Sunday, August 30, 2015

Minnesota Vikings preseason observations (Edition #3)

I missed the entire first half of the Vikings-Cowboys preseason game Saturday night.

That makes it difficult to say much about how Teddy Bridgewater looked or how the Vikings experiment with Gerald Hodges at middle linebacker went (judging from the writeups and tweets I've seen, it went well.)

However, sometimes you don't need to watch the game to know how a player performed. How does Bridgewater going 7-or-7 for 76 yards suit you? And there was this, too.

Perhaps the only thing we can quibble about with Bridgewater is that while the Vikings offense has moved the ball smartly during his limited playing time this preseason, the unit hasn't scored many touchdowns with him in there. Is he choosing to throw less risky passes that could lead to better rewards and instead playing it too safe so he can complete a higher percentage of his passes? I don't think so. But the Vikings offense needs more Bridgewater-to-Mike Wallace throws like we saw against Dallas. I'm looking forward to what a Minnesota offense featuring Wallace and Adrian Peterson, coupled with competent - maybe even very good - quarterback play can accomplish.

- When Cordarrelle Patterson ripped off that 107-yard kickoff return against Dallas, Vikings radio play-by-play guy Paul Allen said something like "Patterson just quieted a lot of critics with that return" (I paraphrase here because I didn't write down exactly what Allen said.) Sorry, Paul. I don't think a kickoff return for a TD by Patterson is going to silence anybody because it's not Patterson's kickoff return ability that Vikings fans worry about. It's his work ethic and ability to become a factor as a wide receiver that "critics" like myself doubt (Patterson didn't catch a pass in this game, by the way.) Until Patterson proves his worth in the latter areas, Allen should expect the criticism of #84 to continue.

- As an aside, did you see defensive end Danielle Hunter almost run stride-for-stride with Patterson at the end of that kickoff return? Pretty impressive speed for a big lineman.

- The search to find someone to take some snaps away from defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison continues. Hunter and second-year guy Scott Crichton figured to be the candidates, but I think Justin Trattou might be beating them out. Every preseason game I watch, Trattou does something positive. Last night it was his pressure up the middle that flushed the Dallas QB out of the pocket and resulted in Hunter getting a sack. Caution is always advised when talking up the play of a backup/practice squad guy during preseason - I remember being excited about wide receiver Rodney Smith last August. But Trattou, who doesn't get much attention because he was picked up off the scrap heap after being released by the Giants, is playing his way into the defensive line rotation.

- On the subject of being cautious about what you see during preseason, I think the Vikes starting offensive line has done a pretty good protecting Bridgewater the first four games. Bridgewater helps them out because he gets rid of the ball quickly and moves around the pocket well. Still, he hasn't been under much duress, either. On the flip side, the line's run blocking hasn't been very good. But if the choice is between poor pass blocking or poor run blocking, I'll take poor run blocking. Peterson can make something out of nothing a lot of times anyway.

- Another missed field goal means Vikings fans are worried about Blair Walsh's preseason struggles. We may have to accept that Walsh might continue to struggle when the season starts and he might cost the Vikes a game with more missed field goals. But there is no reason to think if he continues to struggle that the team will release him. Kickers get the yips some times. Green Bay's Mason Crosby had them bad in 2012, yet the Packers stuck with him and he's been very good ever since. Walsh will be fine, but maybe not right away in 2015.   

Thursday, August 27, 2015

National Friday League

Teddy Bridgewater and Accuracy
Teddy Bridgewater's wants to complete 70% of his passes (PFT).

If Bridgewater's goal is to be the most accurate quarterback in the league, great! And this is a realistic goal. As Bridgewater adjusts to the NFL speed and learns his arm's limitations, he can become one of those super-accurate QBs. His 64.4% rookie completion percentage was partly due to a lot of short passes but was no fluke, and it was historically good.

But this is one of those goals that cannot be central: completion percentage needs to be a means to success, not an end in itself. A quarterback whose primary goal is to throw zero interceptions is going to be a terrible quarterback: you have to accept risk in order to move the ball successfully. If a high completion percentage is your goal, that could mean too many checkdowns on 3rd and long, eating sacks instead of trying to make a throw, and being hesitant to attempt throws deep downfield. That's not a way to win football games.

