The Minnesota Vikings played their first preseason game of the season last Friday, losing to the Houston Texans, 27-13. While the score and outcome are rather meaningless, there are still important takeaways to review following the game.
Fans were unable to watch some of their favorite stars in the game, as veterans Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen both sat for the entire game. Newly acquired Greg Jennings also saw no action on the field.
The night belonged more to Minnesota's rookies and players contending for spots on the team's 53-man roster. The preseason opener and remaining three exhibition contests are opportunities for fringe players to stand out from their peers.
The shining example last year was linebacker Audie Cole. The seventh-round draft pick returned consecutive preseason interceptions for touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills to help land a final roster spot.
Let's take a look at some of the key takeaways from the Vikings' first preseason game of 2013.
Although Cordarrelle Patterson was the last of three first-round selections for the Minnesota Vikings in the 2013 NFL draft, he has proven to be one of the most exciting players to watch in training camp down at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
His frame of 6'2" and 216 pounds combined with 4.42 speed in the 40-yard dash has allowed him to outperform defenses in both traffic and open space.
Patterson electrified the Metrodome on the first play of the game Friday, returning the opening kickoff for 50 yards from deep in his own end zone. Watch the video here, via NFL.com.
The prospect out of Tennessee also added four receptions for 54 yards, including a long of 22 yards. He did not receive any opportunities to return a punt.
Patterson is quickly standing out as a potential threat in multiple areas for the Vikings, as he contends with Jerome Simpson for the No. 2 wide-receiver position. Simpson did not help his case against the Texans, tipping the second pass of the game for an interception.
Leslie Frazier's plan heading into the preseason opener was to limit Christian Ponder's play to one series. Unfortunately, that meant that the third-year quarterback would only see the field for a total of two plays.
After completing a 15-yard pass to Jerome Simpson on the opening play from scrimmage, Ponder threw in the direction of Simpson again. The combination of a poorly thrown pass and his wide receiver tipping the ball in the air led to an interception, and Ponder's night was done.
Ponder supported his coach in the decision, via Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com:
Number one, you don't want to get hurt, especially in the first preseason game. There are guys that are trying to make roster spots who need the playing time as well. We'll get plenty of time in the next couple of games.
While you can understand Frazier sticking to the conservative approach, it seems to make more sense to have a minimum number of plays for your starting quarterback, rather than such a broad definition of one series that ended as it did on Friday.
The Vikings' lone touchdown in their preseason opener came in the direction of undrafted free agent Zach Line out of SMU. The former senior is best known for breaking Eric Dickerson's college record for total yardage with 4,185 yards.
But Friday's preseason game saw Line stand out in another way. He caught a short pass from backup quarterback Matt Cassel and rumbled to a 61-yard touchdown. Watch the video here, via NFL.com.
Although Line has an uphill battle to make the Vikings roster, plays like these can certainly help to differentiate a player from his peers.
Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton likely has the position locked down (baring injury), so Line will need to impress enough either to land a third running back position behind Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhard, or find his place on special teams.
Michael Mauti may be the player with the most fans rooting for him to make the Vikings roster, as he recovers from a third torn ACL in five seasons at Penn State.
The seventh-round draft pick received praise across the country for his work ethic and leadership in college. Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler had this to say about Mauti back in May, via Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune:
Mauti was a first-team All-American nationally, in some of the votings, and had a great season in the 10 games that he played [in 2012]. He was a heart-and-soul guy, can play the run, can play the pass, can rush the passer. Very, very good player. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best.
Mauti saw his first action as a Viking in the preseason opener, recording two total tackles and one solo tackle. He appeared to move well in space and exhibited the drive of a player motivated to succeed in the NFL.
For an up-close look at Mauti from Friday's game, check out the Vikings Wired video here, via Mike Wobschall of Vikings.com.
The depth chart for the Minnesota Vikings at wide receiver may be the most contentious in terms of filling the final one or two open roster spots.
After Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson, the Vikings have seven wide receivers (not including Greg Childs) vying to make the team.
One of those players is Stephen Burton, who is beginning to separate himself from the pack, including converted quarterback Joe Webb.
Burton made an impact in nearly every facet of the first Vikings' preseason game. He recorded three receptions for 67 yards, including a long of 56 yards. Burton was also paramount in the 61-yard touchdown play by Zach Line, exhibiting impressive downfield blocking skills.
On special teams, Burton impressed coaches in both kicking scenarios. He returned two kickoffs for 54 yards and one punt for 11 yards. Special-teams coach Mike Priefer had this to say about Burton regarding his play, via Vikings.com:
I think Stephen has had a solid camp. He has really improved, his confidence is sky high compared to what it was his first two years, especially his first year, when he could not catch punts.
Now he is catching punts and kickoffs clean, he almost broke that other one the other night, as he did a great job of bouncing it outside when they cut off the inside. I think he is just more confident, and I think a guy like Stephen being more confident means he is going to play more up to his ability.
With more confidence and experience, Burton appears on the fast track to land a spot on the 53-man roster.
If the Vikings keep six receivers, that only leaves one remaining position up for grabs.
Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for the Minnesota Vikings. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.