MINNESOTA FOOTBALL IS BACK! As the Vikings gear up for a game tonight at 9:00 p.m. CST, fans can rejoice as the NFL season is finally upon us. As Minnesota dawns the Purple and Gold for the first time this year, the Vikings will travel to Seattle for their first action of the 2023 campaign. Though it may only be preseason football and big name players aren’t likely to suit up, there are plenty of storylines, players, and tidbits to take note of and a handful of intriguing pieces to watch for. Looking at both Minnesota and Seattle, here are eight things to look for in the upcoming game tonight.
QB of the Future?
As Minnesota prepares for their first preseason game, it is unlikely we see Captain Kirk play any meaningful snaps, if any at all. Thus, the duties of QB will shift to six-year vet Nick Mullens and fifth round rookie Jaren Hall out of BYU. Minnesota elected to take Hall in last April’s draft as 11 other quarterbacks heard their name called before him. Though not likely, there is hope that Hall may eventually be the successor to Kirk in a few years. All eyes will be on the former Cougar tonight as he plays his first professional football. What can fans expect? Simple yet solid reads, some deep shots, and a handful of errant throws, but overall a solid starting against Pete Carroll’s defense. Hall will most likely play the back-half of tonight’s game.
First Round Receivers
With guys like Brandon Powell and Jalen Nailor seeing good reports coming from camp, there are four first round receivers on this roster currently: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, Jalen Reagor, and N’Keal Harry. Though Jefferson will not be on the field tonight, the trio of Addison, Reagor, and Harry should be closely watched tonight. Addison’s first snaps in Minnesota will hopefully be as electric as he was in college. A smooth route runner with good hands, Addison is currently projected to be in the top three wide receivers come opening day. However, for Reagor and Harry, there is an uphill battle for not just playing time, but roster spots. Though Harry hasn’t been in the Twin Cities long, he has made some impressive highlight reel plays during practice and hopefully may push for a career revival in Minnesota. As for Reagor, his clock is ticking, and his return ability will only get him so far.
Flores’ Revamped Defense
After an abysmal end to the season, Minnesota’s 31st ranked defense received a glimmer of hope as Ed Donatell stepped out and Brian Flores stepped in. Flores was the head coach in Miami for three seasons, 2019-2021, and revamped their defense with improvement each year before his surprise release. After a one-year pitstop in Pittsburgh, Flores joins O’Connell’s staff as the DC and has quickly made practices fun. With a variety of unique blitzes, coverages, and pressures being applied, players are moving all over the field and there’s hope for a stark improvement. Veterans like Byron Murphy Jr, Harrison Smith, and Danielle Hunter are unlikely to see snaps tonight. However, there’s still a handful of guys to look for with bigger names such as Marcus Davenport, JoeJuan Williams, and Troy Reeder Jr leading that list. What will Flores use from his playbook tonight and how will the versatility and speed Minnesota brought in this offseason get employed on the gridiron? Truly, expect tonight’s defense to surprise many.
Running Back Competition
As Alexander Mattison may see a drive or two tonight, he has almost assuredly locked himself into the lead role. Expect to see a healthy serving of Ty Chandler, DeWayne McBride, Kene Nwangwu, and Abram Smith tonight in a very, committee approach. With Nwangwu currently listed as RB2 on the Vikings first depth chart (which you can check out a breakdown of here), Chandler and McBride will see snaps. That said, the most important thing to watch tonight is how often the running back position is rotated. With Dalvin Cook off to, presumably the AFC East, Minnesota may trend towards a stable of backs as compared to a true workhorse. Tonight’s game will be more important to see that split rather than who stands out, as all backs will have their highlight moments.
Young Names To Watch
A few other storylines to watch mostly revolve around a young defense. How will Lewis Cine return? The hope and expectation is that he returns to his Georgia days and leads the defense. Though he doesn’t need to make a ton of plays, the ability to step in and put the defense in position to be successful will be the important piece as he returns to action. What can fans expect from Andrew Booth Jr and Mehki Blackmon? The secondary is under construction and every player has a chance to make a claim for a starting spot. After spending second and third round capital, respectively, on these cornerbacks, the hope is they lock down receivers, play solid coverage, and play all faces of the game. Look for a solid rotation with the defensive backs tonight. What undrafted players will make a splash? All eyes will look for LB Ivan Pace Jr and EDGE Andre Carter II to make plays. Pace has run with the 1s in practice and Carter was a priority signing for Minnesota, but how will the two fare in live action? The expectation is dominant showings from both in, hopefully, large snap counts. Does James Lynch’s injury effect the defensive line tonight? Unfortunately, Lynch will miss the entirety of the upcoming season, but rookie Jaquelin Roy and a few other players should see solid snaps tonight to help determine a better pecking order. Though it might not change much in terms of playing time, it is a tough pill to swallow.
Offensive Rookies Incoming
Seattle spent capital adding youth to their offense this previous draft season with the first receiver coming off the board being Ohio State’s Jaxson Smith-Njigba. All signs point to him being the next electric playmaker in the league, alongside guys like Jefferson, Chase, and Waddle. Similarly, the Seahawks spent a second rounder on UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet, who will compete with Kenneth Walker for snaps. Both will see playing time tonight and may give fits to the Vikings defense. Also look for undrafted receiver Jack Bobo to make an impact as he’s lit up Seahawks training camp thus far.
The Return of Bobby Wagner
After a solid season in Los Angeles, Wagner returns home to Seattle to help lead a young defense around him. Though he will most likely not see the field tonight, look for Wagner to operate as a coach tonight for a handful of younger players on the Seahawks defense. Devin Bush comes over from Pittsburgh in hopes to pair alongside Wagner and revitalize his career and younger edge rushers such as Derick Hall and Tyreke Smith to be key contributors tonight. How much will a veteran presence such as Wagner help a young corp of athletes? Ideally, quite a bit and tonight will give a glimpse at his role going into his 11th NFL season.
Progression of the Offensive Line
The Seahawks have spent a few seasons rebuilding this line and now, the oldest player is projected starting center Evan Brown, who was undrafted in 2018. No player on the Seahawks projected starting line has more than five years of experience. Though Brown currently has the edge on fifth-round rookie center Olu Oluwatami, this offensive line is young. Second year tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas look to see solid playing time tonight and with a step forward, this line could be one of the best young units in the league. Look for Flores to attack and blitz heavily tonight as Drew Lock and undrafted rookie Holton Ahlers start at quarterback.