Randy Moss has impressed teammates and coaches with his knowledge and skills, but questions remain…
Key matchup: James vs. the backup LBs
Perhaps nowhere are the question marks so pronounced as they are at linebacker, where the Vikings linebackers and running back LaMichael James will be this week's key matchup.
The 49ers already have one of the NFL's best rushing games, led by Frank Gore and the free agent addition of Brandon Jacobs, but both are entering their eighth NFL season – which typically is when NFL running backs close in on "hitting the wall." Realizing that, the 49ers used their second-round draft pick on Oregon running back LaMichael James. James led the NCAA in rushing last year and is a slashing, hard-charging, downhill runner who hits the hole hard and gets past the first line of defense consistently. It will be up to the Vikings linebackers to stuff the running lanes James will be looking to get through, but who will be the second line of Vikings defense is very much up in the air.
The starters seem set – Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson on the outside and Jasper Brinkley in the middle – but the backups come into the preseason with many more questions than answers.
Everson Griffen has the best chance of making an impact after showing flashes of ability last year as both a pass-rushing defensive end and an outside linebacker prospect. He and six-year vet Marvin Mitchell are battling for the backup spot behind Henderson and both are adjusting to the new scheme of defensive coordinator Alan Williams.
On the strongside, Larry Dean played in all 16 games last year, but was primarily a special teams player. He is in a battle with former CFL standout Solomon Elimimian. Both are hoping to make the roster, but the Vikings may need to get much more than special teams production out of them and James will provide a preseason test for them.
In the middle, Brinkley is the starter now that the Vikings allowed E.J. Henderson to continue his playing career elsewhere, but his injury history is troubling. If he should go down, the Vikings will have to depend on either third-year man Tyrone McKenzie or rookie Audie Cole – neither of whom has any real game experience.
Friday's game is going to be a proving ground for a lot of players – more than 40 percent of them won't survive the final roster cutdown. With the 49ers wanting to get an extended look at James as both a runner and receiver, it will be the job of the Vikings linebackers to keep him in check and prevent him from making a big first impression. At the same time, the backup roles haven't been written in pen yet, so the Vikings' backup linebackers won't just be fighting for the top reserve roles, many of them will be competing for precious roster spots that may be limited to just three or four beyond the three starters.
Both teams will be looking to set a standard by which they can build on as the preseason progresses and the anticipation of the regular season gains momentum. James in particular will likely be under the preseason microscope, making his ongoing battle with the Vikings' backup linebackers this week's matchup to watch.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
VikingUpdate.com Recommended Stories
Key injuries mount for Vikings in loss
The Vikings lost several key players or had them limited with injuries in the loss to the Packers.Read More
Rivalry Week on Scout
Build yourself a sky-high left-over turkey sandwich, cover it in a creamy sauce of hate, and get ready to scream!Read More
Vikings: ‘No moral victories’…but improvement
The Vikings defense limited the big plays but still couldn’t get the stop when needed at the end.Read More
VIDEO: Post-game locker room
Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, John Sullivan, Josh Robinson and Harrison Smith discuss both sides of the ball during the Minnesota Vikings loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.Read More
Outdoorsman's Gift Guide: Christmas 2014
Finding just the right present for that special someone can be a challenge, so we’ve compiled a wide variety of hunting, fishing and outdoor gifts that you—or Santa—can deliver this Christmas.Read More
- 11 23 14 Packers @ Vikings game day thread
- ESPN analyst says Bridgewater won't be a starter
- If season was over what positions would the vikes draft
- Tackles under consideration
- End of the game