The Colts are hoping to turn the page on a lackluster week one and get a win in their home opener. To do that, they’ll take on the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are also looking to put their week one performance behind them, after dropping a divisional game to the Packers. With both teams hungry for a win, we sat down with Christopher Gates of the Minnesota Vikings SB Nation site the Daily Norseman to get some more information about what the Colts will be facing. Here’s what he had to say:
With the exit of Stefon Diggs, the Vikings lost a significant playmaker this offseason. Who do you anticipate will fill that space in 2020?
I don’t think the Vikings are going to have any one player fill the production left by Stefon Diggs in 2020, but rather that production is going to have to come from a combination of players. A lot of people, myself included, are expecting big things from second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr. after he came on late in 2019, and the Vikings drafted Justin Jefferson in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft with the pick they got from the Diggs trade. Throughout his career, Kirk Cousins has shown that he isn’t afraid to spread the football around and get other targets involved. Although Adam Thielen is going to be the obvious focus in the passing game, I would expect the second fiddle role to be filled by several different players, and it will likely vary from week to week. That’s bad for your fantasy football team, but otherwise it isn’t a bad way of doing things.
How has the rookie class looked so far?
The Vikings had nine of their fifteen draft picks make the squad this season, but several of them were inactive last Sunday, so there weren’t a lot of them out on the field. Justin Jefferson only managed a couple of catches, and while Cameron Dantzler had his moments in coverage, he (along with the other Vikings’ defensive backs) had a tough time against Green Bay. Unfortunately, Dantzler has already been ruled out of Sunday’s game, which means we’re likely going to see a lot more of first-round pick Jeff Gladney on defense after he had just a few snaps in the opener. The one underrated performer might have been K.J. Osborn, who served as the team’s return specialist and did a pretty nice job with the opportunities he got against Green Bay. It’s going to be interesting to watch this class grow throughout this season, because the Vikings are going to need some big contributions from them.
What kind of impact has the hiring of Dom Capers had on the Vikings defense?
To be honest, after that display that the Vikings’ defense put on against Green Bay, I’m not sure if he’s having any impact at all through one game. I’m sure part of it has to do with the relative youth at the cornerback spot for Minnesota. . .they don’t have a corner on the roster over the age of 23. . .but the Vikings’ pass rush was also basically invisible last Sunday against Green Bay. I know that Danielle Hunter being out hurts, but for someone that had the level of experience with the Packers that Capers had, I think everyone expected more. Perhaps as the season goes on and those young players adapt to the speed of the game we’ll be able to see more of a positive influence from Capers on the defense, as he has reportedly been working extensively with the secondary throughout camp.
The defense has had quite a bit of turnover in personnel from 2019 to 2020. What is your expectation for them this season?
I think that they’re going to be fine. . .eventually. It’s just a matter of when “eventually” comes around. Mike Zimmer has been a very good defensive coach in this league for many years, and he has always been heavily focused on that side of the football (sometimes to the detriment of the offense, but that’s another rant entirely). With the players that the Vikings lost this season, having jettisoned their top three cornerbacks, an outstanding pass rusher in Everson Griffen, and a standout run-stuffing nose tackle in Linval Joseph, there are going to be some growing pains and adjustments to be made. The fact that Michael Pierce, the big offensive tackle that was brought in to ultimately replace Joseph, was the lone Viking to opt out of the 2020 season because of COVID concerns, doesn’t help matters either. I do think that things will get better as the young defensive backs continue their trial by fire and the duo of Hunter and Yannick Ngakoue find some firmer footing.
Who is an under the radar player for the Vikings that Colts fans should be on the lookout for?
I think someone that both teams are likely going to be keeping an eye on is right guard Dru Samia, who appears to be in line to get his first meaningful NFL start with Pat Elflein going on injured reserve earlier this week. Samia basically redshirted his rookie season, save for playing in the Vikings’ regular season finale where they benched their starters because they were locked into the #6 spot in the NFC playoffs. Elflein has been a significant disappointment for the Vikings since he was drafted in 2017, and has been shuffled to all three interior line positions. Lots of Vikings fans felt that Samia was a steal when they got him in the fourth round of 2019, but they also acknowledged that he wasn’t NFL ready. If Samia can prove to be an improvement over Elflein, it will help the Vikings’ offense a lot since most of the pressure that Kirk Cousins experienced in Week 1 came from Elflein’s position.