Vikings’ starters to get extended playing time next two games

Leslie Frazier wasn’t breaking from his plan for the Minnesota Vikings’ first-team offense in last week’s first preseason game despite an early interception.

Frazier stuck with the decision to only play the starters one series. Two plays and quarterback Christian Ponder and the starting offense sat down for the night. The next two games, knowing few starters will likely play in the fourth preseason game, are big for Ponder, his new receivers, and the first-team offense.

“We want to gel,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “We want to get a rapport with one another, our comfort level, our rhythm and we are doing that at practice but it is different in the game. We will keep working in that direction so we can be real good by Detroit. That’s the whole game, get to Detroit healthy and in rhythm.”

The importance in preseason games this year brings added significance with Ponder needing to establish cohesiveness with receiver Greg Jennings, second-year receiver Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson and John Carlson, who are both coming back from injury-disrupted seasons. Minnesota will still be a run-first offense and MVP running back Adrian Peterson might not play much in the preseason. So the focus is on getting the passing offense ready for the regular-season opener at Detroit.

Coach Leslie Frazier said the starters will play into the second quarter in Friday’s second preseason game at Buffalo. Ponder is sure to throw more than two passes.

“We want to see a high level of execution and we want to keep developing this passing game and get some of those younger guys to keep progressing, which they are,” Ponder said. “… These next two games are crucial for us as a first-team offense and for everybody because we’re going to get a lot of snaps.”

Injury updates: Earlier Frazier said defensive tackle Christian Ballard (personal reasons) and cornerback Jacob Lacey (knee surgery) will miss Friday’s preseason game. Frazier said he still isn’t sure when Ballard might return.

Linebacker Michael Mauti, who sat out Tuesday’s practice with a sore knee and is coming back from anterior cruciate ligament surgery, returned Wednesday.

Peterson in the preseason: While Frazier wouldn’t commit to Peterson playing Friday, or how much, he did say he expects the reigning MVP to play in the preseason.

“We want to get him something these next couple of weeks,” Frazier said.

“We have an idea of what we are going to do, but we also want to talk about it after this practice and just make sure that we are doing the right thing. Are we are going utilize him, or are we going to let him wait till the next ballgame? So we will talk more in depth about that this evening.”

Roster competition heating up: Asked about whether the team intends to keep five or six receivers on the final roster — with four likely locks in Jennings, Simpson, Wright and Patterson – Frazier said the preseason games will play a big part in who makes the roster and how the roster is constructed, particularly at receiver, defensive line and safety.

“We will begin to talk a little more about numbers after this preseason game, and try to get a feel at where we think our depth is,” Frazier said. “And based on that, it determines whether or not you are going to be heavier at one position versus another. It depends on the talent, as opposed to we need this many numbers at this position. We may be a bit heavier at defensive line, or wide receiver, or safety based on the talent at those positions, the depth at those positions. We should have a little more understanding after this ball game, and hopefully after the third preseason game.”

Minnesota has 11 receivers in camp, not including Greg Childs, who is on the physically unable to perform list. After drafting two defensive tackles, the Vikings have 17 defensive linemen, of particular interest because five of the top six linemen are free agents after the season. Minnesota has starting safeties Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford returning, but must feel good about the depth with Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo and undrafted rookies Brandan Bishop and Darius Eubanks.

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