The Minnesota Vikings open their three-game preseason schedule Sunday at Las Vegas.
Exhibition games might not be the most thrilling things to watch but, hey, it’s football and there’s always something – or someone – to keep an eye on. Here’s five things to watch as you check out Sunday’s tilt:
THE KELLEN MOND SHOW
Even if Kirk Cousins was going to play – he’s not, out with COVID-19 – Mond was going to see extensive time. With a new coach and offense it’s something of a rebirth for Mond, who was buried about as far as a third-string quarterback can be during his rookie season. Head coach Kevin O’Connell might only want to keep two quarterbacks. We know Cousins is one. Mond thus is potentially fighting for a roster spot with Sean Mannion. We have little to go on with Mond – in last year’s preseason he completed 28 of 51 passes (54.9%) for 310 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. Even more interesting besides seeing how Mond plays is which quarterback takes the field first – the veteran Mannion or second-year hopeful Mond. This preseason is going to be huge – although offensive coordinator Wes Phillips warned “It will be basic, so don’t judge us off this one” -- for Mond and it all starts Sunday.
FIRST LOOK AT THE ROOKIES
We noted on our examination of Minnesota’s first depth chart that no rookies were slotted in the first team at any position. That will change over the coming weeks, we’re sure, but for now it’s a first chance to see players such as safety Lewis Cine and cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. as well as other picks and undrafted free agents. Some of these guys (especially the UDFAs) might never see the field in an NFL regular-season game. We’re excited to see fifth-round pick running back Ty Chandler, who should get a number of carries and perhaps some return duties. Another second-round pick, guard Ed Ingram, could also see significant time, albeit likely against Raiders backups. Either way, it’s a time to finally get to see these guys in a Vikings uniform and see which players, especially unheralded ones, flash.
THE NEW DEFENSE
Much like the offense we expect the defensive looks to be vanilla, but this is our first chance to see the new 3-4 base setup compared to the 4-3 under Mike Zimmer. Also, maybe we get a glimpse into the strategies of defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. At the very least, it’ll be an interesting contrast and compare to the look from the Zimmer era.
WHO PLAYS AND WHO DOESN’T
O’Connell hasn’t tipped his hand too much, saying starters might play a series or two – but that could change. Cousins being out might change things, too, of course. But when those considered starters don’t play, we are assured they are a roster lock. It’s also noteworthy to see who is on the second team (or starts if a first-teamer sits). On the other side, those on the roster bubble who don’t see the field due to injury or, worse, a coach decision … well, that doesn’t bode well for them.
We can’t say this enough, but who doesn’t love a good punter competition? Now we’ll find out if we really have one. Incumbent Jordan Berry is of course the favorite. It’s not going to be easy for an undrafted free agent like Ryan Wright to unseat him. Wright is not your normal punter. He’s 6-foot-3, 245 pounds (Berry is 6-5 … 195) and reportedly ran 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Tulane’s Pro Day. Let’s go!