In case you hadn’t heard, the Vikings open the preseason in Nashville Saturday night. Here are the 10 Viking players I’ll be zeroing in on with special laser-like focus (at least until the booze kicks in).
1. Donovan McNabb
The new starting QB won’t play more than one or two series, and not one single person will seriously read anything into his performance, but nevertheless I will be very interested to see how he looks. Mostly I want to see what kind of shape he’s in, and if he happens to get chased from the pocket, how he’s moving. And of course how his arm looks. Hopefully Bill Musgrave will call at least one long pass and give us a look at Donovan’s deep ball.
2. Christian Ponder
I’m even more curious to see Ponder than I am McNabb. I’ve seen McNabb in an NFL game before, but I’ve never seen Ponder, and neither has anyone else. We’ve been hearing good things about his arm strength, which was questionable coming out of Florida State, and his ability to make plays on the move. He’ll be up against third team defenders so we won’t get much idea of how he commands the offense under real game conditions, but at least we’ll get a taste of what the future might hold.
3. Charlie Johnson
The new left tackle spent most of camp getting brutalized by Jared Allen, questioned by the media and joked about by snarky fans. Now we get to see for ourselves if he’s really as terrible as everyone says. Let me just say right now: It’s a preseason game! Relax. And if Charlie acquits himself well in his first semi-real action? That won’t mean anything either, but maybe it will tamp down some of the panic.
4. Phil Loadholt
I could’ve picked out almost anyone on the offensive line, first team, second team or third team. I pick Loadholt because I heard all camp about what great shape he’s in and how dedicated he is to improving. If Loadholt plays well and Johnson and the other left tackle candidates don’t, look for more speculation about Loadholt switching to the left side (which I don’t think will actually happen, but that won’t stop us from speculating).
5. Adrian Peterson
Do I need to give a reason? He’s Adrian Peterson. I always want to watch him play. He’ll be ferocious from the opening snap till the time Leslie Frazier jerks him off the field (probably early in the first). He’ll be ferocious talking to Ann Carroll on the sideline. He’ll be ferocious joking around with the guys and not paying any attention to the scrubs as they go through their paces on the field. He’ll be ferocious in the shower after the game. The man is never not ferocious!
6. Jaymar Johnson
Could Jaymar turn out to be the deep threat we’ve been looking for? Maybe. Will tonight’s game give us the answer to that question? Probably not. Is Jaymar in any danger of not making the roster? I shouldn’t think so. Would he make a better punt returner than Greg Camarillo? Almost certainly.
7. Kyle Rudolph
Reviews of Rudolph’s performance in training camp were mixed. He starts the preseason 4th on the tight end depth chart, which probably doesn’t mean anything except that Leslie Frazier believes rookies have to earn their stripes. Again, I don’t know how much we can really learn about our new guys in a preseason setting, but that won’t stop us from being curious. I wanna see some awesome two tight end action, baby!
8. D’Aundre Reed
I may have taken a sip of the D’Aundre Reed Kool Aid being handed out during training camp. Why am I so enthusiastic about the guy? Because I don’t believe Brian Robison is an every-down defensive end, and because I don’t believe Everson Griffen is the man to take up the slack. And I just think it would be awesome for a low-round guy like Reed, who didn’t even start for Arizona last year, to blow everyone away in preseason and win significant playing time.
9. Erin Henderson
Ben Leber was let go partly because the Vikings think Henderson is ready to step up and become the full-time weak-side linebacker. Tonight Henderson begins his quest to prove that was a good idea. Jasper Brinkley and Ross Homan are waiting in the wings if Erin can’t get it done.
10. Chris Cook
After an injury-plagued 2010, Chris Cook is still something of an unknown quantity. When he was able to get on the field last year, at times he looked kind of bad, at other times he looked like he might become a decent corner. With Cedric Griffin‘s future still somewhat in doubt, Cook is one guy the Vikings would love to see step up in a big way. I assume the plan this year is to line Griffin and Cook up on the outside and play Antoine Winfield against the slot again. I really want Cook to play well, because I really don’t want to see Asher Allen in the nickel.