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Six Things to Watch in the Vikings' Preseason Opener Against the Raiders

Which players will stand out and help their chances of making the roster on Sunday?
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The Vikings will become the 32nd and final NFL team to begin their 2022 preseason slate when they take on the Raiders at 3:25 p.m. central time on Sunday (FOX 9, NFL Network).

The occasion marks a number of firsts: Kevin O'Connell's first game as a head coach, the Vikings' first time playing at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, and NFL "debuts" for Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth Jr., and over a dozen other Vikings rookies.

The result obviously doesn't matter very much. Few starters, if any, will play. But in seeing this version of the Minnesota Vikings for the first time, even in the preseason, we should learn a lot. This is a massive opportunity for players looking to earn starting jobs, players looking to carve out roles this season, and a whole bunch of players hoping to put enough on tape to make an NFL roster or practice squad this season, whether in Minnesota or elsewhere. Remember, the first five cuts will be made on Tuesday.

Here are six things to watch on Sunday afternoon.

For the backup quarterbacks, it's now or never

With Kirk Cousins missing the trip after testing positive for COVID-19, we are going to see a lot of Kellen Mond and Sean Mannion on Sunday. Each quarterback will get roughly half of the game.

There has to be a serious sense of urgency for both Mond and Mannion, who have struggled for much of training camp. There's no guarantee that either one will be the Vikings' backup QB this season. Unless at least one of the two picks it up and impresses during the preseason, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah may end up looking elsewhere for depth at the sport's most important position.

Mond had a pretty shaky preseason showing as a rookie last year. He finished the three games going 28 of 51 (55 percent) for 310 yards with no touchdowns, one interception, and 13 carries for 71 rushing yards. With Mond and Jake Browning getting most of the snaps, the Vikings' offense didn't score a touchdown until the third and final game and didn't record a single passing touchdown.

Mannion, who spent last year's preseason with the Seahawks, was a bit better but not explosive at all, completing 33 of 49 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings ended up bringing him back before the season started.

Above all else, I'll be watching Mond and Mannion closely to see how well they command this new offense and whether or not they can make good reads and deliver accurate, on-time throws.

O'Connell's coaching debut

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In all likelihood, we won't learn a ton about O'Connell and his offense on Sunday. It'll be a watered-down version of the offense, run by backups and third-stringers. O'Connell isn't going to show off his best stuff before the regular season rolls around.

Still, at least to some small degree, we'll see what this offense looks like. O'Connell is going to run some basic, staple plays to try to make things simple for Mond and Mannion and put points on the board. What will that look like in the passing game? What will that look like in the running game? How much will we see things like play-action, screen passes, and misdirection? How aggressive will the offense be?

Furthermore, this will simply be a chance to see O'Connell on the sidelines of an NFL stadium as a head coach for the first time. I'll be curious to see how he manages things like fourth down decisions, timeouts, and other similar aspects of the game.

"Regardless of the result truly mattering for where our team will finish up this year, it’s still important for me to make sure I’m going through my process, not only as a play caller but as a head coach," O'Connell said. "We want to win the football game, but at the same time there’s a lot of internal battles going on for positions. There’s guys really trying to fight to make our team that have done everything we’ve asked them to do. Ultimately, the nature of this when you have a 90-man roster that’s going to go down to 53 spots, my mind tends to go a little bit more, 'It’s about those guys' than me, but it is cool."

Rookies, rookies, rookies

There are 19 rookies on the Vikings' roster, from top draft picks Cine and Booth to undrafted free agents like Luiji Vilain and Bryant Koback. I'd imagine all 19 will see the field on Sunday.

When the Vikings are on defense, I'm going to be paying close attention to Cine and Booth, who are battling for starting jobs and can help themselves by playing well on Sunday. With Cine, it's about play recognition and being in the right spots at the right time. With Booth, it's about harnessing his athleticism by using good technique and not getting so physical that he draws penalties.