But I'm not too worried about that: Bridgewater's wording doesn't make completion percentage sound like a fixation:

“Something always comes up, the receiver could slip running a route or you could get hit throwing the ball, but I think we try to aim to be over 70 percent in the quarterback room  [...] That’s one of our goals. We take pride in completion percentage, we take pride in taking care of the football and commanding the offense. It’s going to be a fun year. I have a ton of weapons at my exposure; and I can’t wait to get everyone going” (Star Tribune).

The headlines at PFT and the Star Tribune probably make a bigger deal out of the "goal" than Bridgewater implied. The Vikings are going to try to be be a high-percentage passing offense, and that's a good thing, but the overall approach seems grounded.

Defense: who is the Vikings' most important defender?
There are two approaches to asking who the best defensive player on the team is:

1. Which player, if injured for a long stretch, would cause the defense to entirely collapse?
2. Which player, if healthy, gives the Vikes a chance to be a dominant defensive team?

For the first question, I'd consider Harrison Smith. He's a rangy, versatile safety who covers a lot of ground, can be used in different ways, and can help out other members of the secondary in coverage. Harrison Smith is a player that can hold the defense together. But I don't think he's the player who can most make the defense great.

For the second question, I'd consider Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr, and Everson Griffen. If Xavier Rhodes develops into a great shutdown cornerback, and such cornerbacks can anchor truly terrific defenses by shutting down a side of the field. Anthony Barr is so versatile that the different ways Mike Zimmer moves him around the defense can make it something opposing teams struggle to deal with. And Everson Griffen is the team's best pass rusher, in a league where having a strong pass rush is still the best way to disrupt an opponent's offense.

For fans, what is preseason for?
I haven't and won't watch preseason football this year: watching real football joyfully occupies a lot of autumn hours, but watching pseudo-football doesn't need to take up summer hours. But that doesn't mean that it's entirely useless for fans to watch preseason games. It is essentially studying. If you watch the preseason games, you get a rundown and review of the team's players, coaches, starting lineups, new acquisitions, etc. If you watch the preseason--with its coverage by local broadcasters--you'll go into the season with a strong familiarity with the team, particularly who the players are at positions that don't always get noticed as much during broadcasts of regular season games (offensive linemen, a lot of the front seven on defense, special teams). And if you listen to the broadcasters you'll also get a strong knowledge of the narratives the team wants fans to believe, if you're into that sort of thing, because the broadcasters generally seem to talk about the team in ways the team would like.

Of course there are a lot of other ways to familiarize yourself with the team before the season starts, so maybe instead of a preseason game put on a Netflix comedy special or something.

Fantasy Box: Against Handcuffs
How often does it really pay off to draft an elite RB, and also draft his real NFL backup? It's rare, I think. You either don't ever use/need the handcuff, or the handcuff was never near as good as the elite player anyway (that's why he's a backup!). Drafting handcuffs is a risk-averse strategy. I'm not sure that having, say, James Starks ready to sub in for Eddie Lacy is a recipe for winning a fantasy championship.

Rather than drafting handcuffs to your own players, a more aggressive strategy is to draft NFL backup RBs from other teams with your cheap/late picks. If you have Eddie Lacy, James Starks only matters if Lacy gets injured. But if you have Eddie Lacy and also, say, DeAngelo Williams, then if Le'Veon Bell gets injured, you still have your own elite RB, and a useful starting RB that you didn't pay much for. Whereas drafting your own handcuffs is a weak insurance policy (the backup will get, what, 75% of the elite RB's production if you're lucky?), drafting other backup RBs is a way to maximize the chances for a monster roster. You're not hoping a backup keeps your team viable enough to get into the fantasy playoffs, but rather making an aggressive move to give yourself an abundance of legitimate fantasy starters (while also withholding such starters from a competitor). You might get an asset you can use, or that you can trade for a better asset you can use.

Let's stick with the completely made-up stat that a good handcuff will get 75% of the elite starter's production. If you draft Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, you are essentially adding Davis to the cost it took you to get Charles. If Charles goes down, the draft resources you spent get you 75% of the production you paid for. But if you draft Marshawn Lynch with valuable draft resources, and then use cheap draft resources on Knile Davis, you have the chance to start both the elite Lynch that you paid big for, and also 75% of Jamaal Charles that you paid nothing for. Getting 75% of Jamaal Charles' production for the cost of Jamaal Charles isn't good. Getting 75% of Jamaal Charles for no cost is terrific! You can team that up with elite players you paid elite draft costs for.

Getting productive fantasy starters at a near zero cost, and then teaming them with the elite players you paid draft resources for, is one way to build a monster fantasy roster. Drafting your own handcuffs is no way to do that. But drafting other NFL handcuffs is.

