It's hard to blame football players and fans if they're a little excited and hungry this week. After about two weeks of training camp at Minnesota State University, Mankato, the Vikings will take the trip up Highway 169 back to the Twin Cities for their first preseason game Friday night.
They'll be doing it outdoors and under the lights at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota while their new stadium is under construction. The first preseason game is always one of the more exciting. The team is ready to get out of the monotony of practice and see an opponent. The first preseason game is always a good measuring stick for what's working in training camp and what adjustments need to be made.
While the game is meaningless in terms of the result, it's another sign that the actual season is almost here. So what are the top five reasons to watch Friday night's game?
The coaching debut for Mike Zimmer
The Vikings made a pretty drastic change personality wise when Mike Zimmer replaced Leslie Frazier as head coach. Zimmer has a passion for football and is known as a fiery coach who motivates his players and isn't afraid to get in anyone's face. But Friday's game against the Oakland Raiders will be his first time on the sidelines as a head coach against an opponent. Is he ready? What in-game adjustments will he look to make? How will the offense look under new coordinator Norv Turner? How will Zimmer's defensive mind help the Vikings?
Will Teddy Bridgewater keep moving forward?
Zimmer said when the Vikings opened training camp that Matt Cassel was the team's No. 1 quarterback. As practices have progressed, Teddy Bridgewater's repetitions with the first-team offense have increased to the point where he's nearly splitting that time evenly with Cassel. The coaching staff has been raving about Bridgewater's athletic ability and consistency with his throws, and Zimmer said Tuesday he'll need to see time with the first-time offense in the preseason to truly see how far he's progressed. Will that lead to him winning the starting job over Cassel? It's far too soon to tell at this point. But a good performance Friday night with the first-team offense can go a long way if Bridgewater's goal is to be the starting quarterback in Week 1.
Vikings make TCF Bank Stadium more NFL ready
Friday night will mark the second time the Vikings have played at TCF Bank Stadium. The first was when Brett Favre was quarterback and the Vikings lost to the Bears on a snowy Monday night two seasons ago, not long after winter conditions caused the Metrodome roof to collapse. The Vikings are now sharing the U of M stadium with the Gophers, and they've paid to add more temporary seats to the facility. TCF Bank Stadium now seats more than 52,000. They've also installed heating coils under the playing surface for home games in the bitter cold of Minnesota winter. It will certainly take some getting used to seeing the Vikings play home games outside. They've rarely had to rely on Mother Nature to play home football in the past.
Live action against somebody else
It sounds basic, but after two weeks of training camp getting to see an unfamiliar face is a welcome sight for football players. Hitting the same players day in and day out gets a little old after several practices, so it's always a little more exciting to see somebody in a different jersey and have a game to look forward to. It's common to see skirmishes and even fights in the second week of training camp. With jobs on the line and spots in that first preseason game on the line, there tends to be more emotion and physical play in the week leading up to the game. Most importantly, it gives the Vikings coaching staff a chance to see what they've accomplished in camp so far by seeing live action and how their players react to certain plays. Plus, for the those who haven't been to Mankato to watch workouts with their own eyes, the game being televised always makes it fun to get an early look.
How different will the offense look with a new coach?
It's been interesting to hear the Vikings players comment on the team's offensive changes this year with new coordinator Norv Turner. Adrian Peterson said last year they were predictable, but that won't happen this season. They say there's a lot of pre-snap movement and formation changes, and players get something new thrown at them every day in training camp. It requires a lot of film study and going over playbooks, all in the name of keeping a defense off balance. So how will Turner's offense look this year? It's too early to tell right now but with Peterson running and weapons in the passing game, it should at least be entertaining. Many players have said in camp already the offense is "night-and-day" different from last year.
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