First-teamers feel good about performance

The Vikings dominated the game when their starters were in, and they all seemed to feel good about where they stand with the new schemes being implemented.

For a game that finished with a 10-6 Vikings victory over the Oakland Raiders, it could have been interpreted as a typical first preseason game – sloppy, choppy and mistake-filled.

But for the short period of time the Vikings’ first-team offense and defense was on the field, they dominated the Raiders, putting together a pair of 10-play drives on offense, and limiting Oakland to just seven offensive plays on two drives defensively.

Safety Harrison Smith felt there couldn’t have been a much better debut for the new coaching staff and the first-team players. In fact, he was hoping they might get another series or two because things went so well in the first two series.

“It was nice to get out there and hit somebody else,” Smith said. “Coach (Mike) Zimmer has been getting on us every day about doing the little things to improve and I think we saw that tonight. It was a pretty small sample, but I think we did a good job of getting off the field and giving our offense a chance to put some points on the board.”

In the first two drives for the offense, the Vikings drove 70 yards in 10 plays in the only drive Matt Cassel had at quarterback, ending in a touchdown. In the first drive for rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings put together another 10-play drive, which ended in a field goal to give the Vikings an early 10-point lead that the reserves made stand up.

The only mistake that the offense made early was a sack-fumble by Bridgewater, but offensive tackle Matt Kalil pounced on the loose ball to keep the Vikings in possession on the drive that would end in a field goal. Other than that, there wasn’t much to complain about in the execution of the first-team offense and defense.

“The offensive rhythm really felt good out there,” Kalil said. “You couldn’t have asked for a better opening drive. It just goes to show that we’re coming along. There is still a long way to go and a lot of things to fix up, but this is something that is a great start and something to build on. Last year, I think our first game we were out there for two plays and threw an interception, so this was a nice difference.”

It could have been understandable if the Vikings had struggled early. With a new offense and defense being installed at training camp, the team could have stumbled. But one common thread that carried over was the continuity of the offensive line, which has been together for three years now. The Vikings looked polished on the offensive side of things and Brandon Fusco credited the diligence in practice that manifested itself in Friday’s win.

“All the stuff we did in practice paid off tonight,” Fusco said. “We did a lot of the little things and had the attention to detail that we needed and it showed that we can do a lot of good things. From the line perspective, we came in with a lot of confidence being our third year together as a unit and I think we did a lot of things right in the short time we had to show what we could do.”

Just as the offense was able to convert third downs, spread the ball around – even without Adrian Peterson – and make plays when they were needed, the first-unit defense never allowed the Raiders to get anything going with its first-team offense, forcing them into a three-and-out on the first drive and allowing them to stay on the field for just four plays on their second drive.

“We were out there such a short period of time, so we didn’t face a lot of different situations,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “But we were able to do what we needed to do to give us field position and the offense was able to turn that into points. We didn’t have that a lot last year, so it was great to be able to get both offense and defense looking strong at the same time.”

It’s nice when a plan comes together and that is what the Vikings were able to accomplish Friday with the players who they expect to be on the field the majority of the time when the games starter to count. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said there wasn’t any big excitement in the locker room because, in the end, Friday’s win won’t show up in the standings that count. But, as a building block, it was a great first step in a long journey.

“Coming into the game we talked as a team focusing on tackling and playing our techniques the way they should be played,” Floyd said. “I think for the most part we got that done. Now we just have to get back to the drawing board and keep going.”

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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