Photo: Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - It all begins tonight! At 7pm, from Mall of America Field, the Minnesota Vikings kick off their 2013 season (well PRE-season) against the Houston Texans and we get our first look at this year's squad of ninety players. While the first preseason game is not always the most exciting game, and we probably won't see Adrian Peterson, Greg Jennings or much of Jared Allen, there are still some things that you can key in on from your couch tonight as you cozy up and watch your favorite team. The way I see it, here are five things to key in on tonight against the Texans...
(1) Is Christian Ponder showing signs of progression...
Odds are, we will only get a brief glimpse at Christian Ponder tonight. One, maybe two series spanning through a portion of the first quarter. Still, in that time we'll be able to get our first look at where Christian Ponder is at with his progression towards becoming a viable quarterback in the NFL.
We've heard that his throwing shoulder is finally 100% for the first time since injuring it his senior year of college. We saw him take steps in the right direction last season as he led the Vikings to the playoffs winning the final four regular season games to claim a Wild Card spot. But was all that enough? Fans, pundits and probably Vikings coaches are not yet convinced that Ponder is the right guy for the job. The addition of Matt Cassel gives the Vikings a respectable replacement so if Ponder struggles early, the leash may be short on Christian Ponder's season and career.
Personally, I want to see Ponder play two series tonight. Over those two series I want to see him calmly handle the offense and gain multiple first downs stringing out the drives. Get the ball across midfield at least once and put some points on the board. It doesn't have to be a 75 yard pass to Jerome Simpson, I just want to see him threaten into the red zone and walk away with no less than three points. Is that asking too much?
(2) Everson Griffen running wild against the Houston ones...
With the crazy contract situations running up and down the defensive line (click here to read more on that), defensive end Everson Griffen finds himself in a nice position to fight his way into a starting role with the Vikings next season. We've already heard that Jared Allen doesn't expect to play much in this first preseason game so that pins Griffen up against the Texans first string offensive line for a series or two and then evening him up against the twos into the second quarter. I'm really interested in seeing how Griffen (who is entering a contract year himself) reacts to this opportunity and how he fares against NFL starters.
So far in camp, we've seen Griffen terrorize Minnesota's offensive line and quarterbacks. One play in particular sticks out where Everson (6'3", 273lbs) bull rushed Phil Loadholt (6'8", 343lbs) and pushed Phil straight back and into Christian Ponder for a play that was whistled dead for a "sack".
Griffen is the perfect combination of size and speed and we've got him on a big year in 2013.
(3) Can Desmond Bishop show he's has a grasp on the MN defense schemes...
It's been a rocky road so far for Desmond Bishop with the Minnesota Vikings. Still on the road to recovery from a gruesome injury in 2012 that tore the hamstring off of the bone in his right leg, Bishop slow-rolled into camp starting with the second-team defense where he has unfortunately remained through 11 days of camp. A groin injury has also plagued him but this lingering idea that he is struggling to adjust to the outside LB spot in Minnesota's 4-3 scheme is also concerning.
If Bishop is healthy enough to play tonight he should get a good amount of real-game experience to "learn on the job" against the Texans second-team offense. The Vikings are relying on Bishop to contribute this season but will need more convincing before they are comfortable with him on the field.
(4) What will Cordarrelle Patterson's role on this team be...
As the players walked onto the field at Saturday night's scrimmage in Blakeslee stadium, Adrian Peterson walked away with the honor of loudest ovation upon entering the stadium. Second only to AP...rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson!
When the Vikings traded picks to move back into the back end of the first round to snag Patterson, expectations for the dynamic of all dynamic players were set nice and high. Patterson will likely be the team's number one kick returner but his role in the offense is yet to be seen. Patterson scored touchdowns five different ways in college and the continual report on him is once he gets the ball in his hands he makes special things happen. Patterson is currently slotted in with the second wave of wide receivers and will likely see an exorbitant amount of time tonight paired up with Matt Cassel.
Personally, I want to see what happens when Patterson finds space in the open field. His talents should be on display tonight against a decent Texans secondary and it should be fun to watch.
(5) Rookie Punter Jeff Locke will be on field the whole game...
While most "starters" will be sidelined by the end of the first quarter tonight, special teams is a whole different situation. Rookie punter Jeff Locke was brought into Training Camp unchallenged this year and he's looked decent with no pressure down in Mankato. Friday night will be Locke's first opportunity to punt at Mall of America Field and in front of 50,000...40,000...well maybe 25,000 screaming Vikings fans. And he'll be on display all night long!
Locke boomed a 90-yard punt earlier this week in Mankato, but how will he fare with Houston Texans special teamers trying to make the team and running full speed at him? Will the dome mess with his mind? Will he crack under pressure? Special Teams coordinator Mike Priefer was vindicated last season when rookie kicker Blair Walsh replaced Ryan Longwell and broke all kinds of records in his first season in the league, can he do it again with Locke replacing Kluwe?
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings updates and breaking Vikings news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN