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NFL Minnesota Vikings

Vikings vs. 49ers: Three focuses for preseason opener

The wait is over; Minnesota Vikings football has arrived.

Today, the Vikings will head to the Northwest to take on the San Francisco 49ers in their 2012 NFL preseason opener.

Although it’s only the preseason, there will be numerous things to keep an eye on as the Vikings get their first shot at showing that they’ve improved since their ugly 2011 campaign came to an end.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three of the focuses for today’s game and what the Vikings need to do to prove that they’re heading in the right direction.

1. Where is Christian Ponder in his development as an NFL quarterback?

Although the amount of reps that Ponder gets will obviously be limited in the Vikings’ preseason opener, it’ll still be interesting to see how the young gunslinger looks to kick off the year. Word around training camp has been inconsistent, with reports bouncing back and forth between “Ponder has seen vast improvement” and “Ponder is still struggling.” This preseason contest with the 49ers will be a great opportunity to gauge how far along Ponder is in his development. With an outstanding pass-rush and a solid secondary, the 49ers won’t make it easy for the former first-round pick. It’s time for Ponder to prove that he’s ready to be the Vikings’ offensive leader or we’ll soon hear the chorus of “Joe Webb” chants echoing through the Twin Cities.

2. Which young linebacker can stand out above the rest?

There are several young linebackers on the Vikings’ preseason roster who stand a solid chance at making the team, especially with their current lack of depth. Undrafted rookie Corey Parades has been impressive thus far and can make the team if he proves his worth in real game action. Former CFL standout Solomon Elimimian is a ferocious talent who also could solidify a roster spot with a strong preseason showing. Other young hopefuls, including Larry Dean, Audie Cole, and Tyler Nielsen, will be hoping to make their mark for the Vikings today. Especially against a 49ers team loaded at the running back spot, it’ll be interesting to see which linebacker can step up and show that they’re capable of making plays.

3. Can Harrison Smith earn the starting spot?

For the past week, rookie first-round pick Harrison Smith has been practicing with the first-team defense in place of strong safety Mistral Raymond. It was assumed that Smith would be a starter when the Vikings traded back into the first round to get him, but they’re making him earn the job. This 49ers offense proved in 2011 that it could be fiery and explosive, giving Smith the perfect opportunity to make plays and show that he’s capable of being a starter for the Vikings. He can’t get complacent at this point, though; there are several other young safeties who will also be vying for playing time or a roster spot this offseason. We’ll see if Smith can flash the skills that made the Vikings so high on the former Notre Dame star in the first place.

Vikings inactive list:

S Robert Blanton (shoulder), TE John Carlson (MCL sprain), WR Kamar Jorden (hand), OT DeMarcus Love (pectoral), RB Adrian Peterson (knee), OG Geoff Schwartz (sports hernia), CB Josh Robinson (hamstring), Jordan Todman (ankle)

Quick Hits:

  • This will be Matt Kalil’s first chance to prove he was worth the No. 4 overall pick. Can he withstand the 49ers strong pass rush and keep Ponder upright?
  • It’ll be interesting to see how the Vikings’ defense looks under new Defensive Coordintor Alan Williams.
  • Everson Griffen made the move to linebacker this offseason, but how well will it work out for the former defensive end?
  • The Vikings put the field goal duties squarely on rookie Blair Walsh’s leg; can the youngster deliver in his first NFL action?
  • Keep an eye on young defensive linemen D’Aundre Reed and Anthony Jacobs.
  • It’s unlikely that Toby Gerhart plays much, so who will assert themselves as the No. 3 running back? One name worth keeping in mind: Derrick Coleman.
  • Jasper Brinkley has been handed the reins at middle linebacker; will he stand strong or struggle in his first action since 2010?
  • The Vikings need one of their backup wide receivers to step up after the season-ending injury to Greg Childs. Will it be Stephen Burton, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Devon Aromashodu, or someone else?

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