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What to watch for: Bills-Vikings

Posted Aug 9, 2017

It’s the preseason debut under head coach Sean McDermott and there’s a specific thing that Buffalo’s sideline boss wants his players focused on Thursday night.

Preaching fundamentals
Coach McDermott has stressed the importance of fundamental techniques and rules when it comes to playing the game of football. As the team heads into their preseason opener, all the Bills head coach wants to see is good execution with proper fundamentals.

“I know there’s a score and you want to win games,” he said. “Any time you compete, you want to win. That said, there [are] things that we want to see and the biggest thing for us is that we are fundamentally improving.

“There’s a journey to where you want to get to, fundamentally, as well. We’re looking at fundamentals and making sure we’re getting better in those areas and that those are the things that are sinking into this football team – running to the football, blocking, tackling, catching the football, the toughness element of the football team, the resiliency of the football team – those are the things, and then obviously we’re going to evaluate the players as well.”

Knowing it will also be the first time his assembled staff of assistants will be working together, it’s just as much as exercise for them Thursday night.

“No different for the coaches,” McDermott said. “This will be our first real run-through as a staff, together. So that’s part of the reason why we went down last Friday night to Buffalo (for a night practice) to get a little bit of a head start.”

Efficiency play to play
Another component that will rank high in Thursday’s game will be how crisp the team looks from one play to the next. Are the substitutions being made efficiently? Are players getting in and out of the huddle effectively? Are play calls and pre-snap checks being communicated through the whole unit?

This is where coaches will be keeping a watchful eye.

“I want to see tempo,” said offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. “I want to see them up and down, have a sense of urgency every play, obviously being physical running the ball – see if we can do that and you know just operate whatever call we have. I told them a long time ago, we’re going to be right on some calls, we’re not going to be right on, but it’s up to them to make some plays.”

More specifically on offense, Dennison is looking to establish a rhythm in the passing game with his quarterbacks knowing that it is largely a timing-based attack.

“From a quarterback standpoint, just get the ball out of our hands,” said Tyrod Taylor. “Listen to our feet. You don’t want to sit back there holding the ball in the preseason. That’s how you get hit. You definitely don’t want to get hit in the preseason. Execute. Take charge of the offense, and go up and down the field with the ball.”

For the defense the approach will be much the same as coach McDermott has constantly emphasized pre-snap communication across the board.

Watkins expected to play
Sammy Watkins is expected to have a full workload with most of the other starters against the Vikings.

“The starters will go about a quarter, give or take,” said McDermott. “You’ll see some blending in there, but for the most part a quarter. Then it’ll fall from there. Sammy [Watkins] will be about a quarter.”

It’s not clear whether the recently signed Anquan Boldin will play Thursday. He has had all of one practice in Bills colors, but he could see at least a little bit of work against the Vikings.

The status of Cordy Glenn (foot) and Shaq Lawson (groin) is a bit more uncertain heading into the game.

“We’re still on a day-to-day status at this point with Cordy,” said McDermott. “Just working with the soreness, so that remains up in the air at this point in time. Shaq [Lawson] is day-to-day at this point so we’ll just see.”

Glenn seems to be a bit further ahead of Lawson as he was still taking team reps in practice this week. Lawson was limited to individual position drill work only on Monday and Tuesday.  

Not expected to play is WR Jeremy Butler (concussion), DE Ryan Davis (concussion) and CB Kevon Seymour (foot).

The opponent
The Vikings enter the game with Sam Bradford as their entrenched starter at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater is still rehabilitating the catastrophic leg injury that cost him the 2016 season and prompted the club to trade for Bradford. The veteran quarterback had a solid season throwing for more than 3,800 yards and 20 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He also broke a league record for completion percentage connecting on better than 71 percent of his passes (71.6%).

Currently battling for Minnesota’s backup QB job are Case Keenum and Taylor Heinicke.

Top receiver Stefon Diggs is having a monster training camp by all indications.

Vikings top pick RB Dalvin Cook will likely see work early and then exit. Free agent signed Latavius Murray just came off the Active PUP list this week and may not get the go ahead to play. Jerick McKinnon, who is still on the roster led the Vikes in rushing last year.

The Minnesota defense finished 20th in total defense last season, but fourth in sack percentage and third in interception percentage. They also ranked 10th in red zone defense.

The Vikings also have a punt and kicker competition going on in camp. At kicker Kai Forbath is battling Marshall Koehn and the punter job is down to either Ryan Quigley or Taylor Symmank.

Kickoff is set for 7 pm.