There was a lot of excitement surrounding the Minnesota Vikings offense as they headed into their first preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Teddy Bridgewater had improved throwing the deep ball and the offensive line looked improved.
Things did not look that way when they first took the field, though, as the Vikings went three-and-out during their first drive Friday night, only gaining one yard. Bridgewater was under constant pressure during those first three plays and was sacked once.
The offense would not see the field again until the second quarter. Usually it is the second-team offense taking the field by that point in time during the first preseason game, but head coach Mike Zimmer wanted his starters to get some more work. The second drive ended up being a lot better than the first, but it started the same way.
The Vikings offense took over at their own 4-yard line after the defense turned the Bengals over on downs. The first play of their second drive was a run to the left side where running back Jerick McKinnon was stopped in the backfield for minus-2 yards. They ran to the left on the next play, but once again the Bengals defense got great penetration and all of a sudden McKinnon found himself being pushed backwards into the end zone.
He was in danger of being tackled for a safety, but he was able to bounce it out to his right after tight end David Morgan sealed the edge, and McKinnon ran for a 10-yard gain. It was a play that would ultimately spark a 10-play, 96-yard scoring drive by the Vikings.
“I knew I was in the end zone, I didn’t know how far I was, but I was like, ‘Dang, I got to find a way to get out of here,’” McKinnon said when he recalled that play. “I was able to cut back, have some open space and get it out of the end zone. There’s things to take from that. I’m just glad I didn’t get a safety and was able to make a positive play out of it.”
That was the longest run of the night for McKinnon, who only ran for 14 yards on five carries. It wasn’t a big workload for him, but they were valuable first-team reps with Adrian Peterson not playing in the game.
McKinnon is likely going to see an increased number of snaps this season, as the coaches try to keep Peterson fresh and take advantage of different looks the defense is giving him. That’s why McKinnon values every first-team rep he gets, because he wants to try and be in sync with the players around him.
“Anytime you get reps with the ones is definitely an advantage and a lot of things to take from,” he said. “Just getting comfortable with those guys, getting on the same page as Teddy, the offensive line and getting used to how they block, and stuff like that. It’s definitely always a good thing to be taking reps with the ones.”
Even though he did not receive many opportunities to run the ball, McKinnon appeared to take a bit of a beating during the game. The Bengals defense were laying some hard hits on him, but he seemed to enjoy that. It was the first time he has really gotten hit since teams usually don’t hit hard against each other in practice, and he was happy to get back at it.
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“They were thumping, but that was good to get out there, get hit, get bounced around a bit,” he said. “It was good to be back in it, taking the hits and rolling with it. ... I’m just happy to be back out there, get contact and get used to taking shots, rolling off tackles and stuff like that.”
McKinnon missed some time during training camp with a lower back injury but said his body is feeling good after the first game. Keeping him healthy will be important for the Vikings because he has the ability to ignite the offense and make big plays out on the field, just like he did Friday.