Is Gerald Hodges the Vikings starting middle linebacker?

Middle linebacker was considered a position in need of an upgrade when the Minnesota Vikings 2015 offseason began.

And after the Vikings drafted UCLA's Eric Kendricks, and didn't sign any obvious candidates in free agency (Casey Matthews doesn't count), most fans and beat writers figured Audie Cole and Kendricks would be fighting for the middle linebacker job.

Gerald Hodges didn't seem to be in the mix. But according to ESPN's Ben Goessling, the third-year player could be the starting middle linebacker when the season starts against the 49ers.

If you're a member of the Audie Cole Fan Club, this is terrible news. It means this NFL preseason All-Pro will be standing on the sidelines for a fourth straight season, and the Vikings will be missing out on his knack for making big plays.

However, looking at this objectively (I'm a member of the Cole fan club), this makes sense. Hodges impressed me when he started seven games in place of injured teammates Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway last season. He's quick, flies to the ball and seems to have good coverage skills - he had one interception in 2014 and was credited with seven passes defended.

But he's been an outside linebacker during his time with the Vikings, and the question that comes to mind is - does he have the skills to be a good middle linebacker?

As with all things related to the Vikings defense, I trust head coach Mike Zimmer to make the right personnel decisions. He asks a lot of his linebackers, and he doesn't want one-dimensional run stuffers. This is why having Hodges in the middle can work. He's athletic enough to be an asset in pass coverage, but stout enough (he had 66 total tackles last year) to also be an asset defending the run.

Goessling's article mentions that Zimmer plans to use Kendricks in the nickel defense against Dallas this weekend while Hodges starts at middle linebacker. If that is how Zimmer rolls with the linebackers when the regular season starts, that could mean Hodges - even though he is a starter - could play fewer snaps than he did in 2014 when he was a backup. If you look at the snap counts for the Vikes linebackers last season, Hodges was on the field more than starting middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley.

If he's healthy, we know Anthony Barr is going to be on the field all of the time. That means when the Vikes go to two linebackers in the nickel package, some starters are going to sit. It's looking like Barr and Kendricks will be on the field when the nickel defense is out there, which could be a lot with the way teams pass the ball these days. Playing in the base defense will be Barr, Hodges and Chad Greenway.

This makes sense to me. Kendricks appears to have a knack for sniffing out pass routes and covering them well, and Barr is just too fast and athletic not to have out there most of the time. I think Hodges could do well as one of the linebackers in the nickel defense, but if Kendricks is even better in pass coverage, why not have him out there? This is really about playing to each player's strengths.

It's nice that the Vikings have the depth at linebacker that allows them to mix and match personnel based on down and distance. The franchise couldn't have pulled this off even last season.

Monday, August 24, 2015

So long, Cullen Loeffler

When long snapper Cullen Loeffler broke in with the Vikings in 2004, his teammates included Randy Moss (1st tour with Vikes), Daunte Culpepper, Bryant McKinnie and Kevin Williams.

Loeffler has outlasted all his better-known teammates. But on Monday, his Vikings career ended when the team released him, and gave the job to free agent pickup Kevin McDermott.

When I looked at the Vikings specialists in January, I noted that Pro Football Focus had him rated as the worst free agent long snapper available. We can hope that poor snaps from Loeffler are the reason Blair Walsh keeps missing so many kicks this preseason. Except that Loeffler was the long snapper on just two of Walsh's misses against the Raiders. McDermott was the long snapper on the other two, and head coach Zimmer says Loeffler's release wasn't related to his snaps on field goals and extra points in the Oakland game.

The relationship between long snappers, holders and placekickers is a tricky thing, and not something to be messed with if it's going well. However, that relationship hasn't been going well with Loeffler in it for over a year now. Will it be any better with McDermott? That will become clearer after the first few games the Vikings play once the regular season gets rolling.

