Anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite player for Saturday night’s NFL exhibition game at U.S. Bank Stadium got a rude awakening 90 minutes before kickoff when the Vikings announced they were resting basically every starter on the team.
The inactive lists were a thing of beauty as the Vikings and the 49ers each submitted 27 names apiece. Hilariously, both teams still made everyone dress for warmups because that makes sense, right?
On offense the Vikings sat quarterback Kirk Cousins; running back Dalvin Cook; fullback C.J. Ham; receivers Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn; tight ends Irv Smith Jr. and Johnny Mundt; and offensive linemen Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Jesse Davis, and Brian O’Neill, among others.
On defense the Vikings sat defensive linemen Harrison Phillips and Dalvin Tomlinson; outside linebackers Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith; inside linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks; cornerbacks Patrick Peterson, Cam Dantzler, and Chandon Sullivan; and safeties Harrison Smith and Cam Bynum, among others.
It’s pretty clear at this point that Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell isn’t going to play anyone of note before the Sept. 11 season opener against the rival Green Bay Packers. Nor should he.
While many fans might take exception to this school of thought — especially those who curiously traded a perfect summer night in the Twin Cities to watch the Vikings’ JV squad limp to a 17-7 loss — this is absolutely the right call by O’Connell.
He is smart. The preseason is dumb.
There’s nothing to gain from playing someone who matters a lot in a game that doesn’t matter at all. Especially in the NFL, where players can get seriously injured anytime they lace up the cleats.
This is something coaches across the league are slowly starting to realize. It has become commonplace for teams to rest their starters for the duration of the three-game preseason these days. Just because the legendary Bud Grant was probably a pretty big fan of playing his starters in the preseason doesn’t mean O’Connell has to follow that script.
What is anyone going to learn from watching Cousins play a couple of series? The best-case scenario is he looks sharp while marching the offense down the field for a touchdown. The worst-case scenario is he blows out his knee and the 2022 season is over before it even started.
The same thing goes for pretty much every other player the Vikings have penciled in as a starter for Week 1.
Everyone knows Cook is dynamic with the ball in his hands. Everyone knows Jefferson is a cheat code personified. Everyone knows Hunter and Smith have the potential to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks as long as they stay healthy.
None of these things needs to be validated during a meaningless game in August. Not when the games start to count in September.
Now, there’s certainly some value to the preseason.
It helps sort out position battles in real time. Look at how quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond have been splitting reps 50-50 in an effort to win the backup role.
It gives rookies get their first taste of the NFL outside of TCO Performance Center in Eagan. It’s safe to say rookie safety Lewis Cine is benefiting from getting some stuff on film.
It provides fringe roster players a chance to prove themselves. After a couple of impressive performances, defensive lineman T.Y. McGill suddenly looks like a lock to make the team.
Still, there was a particular play on Saturday night that served as a not-so-subtle reminder why no starter should ever sniff the field in preseason. On a rather innocuous play in coverage, rookie cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. suffered an ankle injury away from the action. He needed to be helped to the sideline and did not return.
That could have happened to anyone. Which is exactly why O’Connell made sure his starters weren’t out there in the first place.