Football is roaring back into the midst of people’s livelihood, and the Minnesota Vikings will do no different when they step back out onto the field in front of their home fans. With a new venue, a new head coach, and a quite a few new pieces added onto both sides of the ball, Minnesota fans are eager to see what the new regime has in store. For those that have followed the Vikes training camp activity, there has been quite the optimism on certain key position battles. This, among other stories, will be in the discussion, as this column will discuss some key headlines heading into the Vikings first preseason game tomorrow night against the Oakland Raiders.
TCF Bank Stadium a new home for the next two years – Minnesota will have a brand spanking new stadium in a couple of years, but while the stadium is in the early stages of construction, the team will make the move into TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers college football team. The field has been reported as game ready for the Vikings as they make their first steps onto new territory. As part of the agreement with the University, Minnesota players, professional and collegiate, will enjoy brand new turf with heating coils underneath the surface to prevent freezing in addition to expanded seating. It is not exactly in the comfort of a climate-controlled dome as they once had, but TCF will serve the team just fine until the new stadium is operational.
Mike Zimmer’s takeover starts Friday night – The Vikings needed a fresh face at the coaching position, and new blood to help fuel a new fire inside a team that had become somewhat complacent in recent years. The defense gets a revamped look heading into their first game, hoping to replace disastrous memories from last season. New offensive coordinator, Nor Turner, has been thrown into yet another mentoring position, molding the highly touted prospect Teddy Bridgewater, while providing a diverse variety of play calling to an offense that many players project to be very unpredictable this coming season. First years are not always pretty for first year coaches, but some have had success early, and there is no reason to predict that Zimmer cannot turn this team around in one season after only a year removed from the playoffs.
First round rookies getting first team reps – Teddy Bridgewater is not the only Minnesota rookie expected to play with the first team tomorrow night. Anthony Barr will also make his debut with the starting defense. The two rookies may play exceptionally longer then their first team mates, the experience and repetitions are necessary in order for both to grow into their roles on the team. Bridgewater, as anticipated, has the more media publicity, following his every move and motion on the field, but Barr was the first Viking taken and Zimmer is expecting brilliant things out of him this season. Do not be surprised to see any other rookies get a good glance on the first or second teams. Players like Jabari Price, David Yankey, Jerick McKinnon, and Brandon Watts will get a good look from the coaches as player cuts are not looming far away.
Christian Ponder has chance to impress with heavy dosage of play – It is expected that Cassel and Bridgewater may take up about a quarter and half of play to possibly halftime, with 2011 first round pick, Christian Ponder, playing the rest of the way. Ponder has taken a limited amount of snaps this offseason, but has seen increased playing time in practice in order to get ready for the Oakland Raiders. Very few teams carry fewer then two quarterbacks on their team, so Ponder is almost guaranteed a spot on the roster, but the former first round pick could start the chirps on a possible promotion from third string if he can put together some solid performances through preseason. He may also help his trade stock go up a tad bit if the organization considers that option down the road.
Positional battles galore on both sides of the ball – Zimmer has said time and time again, the best Viking at the position will play, period. The quarterback position is not the only spot worth keeping an eye on. Middle linebacker is also a key position on defense worth noting. Jasper Brinkley, Audie Cole, and Michael Mauti are all vying for the spot; as Robert Blanton, Mistral Raymond, and Jamarca Sanford are fighting for the strong safety role next to Harrison Smith. The third and fourth corner positions also join the position battles, as is the back-up running back spot behind Adrian Peterson. Coaches have been impressed with Robert Blanton’s play through training camp, but he did suffer an injury; no news has been reported on how long he may be out. Zimmer also mentioned rookie Jabari Price during a press conference a few days ago, but the rookie is up against some stiff competition with the likes of Derek Cox and Josh Robinson.
Ring the bell and sound that patented Viking horn, Minnesota Vikings football is back. With position battles, a new coach, and a new stadium, there is more than enough intrigue heading into a brand new NFL season.
Commentary by Justin Huffman
Follow Justin’s coverage in the SKOL Notes section