After spending the last couple weeks in Mankato for training camp, the Minnesota Vikings were able to open up the preseason against the Pittsburg Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game. From the first couple series of the game it was made obvious that the 2015 draft class was going to be making an impact on this team.
Both first-round pick Trae Waynes and fifth-round pick MyCole Pruitt got looks with the starters, even though both the offense and defense played in just one series. The two players would stay on the field longer than that, working with the second team as well, but just being on the field with the starters shows the confidence the coaching staff has in these young players.
Waynes showed that he is talented but made the most notable mistakes out of the rookies, drawing three penalties throughout the game. It showed that he still has some things he needs to work on – specifically working in off coverage – but he also held up well on multiple occasions as well.
Pruitt performed nicely throughout the game, both as a blocker and as a receiver. He made a nice downfield block for Matt Asiata, opening the field up for an 18-yard run and a first down. He also was able to make several receptions, with the most notable one being a 34-yard touchdown catch on a blown coverage.
“The guy’s very fast and he’s had great hands all camp,” head coach Mike Zimmer said about his rookie tight end. “That showed up a couple times tonight, his hands, and I think he’s going to continue to get better. He’s a good kid.”
Pruitt finished as the team’s leading receiver, catching four for 51 yards and accounting for the only receiving touchdown by either team.
Another rookie that performed well was second-round pick Eric Kendricks. He is currently in a position battle for the middle linebacker spot and may have been overshadowed a little by Audie Cole, who started at the position. But the rookie still had a good game. He was able to get into the backfield cleanly on a blitz and hurry a throw, he was solid in run defense and continued to do well in pass coverage.
Even though he did not make the flashy plays that everyone notices, Zimmer still thought he did some “nice things,” making four tackles.
But the player who had the most electrifying play of the game was fifth-round draft pick Stefon Diggs. The wide receiver has been impressing people all throughout training camp and continued to do so during the first preseason game with a performance that was capped off by a 62-yard punt return, getting stopped at the 1-yard line.
“I don’t know about electrifying, but I know that the game’s not too big for him,” Zimmer said. “I like a lot of things about him. He wants to work. One day he was talking to himself before practice, started saying, ‘I got to get better today; I got to get better today.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s what happens when you play this game, you start talking to yourself.’”
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was also impressed by Diggs’ return and nearly fell off the bench when he realized what was happening.
“I was actually looking into the tablet, going over the series that the second unit had out there, or the third unit.” Bridgewater said. “I looked up and seen that he’s running down the sideline and I kind of threw my hands up and fell back in the bench.”
Even though it was just the preseason, this game was a big stepping stone for many of the rookies on the Vikings roster. It was their first chance to play in an NFL game and helped show them where they need to get better.
It is important for every team to have a good mix of veterans and young players contributing over the course of the season. This is something that Bridgewater knows from experience since he was a rookie helping his team win games a year ago and now he hopes the 2015 rookie class can do the same.
“I’m excited for those young guys,” he said. “We know that in this league it’s going to take everyone, no matter what age, what year you’re in and it showed last year with Anthony (Barr) and myself. We were able to contribute for the Vikings as young guys so we know whether it’s Stefon, MyCole, Trae, Kendricks, we’re going to need all those guys, including the veterans. So I’m excited to see those guys go out and compete for the first time in live NFL action and the sky’s the limit for those guys.”
Several Vikings rookies show well
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