Jordy Nelson's injury and how it will affect Green Bay
You may have heard the Packers sustained a big loss when Green Bay confirmed Nelson will miss the season with an ACL tear in his right knee. While Aaron Rodgers could probably make a receiving corps of Troy Williamson, Stephen Burton and Kelly Campbell look elite, losing Nelson has to hurt a Packers offense that was as good as anybody in 2014. Nelson had 98 catches for over 1,500 yards last season. All those back shoulder throws Rodgers makes to Nelson at the goal line and along the sidelines that have killed the Vikings the past half decade or so? Who is making those catches for the Packers in 2015? I'm not brave enough to think this injury tips the scales in the Vikings favor for a divisional title in 2015 (and Detroit probably think it is the Packers biggest divisional threat anyway.) But I can't picture the Packers offense functioning nearly as well without Nelson in 2015 as it did with him in 2014.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Teddy Bridgewater and establishing connections with his pass catchers

When the Vikings-Raiders preseason game got delayed due to weather Saturday night, I chose not to stick around and watch another episode of "Scrubs - the NFL."

That means I don't have much to offer in terms of observations about how various Vikings did in this contest. But I did get to watch Teddy Bridgewater play one quarter with the first team offense - his longest stretch of play so far in 2015. And as Pacifist Viking wrote on Thursday, the Vikings passing game figures to be pretty important if this team is going to make the playoffs and be more than Wildcard fodder for a stronger opponent.

So how has Bridgewater and the guys he'll be throwing the ball to been jelling as the regular season inches closer? Here are some thoughts on that subject.

Kyle Rudolph: Based on what I've seen this preseason, I'm cautiously optimistic Rudolph will have a good year catching passes from Bridgewater. Considering the amount of playing time both he and Bridgewater have had together, Rudolph's stats (5 catches for 50 yards) are respectable and the two seem to be comfortable with one another. Assuming Rudolph stays healthy this season, I can see a 50-catch, 600-yard, 5-7 touchdown season for Rudolph in this offense. That's fine with me.

Jarius Wright: Last year it appeared Bridgewater and Wright had some good chemistry cooking between them (The Vikes previous starting QB, Matt Cassel, didn't seem to throw to Wright all that much.) That's continued this preseason as Wright has five catches for 79 yards and looks like he's got the third WR spot locked up. Expect Wright to have a career year, and possibly get close to 60 catches, working with Teddy in 2015.

Charles Johnson: He didn't do much the first two preseason games ( one catch for one yard), but came alive against the Raiders with four catches for 40 yards and a nice TD reception in the back right corner of the Oakland end zone. You could tell on Johnson's four catches that he and Bridgewater know each other well and trust one another. Passes were delivered before Johnson was out of his break or they caught him in stride and allowed him to gain yards after the catch - a clear sign these two know each others in and outs very well.

Cordarrelle Patterson: I could be wrong, but I don't think Patterson has played any snaps with Bridgewater so far this preseason. If he has, it's only been a handful. And that really says a lot about where Patterson is as a player right now. If you asked me to name the Vikings top four WRs currently, Patterson wouldn't be among them. Bridgewater and Patterson certainly aren't connecting in any way on the field, and when Patterson has been on the field, he's still doing dumb stuff - like the wrong route he allegedly ran Saturday night. I also found it a bit strange during a couple of sideline shots during the game to see Patterson chatting it up and hanging with running backs and WRs like Donte Foster who aren't going to make this team. Shouldn't he be talking with Bridgewater, Shaun Hill and guys like Mike Wallace about routes and play calls and the like? Isn't that how you learn to be a professional in this league - by talking to guys more experienced than you or better than you?

Adam Thielen/Stefon Diggs/MyCole Pruitt: Pruitt got to play a little bit with Teddy against the Steelers, but the other two haven't. That's not a big deal, however. Bridgewater and Thielen already know each other well from playing together during last year's training camp when Bridgewater was backing up Cassel and playing with the backups all the time during preseason and practices. Diggs and Pruitt may not be much factors in the passing game this season, so I don't think it matters how well they are meshing with Bridgewater right now.

Mike Wallace: I've saved the worst for last. During the first half of the Vikes-Raiders telecast, Vikings color guy Pete Bercich voiced what fans have been noticing through three preseason games - Bridgewater and Wallace don't have a connection yet. Wallace has one catch for two yards thus far, and Bridgewater barely seems to know he's on the field. We've got to trust Norv Turner has got this all under control, but it does worry me. Why? Well, for one, Wallace is expected to be the deep threat this team has needed since Sidney Rice's 2009 season. If Wallace doesn't stretch the field, and be a 70-catch guy, this could be a very dinky and dunky passing attack. I'm also worried that if Wallace doesn't get that chemistry going with Bridgewater and has some clunker games early, he'll pout and disrupt team chemistry. The rumor out of Miami was that Wallace was upset with how he was used there and pretty much complained his way out of town. If he starts slowly in Minnesota, how long will it be before he starts pulling the same act here?

