OK. The first preseason game is often a bore (sadly, so are the other three preseason games - most times.) We won't be any closer to getting the answer to our most pressing question, whether Christian Ponder is THE MAN. He'll probably play one series. Unless that series is a three and out. If it is, he might play another series or part of it. Maybe he throws a pass or two. But he won't do much.
Jared Allen won't be playing. Desmond Bishop won't be playing. Xavier Rhodes probably won't be playing. Adrian Peterson better not be playing. There will be a lot of scrubs out there. Guys who won't be playing in the NFL a month from now. It won't be pretty.
There will still be some players I'll be interested in monitoring though. I'll be looking for signs of a player ready to make an impact. You can't get too excited about a great performance in the first game of the preseason. But if a guy is making plays, that's better than the alternative. Here is a rundown of some of the players I'll be fixating on.
Jeff Locke: Yep. I'm leading with a punter. I've been reading lots of good things about Locke during training camp (By the way, if you're not reading Arif Hasan's training camp notebooks over at the Daily Norseman website regularly, you're really missing out.) I'll be looking for evidence that Locke will do for the Vikings punting game in 2013 what Blair Walsh did for its kicking game in 2012. Is he as good as advertised in downing punts inside the 20? Can he put so much hang time on his punts that opposing returners just fair catch them all the time? Can he boom a long punt and change field position when the Vikings are backed up deep in their end zone? These are the questions I'd like to see Locke begin to answer Friday night.
Cordarrelle Patterson: I'm not concerned about Patterson looking good as a wide receiver - I think he'll struggle to make an impact like most rookie WRs do. I'm more interested in how he looks returning kick offs. The Vikings had one of the best doing that the past four seasons in Percy Harvin. They have no one other than Patterson who has anywhere near that potential now. Marcus Sherels can do the job capably, but he's not a gamebreaker like Harvin was. Patterson was a gamebreaker returning kicks at Tennessee. But that was college.
Robert Blanton: Right now Blanton is listed as Harrison Smith's backup at free safety, but I understand he's in the running for the strong safety starting job. Jamarca Sanford is the starter there as of now, and he's the kind of guy you can get away with when someone as good as Smith is playing next to him. However, the Vikings could stand for an upgrade at free safety, a player with better coverage skills and hands than Sanford. Blanton played corner at Notre Dame.
Jarius Wright: I'm not sure how much my mancrush is going to play Friday against Houston because he's the third guy the Vikings would run out there in the regular season when they feature three-receiver sets, but he's probably not quite established enough to warrant the night off. Wright has been one of the Vikings best players during training camp. Last year the Vikings threw lots of short stuff and the occasional long pass to Wright. What I want to see from him is an ability to get open and make tough catches in the middle of the field and along the sidelines.
Sharrif Floyd: I've been reading daily accounts of Floyd abusing the second-string offensive lineman he's playing against in training camp. I'll be looking for him to do the same against the Texans. That would signal that the Kevin Williams succession plan is going according to plan.
Bradley Randle: Many Vikings fans I follow on twitter love this guy. I've never seen him play. He is 5'7 and very fast, so that might have a lot to do with the love. Most people enjoy watching small people excel at a big man's game. I don't see a roster spot for a third-down scatback like Randle on the Vikings. Peterson gets most of the carries and there isn't much left for anyone else. I could be persuaded otherwise, however, and the Vikings offense could always use another playmaker.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson: The training camp reviews on Ponder have been a up and down, which is shaking what little faith I have in him. Maybe that's why I have this crazy dream that MBT develops into the Vikings version of Tony Romo. What I mean by that is MBT rises from undrafted afterthought to star NFL quarterback. I'm interested to see if MBT can look good playing with the third string Vikings offense. If he can, maybe we've got something here, just in case, you know, this Ponder thing doesn't work out.
Linebacker depth: Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley played the bulk of the snaps at linebacker last season, which was good because there wasn't much depth behind them. Marvin Mitchell. Larry Dean and Tyrone McKenzie are special teams guys only, I think. I want evidence Gerald Hodges, Audie Cole and Mike Mauti are more than that and can step in if Greenway, Henderson and Bishop are out for an extended period of time and play like an NFL linebacker is supposed to play.