5 Other Things to Watch for from the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1

Tim Arcand@@TArcandCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2012

5 Other Things to Watch for from the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1

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    The Minnesota Vikings open the season at Mall of America Field against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game with plenty of story lines. 

    It's a match up of two former league-leading running backs, neither of which had a single carry in the preseason. There has been all too much speculation as to whether or not Adrian Peterson will play, or if we will see Maurice Jones-Drew play on first or second downs.

    Two second-year, former first-round quarterbacks face off, attempting to prove that the failures of last season are a distant memory as they open the season as starters. Christian Ponder finished 2-8 in ten starts with a 70.1 passer rating and Blaine Gabbert was 4-10 in 14 starts with a 65.4 rating.

    Both teams are coached by former players, one by a former defensive back, the other a tight end.

    Along with whether or not Peterson will play, and how much better will Ponder's play be, there is plenty of speculation and anticipation for rookies Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith opening the season as starters as well as the start of Jasper Brinkley's run as the new middle linebacker. 

    However, there are plenty of other things to watch for in Sunday's game, maybe not as publicized, but surely just as crucial for the Vikings to turn things around and start their climb out of the NFC North basement.

Former Practice Squad Player, Now Third Running Back

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    When training camp opened Matt Asiata was listed as a fullback and was battling against Ryan D'Imperio and Jerome Felton for a roster spot. 

    Once the dust settled, and the 53-man roster was set, Asiata earned the third running back spot, backing up Toby Gerhart and Adrian Peterson.

    In the preseason, Asiata led the Vikings with 134 yards on 23 carries. He added three catches for 15 yards and a touchdown—one of only four touchdown catches made in the exhibition season.

    An undrafted rookie from Utah in 2011, he spent last season on the Vikings practice squad and beat out Jordan Todman who had an impressive game against the Texans, rushing for 114 yards on 10 carries, and scoring the only rushing touchdown in the preseason. 

    With the Vikings looking to ease Peterson back into the lineup, Asiata is sure to get some carries against the Jaguars.  

Only the 5th Player Ever to Make It to the NFL from Slippery Rock

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    The plan was for Geoff Schwartz, who the Vikings signed as a free agent from Carolina, to take over at right guard for Anthony Herrera.

    There would be some competition for the two-year starter who missed last season with a hip injury from second-year player Brandon Fusco, whom the Vikings drafted in the sixth round in 2011.

    A sports hernia sidelined Schwartz for most of training camp and all of the preseason, moving Fusco into the starting lineup.

    Only the fifth player from University of Pennsylvania-Slippery Rock to make it to the NFL, Fusco's start on Sunday will mark only the eighth in the history of the league.

    Running back Chuck Sanders made two starts for the Steelers in 1986 and Enid Thomas, who played wing back for the Hartford Blues in 1926, made five starts.

The Return of Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield

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    Last season the starting cornerback duo of Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook combined to start only eight games.

    Since being drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, Cook has only made eight starts. As the 34th overall pick, he needs to raise the level of his play to meet the expectations of the highest drafted cornerback since the Vikings selected Cedric Griffin with the 48th pick in 2006.

    As the oldest player on the roster at 35, Winfield needs to prove he is still capable to play effectively. Known as a sure tackler, he has the desire to finish out his current contract, that runs through 2013, playing cornerback.

    The weakest position on the team last season after losing these two, their play will be critical.

    The current depth chart from Vikings.com, lists A.J. Jefferson and rookie Josh Robinson as their backups. Jefferson will see plenty of action this season when the Vikings go to their sub package, moving Winfield to the slot.

The Tight End with the Most Impact

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    The Vikings biggest free-agent signing of the offseason was that of tight end John Carlson.

    The Vikings signed him to a five-year, $25 million deal.

    The deal seems out of place for a player that missed the entire 2011 season with a shoulder injury.

    Carlson missed all of the preseason after suffering a sprained MCL at the start of training camp. He has been cleared to play and is listed as probable for the game against the Jaguars.

    Currently listed second on the depth chart, he will some action this Sunday, but also expect to see rookie Rhett Ellison get some time as the third tight end, and possibly at fullback. A teammate of Matt Kalil at USC, Ellison finished with 53 receptions for 471 yards and six touchdowns in four seasons. 

    The team made a statement when they assigned no. 40 to Ellison, a number that Jim Kleinsasser wore the past 13 seasons with the Vikings before retiring after the 2011 season.

    Ellison finished third this preseason with six receptions for 43 yards.

The Start of a New Era, the Quest for Another Sack Record

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    After setting the Vikings' franchise record with 22 sacks last season, Jared Allen is ready to pick up right where he left off. In limited play this preseason Allen recorded two sacks.

    No player in the NFL has ever recorded two seasons with at least 20 sacks.

    Only Mark Gastineau and DeMarcus Ware have had two seasons with at least 19 sacks. Gastineau had 19 sacks in 1983 and followed that up with 22 in 1984. Ware recorded 20 sacks in 2008, and 19.5 last season.

    Allen, who turned 30 in April, is the same age as Michael Strahan when he set the record of 22.5 sacks in 2001.

    Only missing three games over his eight NFL seasons, Allen has averaged 16 sacks in his four years in Minnesota. It will be fun to watch him chase opposing quarterbacks as he chases history.