The Minnesota Vikings will play their second game of the 2012 preseason Friday night when they welcome the Buffalo Bills to Mall of America Field. The team still faces some questions over roster spots and roles, so there will be plenty to watch as the starters likely play a bit more than they did in the preseason opener.
Here are five players who are worth watching against the Bills on Friday night.
1. Safety Harrison Smith
The Vikings drafted Smith in the first round back in April (29th overall) after trading back up into the first round, and he is slated to start against the Bills. He has to be considered the frontrunner to start at one of the safety spots when Week 1 comes, and it will be interesting to see how he performs against the run and as a pass defender against what should be a solid Buffalo offense. If nothing else, Smith seems to have a mean streak and aggressive nature the Vikings have not had at safety in a long time (Joey Browner?) as he was not afraid to mix it up with wide receiver Percy Harvin during a training camp practice.
2. Quarterback Joe Webb
Webb has essentially been anointed as Minnesota’s backup quarterback, and a poor showing against the San Francisco 49ers in the first preseason game likely did little to change that since he was obviously playing with backups. Still, it would be nice to see him perform better in a game situation and within the framework of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s offense to prove he can be a viable option if something happens to Christian Ponder.
3. Wide Receiver Stephen Burton
Burton had a good moment when he caught a 52-yard pass from Ponder during the first series of the game against the 49ers, so it’s possible we could see more of him against the Bills. A good performance should help him as he looks to earn a roster spot and perhaps a significant early season role with Jerome Simpson being suspended for the first three regular season games. Burton performed well during OTAs, so he will look to continue to build on that momentum as the preseason goes on.
4. Kicker Blair Walsh
It’s tough to justify watching how a kicker performs in a preseason game, but since the Vikings cut veteran Ryan Longwell to make room for the rookie Walsh he bears keeping an eye on. He made two field goals in the preseason opener and was able to consistently put his kickoffs into the end zone, which is an area Longwell struggled in as he got older. Moving indoors at home may lend itself well to Walsh getting a long-range field goal attempt or two on Friday night, so everyone may get a chance to see how far the strong-legged rookie can kick the ball.
5. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian
Elimimian had an interception against the 49ers, which in and of itself has been a rare occurrence for the Vikings’ defense recently. He had a fairly decorated career in the CFL and is attempting to earn a roster spot with Minnesota. He worked with the third team defense against San Francisco, but given the lack of proven depth the Vikings have at linebacker the opportunity should be there for him to make a strong case to move up the depth chart with a good performance against Buffalo.