There are two modes of thought about preseason. Either it’s a glorified college All-Star game for guys who will be lucky to make a UFL roster in a few weeks, and an injury magnate for top stars, or, as Hall of Famer John Madden said, "Football!"
Me? I’m in the second camp. I don’t care if that eighth string right tackle never plays another snap. He’s out there fighting for a job, and that’s fun for me to watch.
But I know many of you are in that first camp. And you’ll need a little prodding to catch the Viking’s first preseason game. With that in mind, I’ve got five things for you to watch for during the game.
1. Sagevaris Rosenson
Brad Childress said earlier this week that Rosenfels and Jackson will alternate starts during preseason. But clearly one of the two of them has to prove himself during preseason.
Both guys will be looking to impress, which is great. I’d rather have them deal with this in the relative safety of the preseason. With all the pressure on these guys to perform for the starting job, we’ll see them at their best and worst.
We’ll also see John David Booty, which is fun. We can pretend he’s Brett Favre and laugh every time he throws an interception.
2. Asher Allen’s Big Debut
Though he’s only a rookie, by all reports, Asher Allen is having the best camp of any of the Viking’s secondary. Allen might fill one of the Viking’s biggest needs, a real cover corner to play alongside Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin in the Nickel package.
But we all know that having a great camp and actually being a great player are two different things. Allen’s going to have to prove that he can play cover against live receivers in game settings and still be able to press and cover like he has in camp.
And he’s got an excellent first game to try it. Now, this won’t be the Indianapolis Colts that he would see during a regular season game. But chances are Allen will line up for at least a play or two opposite Peyton Manning, and even Jim Sorgi will be able to give us a good view of how Allen will react to a complicated offense with a live arm.
3. The Many Facets of Percy Harvin
Brad Childress has spent the entire offseason telling anyone who’ll listen that he’s bursting with joy about the different ways he can use Percy Harvin. For example, he can run him up the middle, or pass to him on a five yard out on 3rd-and-6.
Ok, so I don’t have much faith that Harvin will actually bring many new wrinkles into the Vikings' offense, but if Brad Childress is serious about creating a new offensive scheme around him, then we should see some of that in this first game.
I can already hear the complaints that you don’t want to show your hand during the preseason. But that’s just the thing about the NFL. The earlier you show you’re willing to put some of these formations into the playbook, the better.
Case in point: Tennessee Titans punter A.J. Trapasso running a Statue of Liberty punt for a touchdown. Critics went nuts after the game, saying Fischer ruined that play by showing it during the preseason.
But the fact of the matter is, the Titan’s regular punter Craig Hentrich would never be able to run that play. He would collapse before he made it to the line of scrimmage, much less 40 yards downfield. What they did show was a fake end around to Michael Griffin, which teams will have to game plan for, even if the Titans never run it again.
So, if I’m the Vikings, I use Percy Harvin 900 different ways on Friday. Give him catches, runs, put him as the quarterback in the Wild Cat. Line him up as the long snapper. Make teams worry about what he’s going to do before they even play him.
4. The Boredom of Watching Ryan Cook
Watching the offensive line might not be “sexy,” but...Ok, there’s no way I can put this that’s going to make it interesting. I’m asking you to watch the play of an offensive lineman, and that’s going to be pretty damn boring.
But Cook is an interesting case study. He was a relatively unheralded center coming out of New Mexico, switched positions to suit a tackle starved Vikings team, and had a great camp a few years ago as a right tackle. Unfortunately, as I already said, great training camps don’t necessarily beget great players.
Ryan Cook was terrible last year, and he’s already lost his job to a rookie, Phil Loadholt, who hasn’t taken a snap at right tackle since he was in diapers. Now Cook is just fighting to figure out his place on the team, if he even has one.
Most interesting is the possible return to his natural center position, where he figures to play a couple series. John Sullivan seems to have a lock on replacing Matt Birk, but if Cook can show that he still has that versatility, then he might just win over the coaching staff and fans who maligned him in the past.
5. The Ultimate Preseason Battle
If you want a position battle that defines what the preseason is all about, the Vikings have a great one brewing—for the third running back spot.
The Vikings are only going into the season with three running backs, and with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor already taking up two of those spots, there’s quite a battle brewing between Albert Young and Ian Johnson in camp.
Young is coming into his second year with the Vikings, and by all accounts, is having a great camp. He understands the offense, is willing to get his nose dirty on special teams, and has all the physical capabilities you want in a guy getting water for Peterson and Taylor.
On the other hand, you have Ian Johnson. A sentimental choice, Johnson is best known for breaking Peterson’s heart by scoring the game winning two-point conversion at the 2007 Fiesta Bowl on a Statue of Liberty, leading Boise State over favored Oklahoma.
And, of course, for proposing to his girlfriend on national TV after the game. Which may also have broken Adrian Peterson’s heart. I don’t know.
I doubt that the Vikings will be able to sneak Johnson onto their practice squad, so they’re going to have a lot of evaluating to do, starting with Sunday. And this is what I love about preseason. Two guys fighting tooth and nail for a job in the league.