Tarvaris Jackson – According to head coach Brad Childress, Jackson will play into the third quarter on Saturday. While Jackson has done nothing to create serious doubts as the team’s starter, he simply hasn’t had enough opportunities to prove his case beyond a shadow of a doubt. The team hopes this week will provide a useful experience. After just four pass attempts against the Jets last week, Jackson’s ability to lead the offense on sustained drives would go a long way toward establishing himself. There really is no competition for the starting job at this point, but Jackson could solidify his standing with a strong performance.
Erasmus James – This will be the third-year defensive end’s first game action since returning from knee surgery. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier expects James to get 10-15 snaps in the first half. Those first few snaps will be critical in his attempt to come all the way back to eventually reclaiming his starting right end position.
Robert Ferguson – The newly acquired wide receiver is expected to play up to a half of football, according to Childress. The Vikings need to get a good read on whether or not Ferguson can help the team as their No. 3 receiver heading into the season.
Fred Evans – The Vikings have shown significant patience with the young defensive tackle prospect, waiting for him to clear up his legal problems this past week and passing on pursuing a veteran like Corey Simon for the time being. They obviously have high hopes that Evans can help them with quality reps behind the two starters (Pat Williams and Kevin Williams). This will be his first chance to prove it.
Aundrae Allison – The rookie wide receiver was looking as sharp as one receiver in training camp early on, but the rigors of the NFL game caught up to him a bit and he missed some time and valuable reps in practices. He got a look on kickoff returns last week but has yet to see the ball as part of the offense. The Vikings would like to see if he can indeed be their primary return man on kickoffs. They would also like to get him some touches on offense to continue his progress.
Sidney Rice – The rookie is pushing to be the No. 3 receiver after showing flashes in the past two games. There’s no question about his ability to become a viable receiver, it’s just a matter of how quickly he can become fully acclimated to the intricacies of the West Coast Offense. Every opportunity early on is important.
Others to keep an eye on:
The competition for the starting right guard spot still appears to be neck-and-neck between Artis Hicks and Anthony Herrerra. A final decision there will probably be made following this weekend’s game.
How can you not want to keep an eye on top pick Adrian Peterson, who flashed his terrific potential as a runner last week against the Jets. The only thing we haven’t seen yet is what he can do catching the ball out of the backfield. The Vikings may still limit his exposure but there’s no question he’s a potential franchise back in the making.
Rookie tight end Braden Jones has shown flashes of potential as a pass-catching tight end in training camp but like Allison and others hit seems to have hit the wall physically and has seen his consistency drop off. With veteran Richard Owens out with knee and ankle injuries, Jones could see a few more reps than normal. He still faces an uphill battle to make the opening-day roster but remains worth keeping eye on.
Quarterback Brooks Bollinger is likely to finish the game and the jury is still out on whether he is truly the answer as the No. 2 quarterback behind Jackson as rumors continue to swirl about bringing in another veteran. The coaching staff knows him well and is very comfortable with him. They’ll give him every benefit of the doubt, but his performance in every game situation remains critical in the competitive business of pro football.
The competition at defensive end remains heated, with essentially all seven players currently being on the roster capable of making the team and contributing. That said, every snap they get can be important in carving out their role or in some cases a roster spot. Can Kenechi Udeze continue to start ahead of Darrion Scott at left end? Will Ray Edwards and rookie Brian Robison continue to make plays? This will be the first opportunity for Khreem Smith in preseason. Jayme Mitchell also shows flashes.
Winning the game and a solid overall team performance would be nice, but there are still a lot of individual evaluations to make from tonight’s game.