond can't lose it again. The truth is he is still developing as an NFL-grade player, and this defense needs him to pick it up if they might become the top-10 defense the coaching staff thinks they could be.
It's been said before, but in this division, the secondary, including the safeties, need to be all hands on deck.
Under the same heading as Ponder's issues, how will the line handle the pass rush. If San Diego has improved in generating some, it's this unit's job to keep Ponder from being smooshed into the turf.
Smooshed is a technical football term by the way. Look it up.
Matt Kalil has been getting plenty of practice against the likes of Jared Allen, but a fresh challenge is always good; he's the key this year, but by no means the only one who has to perform.
The Chargers will try to rattle Ponder, and to do that, they have to overpower the offensive line.
If they falter, it could be a long night and a blueprint for how to attack the offense.
So, back to an earlier question: Who are the receivers after Harvin and Simpson? Will Jarius Wright stand up? Can Mike Jenkins?
Who are the people who will step up with Simpson gone for three games?
While we will see mostly the two main targets tonight, we will also see a fair amount of the backups.
Of course, watching Simpson (as he vaults more players) and Harvin will show us just how the chemistry is between them and Ponder. They seem to all be on the same page already; it's just a matter of reps now.