When the Minnesota Vikings square off with the Oakland Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium (often referred to as “The Bank”) on Friday, there are a few things to pay attention to. It’s going to be Mike Zimmer’s first game as an NFL head coach, and it will also be the first game the Vikings play in The Bank since 2010 after the collapse of the Metrodome’s roof. It will also be the first time Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr will see an NFL field, with both rookies expected to get playing time during the first preseason game.
The road to becoming an NFL head coach has been a long one for Mike Zimmer, as this is his first head coaching stint in college or the NFL. Why it’s Zimmer’s first time as a head coach is unknown, especially considering how many great defenses he has manned in his coaching career.
One question going into the Vikings’ first preseason game is how Zimmer will handle the new responsibilities that come with being a head coach: making challenges, time management, and being the head honcho. No one has ever questioned Zimmer’s ability to coach a defense, but it’s been assumed by many that NFL General Managers did not think Zimmer had what it took to be a head coach. It’ll be interesting to see how Zimmer handles clock management, which might be one of the biggest adjustments from coordinator to head coach.
Two days ago, the Vikings released an unofficial depth chart for their game against the Raiders, and there aren’t too many surprises here– at least for the starting 11 on each side of the ball. Two players that I really look forward to seeing in Vikings’ purple are Linval Joseph and Anthony Barr.
Joseph, the nose-tackle free agent from the Giants, is a guy every Vikings’ fan should be excited to watch. For the first time since they had big Pat Williams, the Vikings will have a true nose-tackle manning the middle of the defense. At 6-foot-4 325+ pounds, Joseph is a mammoth of a man. He might not be as wide and big bodied as Pat Williams was, but Joseph is also considerably more athletic than Williams.
After having shoulder surgery in March, it will be interesting to see really how healthy Joseph is. Joseph will be an important part of the Vikings’ defense, considering their defense last year was only ranked 15th in rushing defense (after having a dominant run defense when the Williams’ wall was in place just a few seasons ago.)
Anthony Barr, who somewhat surprisingly is listed as the strong side starting linebacker, will get his first opportunity to play in Vikings’ purple as well. The biggest thing to look for with Barr is going to be how the Vikings use him; will he be primarily a pass rusher, or will Zimmer let him drop back into coverage a lot? Will he spend most of his time in a stand up rush position, or will he have his hand in the dirt like a defensive end? I’ll also be looking to see how he stacks up physically against the offensive tackles from the Raiders, especially left tackle Donald Penn.
Although Mike Zimmer hasn’t really opened up too much about how much playing time the starters will get in the first preseason game, I’d really like to see Barr get a lot of playing time, to help him catch up to the speed of an NFL game.
Another big headline has to be that Mike Zimmer admitted in an interview on Wednesday that Teddy Bridgewater will receive snaps with the first team offense, although he will not be starting. The biggest thing for Bridgewater will to make sure he’s improving his footwork, especially getting back into his drops quickly. As long as his footwork is sharp, and he makes quick decisions with the football, he should be fine. It hasn’t been announced how much time Cassel and Bridgewater will split with the first team offense, but I’d expect to see both quarterbacks with at least two series with the starters.
However, the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson will not be in the lineup, or even dressed, for the first preseason game. Being the NFL’s best running back has it’s perks, and not having to suit up for the first preseason game is one of them. The former MVP will get this game off, considering he’s a 29-year-old running back who doesn’t need any more hits than he’ll be getting this coming season. Matt Asiata should get most of the reps with the first team, but Jerick McKinnon could be worked in here and there as a change of pace.
The final thing to be on the look out for is how the Vikings’ special teams units (especially punter Jeff Locke and kicker Blair Walsh) will perform without the dome to protect from the environment. Although it won’t be snowing, The Bank has been known to have unusual wind patterns going through the stadium. I don’t really have any worries about either of the specialists, as Walsh has really cemented himself as a top young kicker in the NFL, and Locke is a smart guy who should be able to get a feel for the stadium pretty quickly.
Although it’s just a preseason game, there will be plenty of guys playing their hearts out trying to earn a spot on the final roster. Don’t expect to see the Vikings’ starters for too long, maybe a quarter at most, so there will be ample time for the young guys vying for a roster spot to earn their stripes with the Vikings’ coaching staff. Some non-starters to be on the look out for are Jabari Price, David Yankey, and Adam Thielen, all of whom are second team players who have looked great so far in camp.