The Minnesota Vikings will play their third preseason game, and second at home, against the San Diego Chargers on Friday night. As is the case with most teams, that means the starters will see the most game action that they will see all preseason and we will get a good look at many players who will have a prominent role on the team come Week 1. For the Vikings, that group had a chance to include running back Adrian Peterson, but he will be held out of preseason action as he continues to make progress in his recovery from last season’s knee injury and torn ACL.
But there is still plenty for Vikings fans to be interested in on Friday night even without Peterson on the field, so here are five players who are worth watching against the Chargers.
1. QB Christian Ponder
Ponder has looked good in two preseason games to this point, but now he’ll get a chance to further prove himself against San Diego’s first-team defense for an extended period of time. The Chargers are not among the elite defenses in the league, but they do have some talented individuals like safety Eric Weddle, veteran linebackers Shaun Phillips and Jarret Johnson and rookie first-round pick linebacker Melvin Ingram. Ponder’s continued progress, and continued health since he was banged up late in his rookie season in 2011, will be the first thing Vikings fans and coaches will be watching Friday night.
2. LB Jasper Brinkley
Brinkley has looked a step slow through the first two preseason games as he knocks the rust off after missing all of 2011 with a hip injury. The Vikings do not have a true backup plan at middle linebacker right now, so they need him to assert himself and take a firm grip on the starting job. Playing extensively against an opponent’s first-team offense will help, even though the Chargers are without running back Ryan Mathews and wide receiver Vincent Brown right now. Brinkley also missed time during OTAs with a groin issue, which took away time for him to get back up to speed and for the team to evaluate if he was truly ready to become a full-time starter. Friday night’s game is very important for Brinkley, perhaps more than any other player on the Vikings defense.
3. CB Josh Robinson
With Chris Cook in line to miss Friday night’s game due to the lingering effects of a concussion he suffered in last week’s game, Robinson may get an opportunity to start and should see a lot of action regardless. The rookie from Central Florida was limited by a hamstring injury early in camp, but has speed to burn (4.33 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) and has been impressive since returning to health. Robinson is also in the mix to be the primary punt returner for Minnesota, so how he does with those opportunities will be worth keeping an eye on too.
4. S Mistral Raymond
Raymond put together a solid performance against the Buffalo Bills last week as he competes with Jamara Sanford for a starting job. Sanford may get a chance to start against the Chargers, but since he started 15 games in 2011 the Vikings already have an idea what he is capable of-for better or worse. Raymond was a sixth-round draft pick in 2011 out of South Florida and looks superior to Sanford as a pass defender. Raymond has to be considered the frontrunner to start opposite rookie Harrison Smith, barring injury or very poor performance on Friday night, and he can only help himself with another solid game.
5. WR Michael Jenkins
With Jerome Simpson being out for the first three games of the regular season due to suspension, the Vikings are looking for someone to replace him in the starting lineup during that stretch. Jenkins is as good a candidate as any due to his experience and the fact he recently agreed to take a pay cut should help assure his roster spot. It will be worth watching both how much action Jenkins sees against the Chargers and if he and Ponder can continue to build some rapport after connecting on a long completion against the Bills last week.