A troubling performance in the opening game of the preseason is no reason to panic. However, when the overall showing in training camp has been filled with questions that have not been answered positively, there’s a strong need to turn the situation around quickly.
With the start of the regular season just a few deep breaths away, it’s time for the Minnesota Vikings to start writing a few positive chapters to their story. They can do that in their second preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts Saturday night.
Winning would be a plus after absorbing a 33-6 defeat in the first game of the summer against the Denver Broncos. But it’s not necessarily about a victory. Instead, it’s about playing a tough, physical football game for 60 minutes and answering a few of the other questions that the team is facing this season.
The biggest question mark is on the offensive line, and the original thought that first-round draft pick Christian Darrisaw would be the team’s starter at left tackle is not realistic. At least in the early part of the regular season.
Darrisaw has been troubled and prevented from showing his skills in training camp due to a lingering groin injury. Few thought this problem would be an issue before players started to report to camp, but it is one of the key problems facing the team.
The offensive line was a problem area in 2020, and those issues have not been solved to this point in the summer. The likely starters across the line include Rashod Hill at left tackle, Ezra Cleveland at left guard, Garrett Bradbury at center, Oli Udoh at right guard and Brian O’Neill at right tackle.
This is not a unit that is going to frighten many opponents. The Vikings need Bradbury to become much more consistent this season, and they also will need Hill to exceed expectations and do a solid job of protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins’ back side.
This area remains a major question mark, and that’s just the midsummer conclusion. The feeling is even less positive when the subject is depth along the offensive line.
Depth is also the issue when it comes to the wide receiver position. The front-line starters are Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, and Vikings fans and the coaching staff have every reason to believe this is one of the elite WR duos in the league.
However, Thielen has suffered injuries in the past, and at the age of 31 (as of Sunday), he is at the point where aches, pains, bruises and more serious problems are likely to become an issue. Jefferson had a shoulder injury earlier in camp and returned to practice this week. While a 22-year-old player who is already a star is less likely to face nagging problems, no player is immune from serious injury.
The depth at the position includes KJ Osborn, Chad Beebe, Dede Westbrook and Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Prior to the start of training camp, the thought was that Westbrook would emerge as the best of the bunch, but he has been slow to come around from the torn ACL that he suffered a year ago. He was a full participant in the August 19 practice, but he has to show he can contribute on an every-day basis and stay healthy.
Osborn has been the best wide receiver after the two starters, but a strong showing in the first part of training camp does not necessarily lead to confidence. Osborn was used as a kickoff and punt returner, and he is going to have to prove himself throughout the rest of the summer and into the regular season before he develops into a competent and confident player.
The Vikings simply need Thielen and Jefferson to play to their best levels and stay healthy if they are going to have a balanced offense that complements Dalvin Cook and the running game.
Coming out of the second preseason game with a healthy team and having shown an ability to play physical football for 60 minutes would make that test a successful venture.