But, hey, it's preseason and there's no reason to worry. Right?


Thursday, August 20, 2015

National Friday League: You need to throw the ball

Skepticism for the Viking running game
In Adrian Peterson's seven seasons from '07-'13, the Vikes made the playoffs three times. Twice they made it with heroic seasons from Peterson (he led the league in rushing and had memorable huge performances late in the season), but lost right away in the playoffs with some of the worst quarterbacking performances in the team's playoff history (this isn't hyperbole. I was there to see Tarvaris Jackson go 15-35 with an INT returned for a TD in a game which the Viking defense actually had the team in late, and I think we all try hard not to think about Joe Webb's 11-30 game against the Packers). And once, when the team had its only elite quarterbacking performance of Peterson's career, they went 12-4 and almost made the Super Bowl in a game that still makes me sad.

I've written all these things before, but as the season begins it bears repeating: it won't be the Viking running game that makes the Vikings contenders, but the Viking passing game. No doubt the running performances of Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon will play a huge role in the offense, but it will be Teddy Bridgewater, Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph, and some semblance of pass protection from the offensive line that will push the Vikings to 10+ wins and a real chance to win playoff games.

And there seems to be a pretty strong assumption that the Vikings are going to just be a great running team this year. I think that's fair: Peterson is an all-time great, and the Vikes have long built their offensive line with better run blockers than pass protectors. But there is a worst-case scenario for the Viking running game: Peterson misses games with injury, the offensive linemen's ability to run block collapses as hard as their ability to pass block did last season (losing Phil Loadholt certainly hurts), and the Vikes--playing with a secondary with some strong performers but also some weak spots--get into plenty of games where they have to win by passing, not running.

The Vikings may be a very good running team this season. In fact, they should be. But they should not build their strategies around the assumption that they'll be able to run. There will be plenty times this year when the Vikes will have to pass successfully to win. There will be game situations, including being down on the scoreboard or against the clock at the end of the half or game. There is the little matter of the opponents, who may strategically emphasize stopping the run or having the personnel to do so.

Developing a strong running game is a good thing. Assuming you'll have a strong running game is shaky. And needing a strong running game to compete is a recipe for making the playoffs every few years--if you're good at other things and you catch some breaks--and never really competing for a title.

Fantasy Box: What is a Bench Asset?
For a fantasy draft, you can fill up your bench with boom-or-bust players like fliers or handcuffs, because there are not a lot of reason to fill the bench with steady players with low ceilings, or with replacement level position players. But after the draft--and especially when the season starts--what sort of players are actually bench assets? A bench asset is a player you may need to start, or could be enticing in a trade. If you could drop the player to pick up a better or similar player, he's not a bench asset. So what is?

Any RB who will get an NFL start for his team (or feature-back carries).  
Chris Harris, who has a good podcast called Harris Football Fantasy Podcast, often talks about scarcity. A player's draft value is based in large part at the scarcity of his position, or how difficult it is to replace him. Running backs are scarce: there are 32 NFL teams, your league might require 20-24 fantasy starting RBs, and with flex positions there aren't a lot of leftover NFL RBs available for fantasy use. If there's a RB that is likely to get an NFL start, he's a worthy bench asset. DeAngelo Williams is set to get at least two NFL starts this year, making him a usable bench asset. Somebody in Houston (probably Alfred Blue) is going to be an NFL starter for at least some time. That doesn't mean the player is set to get 20 touches a game (if he were, he wouldn't be a bench asset!). But that makes him usable at a scarce and needed position.

Handcuffs to RBs you don't believe in.
I'm not a fan of drafting a handcuff to elite RBs. Usually what makes a RB elite is his unique talent, not just the opportunity/situation he's going to have. Grabbing a backup to a great player doesn't really compel me. However, having the backup to a starter that you don't believe in (for whatever reason: that he's not that good, that you expect to get injured, whatever) could be valuable. The elite RBs got to be elite RBs because they have prove they can get feature-back touches and keep producing. I'm not that interested in getting the backup to Marshawn Lynch or Jamaal Charles in case those guys get injured. But the backup to Justin Forsett? I'll be holding whoever gets that job until mid-season at least. Handcuffing a backup to an elite RB is an insurance move; handcuffing a backup to a questionable RB is an aggressive move.

