Things are starting to get serious at Winter Park. Or at least as serious as it gets for a preseason game.
Coming off a lackluster offensive performance against the Buffalo Bills, preparing for the most extensive preseason action for the starters and going against one of last year's Super Bowl participants in a nationally televised Sunday night game have all converged to put the Minnesota Vikings in regular season mode this week.
"We are excited for preseason game number three. It's more game mode for us, like we're in the regular season," QB Christian Ponder said. "We're doing a little more game planning. It's good to be back at Winter Park and it feels like the regular season. We're excited."
To a man, offensive players and coaches said part of the problems they experienced in a 20-16 loss to the Bills last Friday came because the Bills brought exotic blitzes usually reserved for the regular season and the Vikings don't game plan for specific opponents during the first two preseason games.
That changes with the third preseason contest.
"We broke camp from Mankato so we have more man hours to devote to game planning as coaches and then we can present it to the players in a more organized form and try to give them a little insight on what to expect once we get to September," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "So definitely, we're treating it as a regular season routine this week."
That even applied to the audible portion of practices. On Thursday, head coach Leslie Frazier decided to ramp up the sideline noise, bringing in a big speaker to direct amplified crowd noise directly at his offensive players as they ran plays against the defense during full-team work.
"I think we need to do that. We're treating this more like a game during the regular season," Frazier said. "I've thought about that for a while and thought it would be the right thing to do – if we're going to treat everything else like it's a true game situation, in-season, why not do the same thing on the road with the crowd noise like we would in the regular season?"
The artificial crowd noise has been standard practice preparing for regular season road games, but the Vikings haven't often used that during the preseason.
Frazier this week also found what he had been hoping for all throughout training camp – the heat. After a generally comfortable training camp in Mankato that routinely featured high temperatures in the 70s, this week has been hotter and steamy.
And the practices have gotten longer. Wednesday's practice lasted 2½ hours in the heat and it didn't take long for players to sweat through every their pads and uniforms. Thursday's practice went 15 minutes longer.
"It's funny you say that," Frazier said with a smile. "(The heat) was something we were hoping for. I'm glad it's here. It should help us in the long run. They understand. But this is more a factor because of the new schedule we're on more than anything. But it is good to have some sun and sweat. It is a good thing."
In addition to playing the starters longer – most of them are expected to go into the third quarter – than the other preseason games, the Vikings will also have their most valuable player (and the league's reigning MVP) back in the lineup. The plan is to give RB Adrian Peterson at least a couple series in his only preseason action Sunday night.
While the offense has been weighted toward the passing game to improve the weak areas from last year, Ponder admitted they aren't looking to change the bread and butter of the offense.
"We don't want to change the running game. The running game was great for us. But we do want to establish the pass and be more efficient in that area," he said.
For several reasons, San Francisco is an ideal opponent in the third preseason game. The 49ers are the defending NFC champions and they play plenty of man-to-man defense, according to Ponder, who is hoping that will help him and his new No. 1 receiver, Greg Jennings, establish a rhythm that has been lacking to this point.
"It's going to be a great opponent, a great barometer for us as a team," Ponder said. "Whenever you can play someone that was in the Super Bowl last year, it will be good for us. We want high execution and a lot of plays."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings are getting serious this week
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