The Vikings have question marks along their offensive line. Guard Nick Easton probably is out for the season after surgery on a herniated disc in his neck. Center Pat Elflein is on the physically-unable-to-perform list after offseason shoulder and ankle surgeries. Guard Mike Remmers recently returned to practice after a left ankle injury.
Despite those setbacks, coach Mike Zimmer said he’s seeing mostly positives in camp.
“I think we have a good football team. I think the important part is that we continue to get better,” Zimmer said. “I think [quarterback Kirk] Cousins has added something, I think [defensive tackle] Sheldon Richardson has added something positive for us. The other guys are working hard and I’m excited to see where we are.”
Zimmer said the final three weeks of the preseason, following the team’s 42-28 preseason victory over the Broncos in Denver on Saturday, will lead to some tough cuts as the roster trims to 53, but the team can be creative in keeping players they want on the practice squad.
“It’ll be tough,” he said. “You know there’s some good battles at a few positions, but we might be able to maneuver some things around and keep some guys we want to keep.”
Zimmer mentioned several players he’s been impressed by early in the preseason.
“I think you know [cornerback] Mike Hughes has done a great job, obviously, he’s a first-round draft pick,” he said. “[Cornerback] Mackenzie Alexander has had a really good camp. [Wide receiver Brandon] Zylstra has had a nice preseason so far. I like this Tyler Conklin, the tight end that we drafted in the [fifth] round. I think he has done a really nice job. The free agent [cornerback] Holton Hill has done a really nice job. [Garret] Dooley, a linebacker from Wisconsin, I think he has had a pretty good camp.”
Hughes had two tackles at Denver and continues to exceed expectations.
“In a lot of areas, he’s better than what I thought,” Zimmer said. “He has unbelievable feet and quickness and acceleration. He can stop and start very well. He is competitive. He has a good knowledge of the defense already, for being a young guy. I think all of that stuff has been good.”
Offense in progress
Zimmer knows the offensive line is the biggest concern, but likes their overall makeup.
“They’re a group that will fight,” he said. “I know if they play together, they’re going to be OK. We obviously need to get Elflein back and Remmers back in there so we get a little more continuity, but we cannot get them in there until they’re healthy. Once we do that, then I think you’ll see a big jump with those guys.”
While 2017 second-round pick Dalvin Cook didn’t play in the preseason opener, Zimmer has no doubts the running back will be ready for Week 1 of the regular season.
“Cook will be ready for opening day,” he said. “We’re going to monitor him the rest of the preseason but he’s never sore after practice. We’re trying to stack a few days together now, but no, he has been good. He’s gotten a couple hits, been knocked down a couple times, everything looks good so far.”
The Vikings lost Jerrick McKinnon to the 49ers in the offseason, but Zimmer likes the running backs group behind Cook — including Latavius Murray, who looked great against Denver with four carries for 43 yards.
“Latavius has had a very good camp,” Zimmer said. “He looks different from a year ago at this time because he wasn’t healthy [because of a lingering ankle injury]. I think he’s running the ball better, seeing things better. The third back, we don’t have a McKinnon, but we have a couple young guys that I like. This Mike Boone from [the University of] Cincinnati is an undrafted free agent. Roc Thomas is another guy that has shown some flashes.”
And how has Cousins performed?
“He’s a leader, he has been studying very hard,” Zimmer said. “He throws a great deep ball and is very, very accurate. I really like what he’s doing.”
Twins hot at home
After going 2-5 on their seven-game road trip, the Twins returned home and once again found Target Field a welcoming place after sweeping two games against the Pirates before a four-game series with the Tigers.
The Twins’ 6-4 victory Wednesday saw Logan Forsythe continue his solid play, going 2-for-3 with three RBI. Manager Paul Molitor once again juggled his bullpen and used five relievers, including Trevor Hildenberger, who got his third save with back-to-back scoreless outings after posting a 22.09 ERA over his previous four appearances.
Molitor doesn’t know why the Twins are performing so much better at home (35-24) than on the road (21-39).
“It’s just one of those things when you have those younger players and different things,” he said. “The road can be tough and there’s a comfortability at home that I think everybody has. Ideally you’d like your team to be able to play anywhere, but so far over the past six weeks, we’ve played better baseball here at Target Field.”
Molitor has been juggling his bullpen after the Twins made some moves before the trade deadline. Fernando Rodney posted 25 saves, a 3.09 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 43⅔ innings before the Twins traded him to the Athletics for Dakota Chalmers, a 21-year-old pitcher who is out for the season after having Tommy John surgery.
Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey was asked why he would trade Rodney, who the Twins had a $4.25 million option for in 2019.
“We had an opportunity to talk with Fernando and get an understanding of where things were, and I think for him, some of it is that we look at that as an opportunity to give him a chance to pitch in a meaningful situation,” Falvey said. “And also return a player and ultimately give ourselves a chance to see some of our younger guys take on some meaningful roles at the back end of a game.”
• P.J. Fleck explained why he took his Gophers football team to the recent Jay-Z and Beyoncé “On the Run II” concert at U.S. Bank Stadium: “It wasn’t just to be able to have fun. It wasn’t for that. It was for them to understand a fans’ perspective. … When Jay-Z and Beyoncé are performing on that stage, there is not one person that expects them to sing poorly [or] give a poor performance. They expect something. They expect to be entertained, expect them to sing well, expect the performance to go beyond their expectations. Well, think about our fans at Gophers football. Our players need to be able to understand that, when our fans come and show up at our game, they want to see us play our best football.”
• Former Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks is having a career year for the Yankees, hitting .254 with a .365 on-base percentage in 98 games. He already has set career highs in home runs (20), runs (61) and RBI (57). Hicks, 28, has one year of arbitration left before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • firstname.lastname@example.org