The five things I’ll be looking at tomorrow night through the hazy curtain of drunkenness falling slowly before my eyes:
1. Wide Receiver Battle
This is really the big battle of preseason. Only three spots are firm right now and if you ask some people only two spots are firm. I disagree with the two spots people about Bernard Berrian – they think he’s on shaky ground, I think he’s safe. Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins are the only other two receivers who can count on being with the team come September, 11th. Devin Aromashodu appears to have leap-frogged into the #4 spot; a couple good plays Saturday night could cement it for him. Greg Camarillo, Jaymar Johnson and Juaquin Iglesias are the three men fighting for the #5 spot. Camarillo has the advantage of a legit professional track record and glue-like hands, but he’s lacking in speed. Also, if the Vikings feel they need to pick up another cornerback or offensive lineman, Camarillo’s $1.9 million cap number would make him a prime candidate to be cut loose. Hard-working Jaymar has faded after seemingly being a lock in camp, while the technically-sound Iglesias has come on. Manny Arceneaux knocked himself completely out of the running with a fumble last week and will need to do something incredibly impressive if he wants to get back into the mix. One more note: Jaymar Johnson can no longer lean on his value as a punt returner now that Marcus Sherels has become the favorite to take that role.
2. Progress From the Offense
The first-team offense made small strides from game 1 to game 2. In game 1 they barely got their feet wet in one series, but in game 2 they actually produced an impressive drive (that they failed to finish off with a touchdown). What can we expect from game 3? Hopefully more solid offensive line work, a little more passing, and maybe a little scoring. Is that just a crazy dream? Donovan McNabb has looked efficient so far if not exactly dynamic. But we understand that the line is still a work in progress and Bill Musgrave doesn’t yet feel comfortable leaving McNabb back there long enough to push the ball downfield. At some point, though, they’re going to have to try to push it. Dink-and-dunk may keep your quarterback from taking hits but it won’t win you games.
3. Improvement from Chris Cook
It’s impossible to over-state the importance of Chris Cook to this defense. This guy has to step up and become a reliable coverage man on the outside. Cause there’s nobody else. Asher Allen, Marcus Sherels, Brandon Burton – forget about it. Either Cook takes the next step or this secondary is going to get shredded. No pressure on you Cook. Don’t even talk about what happens if Cedric Griffin gets hurt again.
4. Consistency from Erin Henderson
I think Henderson is an okay player but I’d like to see more consistency from him. He’ll make a great hit and then he’ll turn around and miss a tackle or get caught out of position. We don’t need heroics from Henderson, we just need to him be in the right place and tackle with good technique and sometimes make a decent play in coverage. You know, like Ben Leber.
5. Setting the Defensive Line Rotation
The Vikings continue to tweak their D-line personnel. This week they added Stylez G. White to the mix, creating a little competition between him and Adrian Awasom for the #2 spot on the left side. It appears Everson Griffen will be used mostly to spell Jared Allen on the right side. And then there’s this: How will Brian Robison hold up against the run? He’s the starter now – he doesn’t get to just come in occasionally as a speed rusher. The defensive end situation to me is frankly a little worrisome. I never thought Ray Edwards was great against the run but he held his own, but now he’s gone, and on the left side we’ve got two flat-out pass rush specialists in Robison and White and a rookie in Awasom. And I don’t need to remind you that Pat Williams isn’t in there anymore gobbling guys up. Now it’s Remi Ayodele and Fred Evans at the nose. Yes I know they had that goal line stand against Seattle and Letroy Guion is the new Kevin Williams but…honestly, a goal line stand against Darrell Bevell’s offense? It’s not that hard to defend in a situation where you’re 99% certain of what play is coming. Sorry but I can’t get that worked up over one set of plays in a preseason game. I think the Vikings’ run defense could wind up being a serious liability before this thing is over.