Vikings Preseason Wrap: The Good, the Bad, the Indifferent
By Dan Zinski
Preseason is finally over. Can I get a hallelujah? The Vikings went 1-3 in case you weren’t keeping track. They had a shot to reach .500 last night but McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s valiant last second drive came up short. We now wrap up the whole affair by revisiting that which was good, that which was bad and that which was indifferent.
The offense in the Buffalo game. The only time all preseason that the first team offense really clicked was early in the second game vs. Buffalo. That game featured Jerome Simpson’s acrobatics as well as Christian Ponder’s accuracy. There was also some nice solid run blocking. Pretty much everything about the offensive effort was encouraging in that game. Well except for a couple poor fade passes into the end zone by Ponder. But why quibble? For a couple series, the Vikes appeared to have a proficient attack. We’ll take it.
Audie Cole’s break out. Is it possible to have a “break out” in a preseason game? If it is, Audie Cole had one with pick-sixes on back-to-back plays against Buffalo. Audie was probably already going to make the team anyway but that performance pretty much clinched it. Since then he’s been solid if not quite so spectacular.
Blair Walsh in the wind. Our first look at Blair Walsh was in San Francisco with the wind swirling. Walsh was completely unintimidated by the harsh conditions and just went out there and kicked. So we know Blair doesn’t get freaked out by wind. We’ll have to see about cold, snow, sleet, rain and Packer fans.
First-team defensive line in the San Diego game. This comes with an asterisk because San Diego played their second-team offensive line. But it was still a pretty good performance by the front four. Fred Evans stood out in particular. Tons of penetration, QB pressure, making plays in the backfield. It won’t be so easy against the starters but this D-line still has a chance to be very good.
Harrison Smith. Smith has looked the best of all the rookies. Leslie Frazier stuck him in the starting line-up in the second game and he showed right away that he belongs. He still hasn’t demonstrated any ball-hawking ability but we know he can stick people and he seems pretty heady. Two out of three ain’t bad.
Matt Asiata. The fullback-turned-running back emerged in training camp and just kept emerging through the preseason. He went from after-thought to the thick of the #3 RB competition and would’ve won it Thursday night had Jordan Todman not also had a good game, showing a completely different set of skills.
Tight ends. We appear to have some very good tight ends. Kyle Rudolph is potentially top 10. Rhett Ellison looks like a legit successor to Jim Kleinsasser. Allen Reisner did some nice things. Even Mickey Shuler looks like a good player. John Carlson, we’ll have to wait and see since he was hurt. But this looks like a solid group top-to-bottom.
The run defense in the San Francisco game. Several starters sat so it’s probably not fair to judge, but the run defense was just abysmal in the first game against the 49ers. Bad angles. Terrible tackling. You name it, the Vikings did it wrong. Things got shored up the next week vs. San Diego but there were still some bad signs, especially in the secondary. There’s legitimate cause to worry that the back end of this defense is still not anywhere near where it should be. There are issues at linebacker too. The defensive rebuild is far from finished.
The first team offense in the San Diego game. Jerome Simpson didn’t play in the third game, and that certainly didn’t help the offense, but there were other reasons the team struggled. A lot of it had to do with pass protection and a lot of it had to do with Christian Ponder’s lack of pocket presence. If the pass blocking improves, presumably Ponder will become more comfortable, and not look to scramble so readily. Ponder admits he needs to work on stepping up in the pocket. Matt Kalil needs more work too.
Chris Carr. The defense has struggled at times and no single member of that defense has struggled more than Chris Carr. Whether he was getting burned in coverage or missing tackles or basically looking like a man who didn’t want to be playing football, it wasn’t a very impressive preseason for the free agent pick-up. But he’ll still likely start the season as one of the top 3 corners, with Josh Robinson experiencing concussion issues.
The second- and third-team offensive lines. The Vikings have two pretty good back-up offensive linemen in Joe Berger and Geoff Schwartz and after that? They don’t have a heckuva lot. Patrick Brown is purported to be a good player but I’ve yet to see evidence of it and frankly he looked dreadful in the final game with his job on the line. Chris DeGeare and DeMarcus Love are totally nondescript. And none of the other guys really showed anything at all. All this proves is what a poor job the Vikings have done drafting offensive linemen the last few years. Okay they got lucky with John Sullivan and probably Matt Kalil will be good, but what else? Phil Loadholt is middle-of-the-road and Brandon Fusco is still a work in progress. None of these other young guys look like anything more than practice squad players, which is why they keep having to bring in back-ups in free agency.
Replacement refs. I haven’t made much of a stink about them because I think fans generally overplay the “rip the refs” card and I don’t want to be boring like that but, my gosh, are these guys terrible. Is spotting a ball so hard?
Matt Kalil. He did his job at times and seemed to struggle at other times. His performance was neither encouraging nor discouraging. He may prove to be worthy of the #4 overall pick or he may prove to be a bust. We’ll have to wait and see.
Jasper Brinkley. He was headed for the “bad” column before redeeming himself somewhat in the third game. Still not sold on him.
The revamped receiver corps. Percy Harvin got few touches (as you would expect). Jerome Simpson was held out the final two games so they could get a look at other guys. Stephen Burton made one good catch then disappeared. Devin Aromashodu and Jarius Wright were invisible until the final game. A couple good things happened with this group, and a few disappointing things happened, but overall the receiver corps looked like exactly what it is: a middling gang.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Seldom has so much hot air been expended over a fourth-string quarterback with almost no shot to make the team. He has a big arm! And Paul Allen thinks he’s good! And there’s nothing else to talk about! Still not buying that they’ll keep this guy over Joe Webb but, stranger things have happened I guess.
The whole preseason experience. It is what it is. And now it’s over. And the real games can start. Also the real griping.
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