The Vikings had a good night all around, showing improvement in the offense and defense, avoiding injury and as a bonus even winning the game. Here are the five guys I think helped themselves the most:
1. Mistral Raymond
Raymond had something to prove after a well-publicized missed tackle in game 1. Leslie Frazier gave him the chance by letting him start, and Raymond responded with several big plays, including a stuff in the run game and a pass break-up. Frazier challenged the young man and the young man came up big. That’s a good sign for his continuing development.
2. Harrison Smith
He got his first chance to start and he didn’t disappoint. His highlight was a bat-down where he sold coverage then came on a late blitz into Ryan Fitzpatrick’s face, leaping to knock the ball away. Later he showed his physicality by clobbering a Bills receiver while helping in deep coverage. Overall, Smith just seems like he gets it. As a rookie he’ll surely have his struggles but for now he’s living up to his 1st round status.
3. Jasper Brinkley
It wasn’t a great night for Jasper but it was a solid night. He made some tackles and didn’t commit any glaring mistakes. I don’t think anyone expects him to become a great playmaker all of a sudden. We’re hoping he can develop into a serviceable two-down middle linebacker and right now he appears to be heading in that direction.
4. Manny Arceneaux
In preseason sometimes you only get one chance to make a big impression, especially if you’re a receiver. Manny Arceneaux got his one chance last night and made the most of it. Mid-fourth, he got deep on the Bills’ secondary and Sage Rosenfels delivered the ball to him over the top for a 48-yard gain. Arceneaux showed good concentration and body control on the play, and may well have nudged ahead of Devin Aromashodu for the final receiver spot. It didn’t help Aromashodu that he and Joe Webb couldn’t connect at all during their time together on the field. Maybe Aromashodu should lobby to play with Rosenfels next game.
5. Audie Cole
Audie Cole didn’t just become a player last night, he became a folk hero. Late in the fourth when everyone was pretty much tuned out, including the fans who had long-since begun filing out of the Dome, Cole gave us all an unexpected thill by picking off a pair of Buffalo passes and returning them for touchdowns. Cole showed great recognition on both plays, but recognition doesn’t matter if you can’t finish the play. Cole did finish both plays, in spectacular fashion, and had his teammates so pumped they all ran down to the end zone to celebrate with him. Cole may be somewhat limited physically, but he’s obviously got some native football instincts working for him. He’s clearly made this squad as a special teams guy and who knows, we may see him playing linebacker in a real game before too long.