Vikings and Saints

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Vikings and Saints Friday night in New Orleans

It's the first of four games that don't count

August 09, 2019 - 4:56 am
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  Acclimating to a new offense, the Vikings are likely to be without at least one offensive starter in their preseason opener at New Orleans on Friday night.

   Second-year right tackle Brian O'Neill has missed the past two practices. He was an observer on Wednesday with a brace on his right arm. Coach Mike Zimmer said he might hold out "one or two but not very many" players against the Saints.

   Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph missed three straight days with a "minor" injury, according to Zimmer, but practiced the past two days. Defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen could be held out after being limited in training camp practices.

   Reserve offensive tackle Aviante Collins didn't practice on Wednesday because of a left leg injury and is unlikely to play.

   Cornerback Mike Hughes and tight end David Morgan are on the physically unable to perform list. Hughes is returning from knee surgery that ended his rookie season in 2018. Defensive end Tashawn Bower is on the non-football injury list with a torn Achilles.

   If they get on the field Friday night - and most of them are expected to play - a handful of former Vikings and current Saints will see some familiar faces on the other side.

   The Saints have punt returner Marcus Sherels, center Nick Easton, fullback Zach Line, running back Latavius Murray and, of course, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. This will be the first time Bridgewater has played against the Vikings, who drafted him in the first round in 2014 and let him leave as a free agent two years ago after his massive knee injury altered plans to build their offense around him.

   "I'm proud of him, for him to be able to come back from the type of injury that he had to still be playing in the NFL," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of Bridgewater, who is competing to be Drew Brees' backup. "It was a pretty bleak outlook for him, but that's the kind of kid he is.

   "He'll try and stick it to us, just like we're going to stick it to him."

   Saints coach Sean Payton said Bridgewater is "certainly going to play a lot" in the preseason opener.

   "I think that a second year into what we're doing has benefited him and he brings all those other intangibles that allow you to win that are necessary at that position," Payton said.

   A priority for the Saints is replacing retired three-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger. Top candidates include rookie Erik McCoy, a second-round draft choice out of Texas A&M; Easton, signed this year as a free agent; and Cameron Tom, a third-year pro who began his NFL career in New Orleans as an undrafted rookie and who has played sparingly as a reserve interior lineman. The stakes are high for Easton, who has a four-year contract worth up to $22.5 million - if he can play well enough to stick around at that price. He also is trying to come back from a neck injury that wiped out his 2018 season.

   Since Mark Ingram left for Baltimore in free agency, the Saints have been looking for a strong inside rusher who can also catch the ball to complement star running back Alvin Kamara. Murray was signed to potentially fill that role. Returning reserve running back Dwayne Washington is also in the mix.

   The Vikings will get their first chance to test their new scheme directed by offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and influenced by offensive adviser Gary Kubiak. Rookie tight end Irv Smith Jr. will likely see significant playing time on his 21st birthday in his hometown, where his father, Irv Smith Sr., once played tight end for the Saints.

   "He's swimming, because we're asking a lot of him right now," Kubiak said, adding: "But that's the way it should be. That's why he's here."

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