10 Observations From Vikings Preseason Opener
For whatever reason, NFL fans love to overreact to the results of preseason games. Maybe it's the excitement for hard hitting action or the fact most fans are sick of the dog doys of the baseball season. Whatever the reason, fans obsess over the records of their favorite team more than in spring training baseball or a meaningless NBA exhibition in early October.
So purple faithful shouldn't be too disheartened by the 34-17 loss to Seattle in the preseson opener. The Vikes are a trendy pick to win the NFC North and become a force in the division thanks to the addition of all pro defensive end Jared Allen and wide receiver Bernard Berrian. Berrian should help take the load off young quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and add another threat offensively with superstar running back Adrian Peterson and talented young receiver Sidney Rice. Allen will join the top ranked rush defense and help Kevin and Pat Williams on the defensive line.
While fans should ignore the score, that doesn't mean nothing can be taken away from the game. Here's 10 observations from the preseason opener:
1. The quarterback situation is not as bad as you think. Granted both Minnesota and Seattle were running extremely vanilla defenses, but Jackson made several smart reads and developed good rapport with newcomers Berrian and Thomas Tapeh. Backup Gus Ferroette has a strong arm and likes to tutor the other quarterbacks--two things which previous veteran quarterback Brad Johnson didn't like to do. His wisdom should help calm the nerves of Jackson. John David Booty had an up and down debut, but looks head and shoulders above Brooks Bollinger for the third quarterback spot.
2. Visanthe Shiancoe is in trouble. The 2007 free agent bust was absolutely terrible last season, but fans were more optimistic after he reportedly had an excellent off season. Once he got into game action, however, he fumbled away his first catch of the year. The team has invested too much in him to cut him, so he's likely safe to make the team with fellow tight ends Jim Kleinsasser and Garrett Mills. But if his struggles continue, don't be surprised if Kleinsasser steals his starting spot.
3. Don't underestimate the influence of Berrian on Bobby Wade. Much has been made about what Berrian will do for Jackson, Peterson and Rice, but let's not forget about Wade. When he signed on as a free agent from Tennessee last year, Wade said he performed best as a slot receiver. The Vikings were so devoid of receivers last year, however, that he was asked to start. He failed to produce consistently in that role. This year with Berrian and Rice starting, Wade can move back to the slot and make some catches. We saw glimpses of that in the opener.
4. The offensive line battle will be a good one. The Vikings starting line is one of the best in the league, with pro bowlers Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk, solid left tackle Bryant McKinnie, young mauler Anthony Herrera and an improving Ryan Cook. While the starters are set, the fight for backup spots along the line will be interesting to watch. Former second round pick Marcus Johnson is on the hot seat, rookie John Sullivan is impressing and several undrafted players are making an impact.
5. So will the battle along the defensive line. The starters are set, with the Williams Wall joining Allen and Ray Edwards up front as one of (if not THE) best line in football. With Brian Robison out with an injury for a few weeks, several backups need to step up. Kendrick Allen and Fred Evans are trying to replace the recently departed Spencer Johnson as the backup DT, but neither separated himself much. Otis Grigsby has made a name for himself as a backup DE. He's the front runner to join Robison behind Allen and Edwards.
6. The Vikings have no shortage of explosive returners. Maurice Hicks was brought in from San Fransisco to handle punts. Aundrae Allison was explosive in the role last year. Youngsters Jaymar Johnson and Darius Reynaud are options as well. Reynaud had 2 solid and 1 extraordinary return in the game and Johnson has been drawing praise from coaches in practices.
7. The loss of Heath Farwell is huge. 2 years ago, No. 17 overall pick Chad Greenway tore his ACL in the first preseason game. Last year, it was sixth round linebacker Rufus Alexander who tore his ACL and was out for the year. It was not a rookie this year who suffered the injury, but veteran special teams ace Heath Farwell. Farwell was battling for a backup linebacker spot, but most importantly, his coverage on special teams will create a large hole. The free agent signing of Derrick Pope should help ease the loss, but it's certainly a blow to a unit that was largely inconsistent last year.
8. The defense is not as bad as it looked. Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace gashed Minnesota for much of the first half, perhaps bringing back memories of the struggling pass defense last season. Let's keep in mind, however, starters Pat Williams, Cedric Griffin and Madieu Williams did not play and the rest of the starters were used sparingly. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier likely employed very basic schemes against a very good quarterback in Hasselbeck so there's little to be concerned about.
9. Charles Gordon will be an impact player this year. Maybe it's the ex-Jayhawk in me, but I can't help but think Gordon will make a tremendous impact as a physical nickleback this year. Marcus McCaulley has been injury prone and ineffective for much of his short NFL career, opening the door for Gordon to move up the depth chart. He was physical and tough on Friday, arguably one of the best players that night on defense.
10. Erin Henderson will be a steal. EJ's younger brother was projected by many analysts to be a first day pick in the NFL draft, yet ended up sliding through both days without hearing his name called. He chose to sign with his older brother in Minnesota and made an impact in his debut. He may not have put up any significant numbers on the stat sheet, but he flew around the field an constantly put himself in the right spot to help out teammates.
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