"Just show people I’m Lew," Cine said about his plans for this game. "Just play, ball out and have fun. I don’t really have to do too much out of the ordinary that I don’t do out here. Trust my training and trust my preparation. Take care of business, basically."

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There are several other defensive rookies to watch, too: Brian Asamoah, Akayleb Evans, Esezi Otomewo, Vilain, Zach McCloud. This is a great opportunity for all of them to step up and make plays in a game setting.

Offensively, lots of eyes will be on Ed Ingram, who may have suddenly emerged as the favorite to start at right guard for the Vikings in Week 1. A nice, sound game from him would go a long way in that battle against Jesse Davis.

Then there are the playmakers. We should see plenty of running back Ty Chandler in this game. He's a talented, explosive playmaker who is buried on the Vikings' depth chart but can showcase his skills this month. WR Jalen Nailor and TE Nick Muse should also get some opportunities.

Which pass-catchers will step up?

The position on the Vikings' roster with the most intriguing competition for roster spots is probably at wide receiver. Starters Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn won't play much during the preseason, if at all. But for everyone else, this is a chance to solidify a role or fight for a spot among the 53.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Bisi Johnson are battling for the No. 4 receiver job. Guys like Nailor, Albert Wilson, Trishton Jackson, Myron Mitchell, and Dan Chisena are battling to make the roster. UDFA Thomas Hennigan is a major longshot but he could still be a practice squad candidate or get an opportunity elsewhere.

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All of these guys want to put good things on tape. I'll be very curious to see who can create separation, make plays, and stand out within that position group.

There's also plenty to learn about the Vikings' tight ends, especially second-year pro Zach Davidson. I want to see what he's capable of in this setting after he's flashed some upside during practice.

"I want to see guys make plays," offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said. "The good thing about the preseason is usually on both sides there’s a little more man coverage and guys are trying to evaluate who can really cover when it’s crunch time, who can go out there on an island. So it gives you some opportunities, particularly at the receiver and tight end spot, see if they can win, see if they can make a play when they get some bump coverage, something we haven’t seen as much from our defense. It will be exciting."

3-4, pass rush, tackling

There will be plenty to watch when the Vikings are on defense. First and foremost, what's Ed Donatell's 3-4 scheme going to look like? What kind of formations and shells will they be in? Again, they're not going to reveal a ton, but I'm just excited to watch some 3-4 defense after so many years of watching Mike Zimmer's 4-3.

An easy way for defensive linemen and outside linebackers to stand out is by getting to the quarterback. We should see plenty of edge rushers like D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, Janarius Robinson, and Andre Mintze. On the interior, I'm excited to watch Jaylen Twyman, Otomewo, Jonathan Bullard, and James Lynch. Let's see how they hold up against the run and if they can shed some blocks and create interior pressure.

It's not just rookies who are making their NFL debuts. 2021 draft picks Twyman and Robinson will also be seeing action for the first time after missing all of last year.

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And then, at all three levels of the defense, I want to see how well these guys can tackle. We haven't seen any real tackling during training camp so far, so this is a big evaluation period in that regard. I'm especially curious about linebackers like Asamoah, Troy Dye, and Chazz Surratt, as well as Cine and the DBs.

"We’re going to be basic, so we’ve got to be clean on our assignments," Donatell said. "We’ve got to be clear in our communicating with one another. We want to tackle well and then we want to influence the football. We’re a team that wants to work the football and put ball pressure on people, and we want to see that. It’s our first chance to see that."

Special teams!

Not to be overlooked, special teams are a place where players fighting for roster spots can stand out. Flying downfield to make a tackle in the coverage phase or making a big block in the return phase will be something special teams coordinator Matt Daniels absolutely notices.

Can Greg Joseph stay hot and make all of his kicks? Will rookie Ryan Wright make a push in the Vikings' punting competition? Who will returns kicks and punts? We'll find out starting on Sunday.

Thanks for reading. Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis all offseason long. Also, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask me any questions on there.