PPR: WRs that you can envision catching 80 passes.
In a PPR league, a WR that averages five catches a game is useful. There are some WRs where those 80 catches might not go for much more than 900 yards and 4-5 TDs, so 80 catches doesn't make for a thrilling starter. But for a player to start on bye weeks, occasionally at the flex, or for a stretch of injury need? Those are players worth holding, and if you look, you can often find them cheap. A guy I'm leaning toward this year is Michael Crabtree, an OK WR that's way younger than you think (27), going to a team that last year ranked 4th in pass attempts and throws a bunch of short passes (Derek Carr averaged 9.4 yards per completion).

And I sort of think that's it. A lesser RB or WR is replacement level, and usually a backup QB or backup TE is going to be replacement level, and probably not that impressive in a trade offer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Minnesota Vikings preseason observations (Edition #2)

The Vikings are 2-0!

Big deal. It's preseason. But what could be a big deal - either in a positive or negative way - is the loss of right tackle Phil Loadholt to a torn Achilles tendon.

Loadholt did not have a very good 2014 season. But when he was lost with a torn pectoral muscle late in the year, the Vikes plugged in Mike Harris at right tackle and he was even worse at the job than Loadholt had been. Speed rushers have always been Loadholt's kryptonite, but he's played at a high level in the past and I trust him to play at an acceptable level way more often than not. I do not have that trust level with the guy who is getting the first shot to replace Loadholt - rookie T.J. Clemmings. And with Loadholt gone for the year, the Vikings offensive line looks very questionable. You've got Harris moving to right guard, Brandon Fusco moving to left guard (he'll be fine), Matt Kalil trying to bounce back from two very subpar years (and I'm being kind using "subpar" here), and now you've got a rookie who was a defensive tackle in college not too long ago as your starting right tackle. Clemmings looked fine to me against Tampa Bay, although the Bucs don't look like they have much of a pass rush. However, if Teddy Bridgewater is going to make THE leap this year, he'll need better pass protection than he got in 2014. Losing Loadholt doesn't seem like a step in that direction.

- On the subject of Bridgewater, does it look like his arm has some extra juice this preseason? Forget the 12-for-14 for 130 yards stuff in two brief preseason appearances. When he rolled to his left on the first play of the game and threw a laser to Kyle Rudolph with defenders nearby for a first down, I thought to myself, 'that's a throw Bridgewater couldn't have made in 2014.' Bridgewater's arm strength has always been criticized. It looks improved during the preseason. That's one more reason to be excited about what Teddy can do for this Vikings team.

- You know who else I like? Eric Kendricks, that's who. He may not end up as the starting middle linebacker, and I'm fine with that because Audie Cole looks good, too. But Kendricks - even though he's going against second and third stringers so far - is in the middle of everything when he's on the field. We've read about his pass coverage skills, and they were on display in this game. I noticed him recognizing and closing on a number of pass routes in his area against Tampa Bay. A linebacker who is adept at pass coverage is something I haven't seen on the Vikings roster for a while.

- Yes, Trae Waynes was bad again. Should we be worried? Comparisons have been made with Xavier Rhodes' struggles as a rookie in 2013 and how he turned it around under Mike Zimmer and Jerry Gray's guidance in 2014. It's a nice comparison, but I don't know if it fits here. This is totally subjective thinking on my part, and I have no evidence to back it up other than fuzzy memories, but Waynes seems to be getting burned way more than Rhodes ever did as a rookie. And teams, even with a rookie QB like Jameis Winston and a backup like Landry Jones, are going out of their way to throw at Waynes on almost every passing play. Evidently, they don't think Waynes is very good right now. I do like that Zimmer is throwing Waynes off the deep end of the pool in preseason and seeing how well he can swim. Better to see how that goes now than in week one against the 49ers.

- I found myself pleasantly surprised by Mike Kakfa's quarterbacking against the Steelers, and I feel the same way about Taylor Heinicke against the Bucs. It was a bit of a dink and dunk passing performance by Heinicke (6.4 yards per completion), yet he doesn't seem Ponder-level panicky in the pocket, the arm is pretty good and he's mobile. The Vikings might have something to work with here in Heinicke as a developmental QB.

-  I really, really hope defensive end Scott Crichton is able to play a fair bit against Oakland this Saturday. After a strong showing against Pittsburgh, Justin Trattou was pretty quiet against Tampa Bay, and rookie Danielle Hunter was pretty quiet again as well. There doesn't seem to be anyone ready to take some snaps away from Brian Robison and Everson Griffen yet. Crichton was hopefully going to be that guy this season.