To help us get to know the 2018 Vikings team better, and to give us some perspective on what to expect from the Vikings during joint practices and this weekend’s game, I talked to Christopher Gates from The Daily Norseman — SB Nation’s insightful Minnesota Vikings community.
Let’s see what he had to say...
1. The Vikings and Jaguars are arguably the two best defensive units in the league. All biases aside, which defense would you rather have and why?
Christopher: I’m not sure if there’s really a “wrong” answer here, since we’re probably talking about the two best defenses in the league. Both teams have legitimate stars on all three levels, thanks to a combination of drafting well and making smart signings in free agency. The Vikings have the advantage of going into their fifth season of the same defensive scheme since Mike Zimmer was hired, and it’s tough to understate just how big that is. If we were to base it strictly on talent alone, however, I think that the slight edge might have to go to the Jaguars. I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I think the Jaguars might be slightly younger across the board on defense than the Vikings are, as the Vikings have a couple of key pieces that have been in the league for a while (Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph were both drafted in 2010, Harrison Smith in 2012), while I think that most of the Jaguars key defensive players are fairly young. It’s a very, very close race, but yeah...slight edge to Jacksonville overall.
2. How do you think joint practices — with different schemes, players and plays from the opposing squad — will help both teams prepare for not only this week’s game, but the rest of the preseason? It should be nice for them to hit somebody other than themselves in practice, eh?
Christopher: I do think we’ve gotten to the point where the team needs to see someone other than the guys on the same sideline as they are. Obviously we saw what happened in Jacksonville a few days ago with Dante Fowler, and the Vikings had a few scraps leading up to their preseason opener against the Broncos. I think it’s going to be very good for these two teams to see each other, and from the Vikings’ perspective I think it’s going to be helpful to take on one of the NFL’s best defenses (and I’m sure that Jacksonville’s offense will get the same benefit from going against the Minnesota defense). Even without Jalen Ramsey along for the ride this week, the Jaguars are a premier defense, and it’s going to be a real test for the new-look Vikings’ offense to square off with a group like that. Frankly, even if it isn’t the regular season, the Jaguars’ defense might be the best defense the Vikings see this season, and it should be fun to watch.
3. It was in limited action, but Kirk Cousins (Go Green!) definitely looked the part in the Vikings preseason opener. Are you sold on Cousins (and his fully guaranteed contract), or are you taking more of a wait-and-see approach with Minnesota’s new signal-caller?
Christopher: Obviously we’d like to see how things go for more than eight plays for the Vikings’ offense, but I do think that Cousins is in for a huge year in 2018. This is probably the best group of skill position players that he’s been surrounded by since he’s been in the NFL, with the return of Dalvin Cook at running back and the Stefon Diggs/Adam Thielen duo on the outside. The Vikings’ offensive line is going to be a sticking point this year, as it was last season (and the season before that. . .and the season before that. . .and the season before that), but I have a feeling that (offensive coordinator) John DeFilippo is going to be able to do a lot of things to mitigate those issues and put Cousins in a position to succeed. Even though the Vikings’ No. 1 offense was only on the field for eight snaps against Denver, they managed to use five different personnel groupings, and that’s going to help keep defenses off-balance and hopefully allow Minnesota to reach their full potential. Case Keenum took the Vikings on a hell of a ride last season, but I do think that Cousins gives them the potential to reach even greater heights.
4. Are there any young players/roster bubble guys on the Vikings you are hoping to see something from on Saturday? Are there any Jaguar players you are excited to see play?
Christopher: I’m not sure if you can consider a former first-round pick a “bubble guy,” but I’d really like to see something...anything...out of Laquon Treadwell on Saturday. We’ve heard all summer about how he’s gotten better and he’s been getting rave reviews in camp so far, but managed to go without a catch last week (Editor’s note — Treadwell actually had one catch for three yards. H/T to commenter NMVike). The Vikings need a third receiving threat to take some heat off of Thielen and Diggs, and I think most of us are hoping that Treadwell is the guy. As far as the defense, I’m looking to see how the battle for the backup spots on the defensive line is going to shake out. We know that the starters are set, and the Vikings have a lot of interesting talent as potential backups at all four spots on the defensive front. Players like Tashawn Bower, Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes, and Stephen Weatherly (among others) are going to be fighting for spots, and their time to make an impression is running out. As far as the Jaguars side of things, I think most Vikings fans will definitely be keeping an eye on some of the offensive line prospects from Jacksonville. The Vikings, as we’ve mentioned already, have some significant offensive line issues, and we’ll pretty much be looking at all the teams the Vikings play this preseason to see if anyone that their opponents might give up on is worth a shot as a developmental prospect or even a potential contributor.
5. The Jaguars and Vikings are coming off of similar seasons, both losing in the conference championship games. What do the Vikings need to do to get past that level and win the NFC this season?
Christopher: On defense, the Vikings need to find a way to give their front-line players, particularly on the defensive line, a little bit more of a rest over the course of the year. Last season, guys like Everson Griffen were playing entirely too many snaps for a team that’s supposed to be rotating defensive linemen, and I think it started to wear them down toward the end of the season. That’s why the depth chart behind the starters on the d-line is going to be so important this preseason. As far as the offensive side, the key is going to be the offensive line, whether it’s developing players to the point where the quality of play starts to go up or finding a way to scheme around it so that the offense can function to its capabilities. Even with those issues, the Vikings were a 13-3 team last season and appear (on paper, at least) to have gotten better, so if they can get those issues squared away, there’s really no prediction that you can make for this team that could be considered unrealistic.
A big thank you to Christopher for providing such in-depth analysis and giving his opinions on certain aspects. Be sure to follow him on Twitter, and also follow The Daily Norseman for all of the great coverage from joint practices and the preseason game between Jacksonville and Minnesota.