By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
The fourth and final preseason game of the 2014 season went off without a hitch for the Minnesota Vikings who finished the preseason an undefeated 4-0 for the first time since 2001. With a final score of 19-3, Mike Zimmer becomes the first Viking coach since Dennis Green (1992) to go undefeated in their first preseason as head coach.
On the field it was Teddy Bridgewater who got the start at quarterback and continued his solid preseason showcase. While the final stats may not have been as impressive as in weeks past, Teddy had his first opportunity to come out and go through the motions as a starter in the NFL. The result, a 12 play 80 yard touchdown drive ending with Bridgewater finding standout wide receiver Adam Thielen.
Only playing the first two offensive drives, Bridgewater looked more comfortable on the surface Thursday night. It was the first time he was able to hold his composure in the pocket when the pressure came. Going further, he showcased his elusiveness tonight evading pressure and finding secondary pass options.
Sticking with the offense, it was the Joe Banyard show in Tennessee as the young running back finished the first half with 111 yards on 18 carries, an average of 6.2 yards per carry.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, Banyard’s impressive performance puts the team in a tough place. With Peterson, Asiata, McKinnon and Felton/Line, there is not much room on the 53-man roster for Banyard to make the cut. That said, a solid performance in the fourth preseason game has put Joe on the radar of other teams around the league. While he is eligible for the expanded 10-man practice squad, it’s doubtful that he would clear waivers and sign back on with the Vikings as a member of the practice squad.
We mentioned him earlier, but Adam Thielen made his presence felt against the Titans. Fighting for a wide receiver spot and battling Marcus Sherels for the starting punt return role, anytime Adam can splash will help his cause. Unfortunately for Thielen, he did leave the game in the second quarter with a hip injury.
With the fourth preseason game featuring many third and fourth string players, quarterback Christian Ponder didn’t do a whole lot to stand out from the other backups. His stats were respectable (12-for-15 passing for 121 yards, rating of 100.3) but to the naked eye he looked a whole lot like the Ponder we’ve seen the past three years here in Minnesota.
For a guy who has started and won games in this league you would have hoped to see a bit more from him. To be fair, he was working with the rest of the third string offensive unit, but then again he was working against the Titans threes as well.
On the defensive side of the ball it was Audie Cole who stuck out early. Cole spent time both as the Mike linebacker in the middle and the weakside on Thursday night and finished with six tackles.
To help spice up the fourth preseason game, general manager Rick Spielman joined the television broadcast and liked what he saw from Cole in Tennessee. “There’s another young player that’s really starting to come into his own,” Spielman said of Audie. “Every time he’s out there you look and 57 is coming off the bottom of the pile.”
With Audie on the weakside to start the game, it was Jasper Brinkley getting the nod to start in the middle. Despite Cole’s best efforts it appears as if Jasper in the middle is way the Vikings plan to start the season as well. It baffles me, but the behavior of the coaching staff leads me to believe that’s the way they plan to start the season.
On the defensive line it was free agent signee Corey Wooten who splashed in the final game of the preseason. Wooten made his presence felt finishing the game with two tackles, a strip sack and fumble recovery making one last push to try and earn a roster spot on the Vikings final 53.
Elsewhere, Blair Walsh has quieted critics who were worried about his field goal kicking. After missing a handful early in the preseason, Walsh heads into the regular season having made 7 in a row including 4-for-4 Thursday night in Tennessee. They’ve been working on his follow through and to the untrained eye, I’d say his follow through is looking pretty good!
There were definitely some promising things to take out of the preseason session for the Vikings. Bridgewater, while still young, looks to be the real deal. Matt Cassel jumped up and surprised everybody with three solid performances. Kyle Rudolph and Cordarrelle Patterson looked primed and ready to take a big step forward on in the receiving game. And the defense, still fighting through some deficiencies is more aggressive, more unpredictable and is turning the ball over on a regular basis.
The real season is nine days away and final roster cuts happen this weekend. There are certainly some big question marks that remain, but the one thing we can see already is that it’s going to be a fun year!