MINNEAPOLIS — Sloppy play, penalties and injuries hurt the Vikings in a 14-10 preseason loss to the Jaguars on Saturday, and the injuries might have a lasting effect as the team prepares for Week 1.
Minnesota had six players leave the game with injuries and not return. Three players were carted off: defensive end Ade Aruna (knee), offensive lineman Cedrick Lang (lower leg) and fullback Johnny Stanton (lower leg).
Cornerback Mackensie Alexander suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and was listed as questionable to return. Center Josh Andrews injured his ankle at the beginning of the third quarter on an incomplete pass and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. After rookie Jeff Badet caught a 13-yard pass from Kyle Sloter in the fourth quarter, the receiver took a vicious hit to the head that put him in the concussion protocol.
A handful of these injuries appear to be serious, as coach Mike Zimmer said he expects that several players will be lost for the season. He noted postgame that Lang will undergo surgery.
“The list was so long I don’t remember the exact number, so I’ll just wait until we put them on IR,” Zimmer said.
Outside of Alexander, many of the players injured Saturday were fighting for a roster spot.
“Yeah I feel bad for those guys because they come in here and work their rear ends off,” Zimmer said. “We had a huge number of injuries today, you never want your guys to get injured and it was kind of freaky things; we get rolled up on, it was unfortunate things today opposed to, you know [Jeff] Badet got hit in the head.”
Minnesota entered Saturday down four starters on the offensive line: Mike Remmers (ankle), Rashod Hill (ankle), Pat Elflein (PUP) and Nick Easton (IR — neck).
Aviante Collins started in place of Hill before moving to left tackle and subsequently left guard. Cornelius Edison, who started the game at center, had to come back in after Andrews got hurt and played almost a full game.
Players have cited the “next man up” mentality throughout training camp, as injuries have forced the Vikings to continue to shuffle personnel across all positions except left tackle. Building continuity while continually adjusting for new personnel has proved to be the most challenging part of the process.
“We have to get on the stick here pretty quick,” Zimmer said. “I think Remmers will be back next week, which will be good. I think Elflein has a chance to get back here pretty soon. That will help. I don’t know about Rashod yet, so we’ll see. It’s tough, but we’re not the only ones in the league to be having these issues, I’m sure. We just have a few more than we should have at this point in time. That’s life.”
Playing behind a rotating offensive line is something quarterback Kirk Cousins has grown used to over the years. Injuries in Washington in 2017 forced the Redskins to use 36 offensive line combinations.
“You learn to roll with the punches in this league,” Cousins said. “You can’t start to say, ‘Well, that’s not how we drew it up, so now we’re not going to plan on doing great things,’ so you just play and take whatever’s thrown at you, and that’s the only way you have a chance to have success. I think that the players who have come in in place of some of our starting offensive linemen have done a good job and have been ready to play. Coach Flip is doing a really good job with the game plan and playcalling to accentuate our strengths and try to protect us from some of our weaknesses, and that’s what a great playcaller does.”
In his second game with Minnesota, Cousins went 3-of-8 for 12 yards and finished with a 45.8 passer rating. A far cry from his crisp performance in Minnesota’s preseason opener in Denver, Cousins played four series to start the game, with his closest drive ending at Jacksonville’s 27-yard line, which forced the Vikings to settle for a 44-yard field goal.
Cousins had his day end after one series to open the second quarter following an incomplete pass to Stefon Diggs on third down. As a team, Minnesota’s offense finished Saturday 0-for-12 on third down.
“I think he can play a lot better,” Zimmer said of Cousins.
Added Cousins: “Probably not the worst thing in the long run to realize we’ve got a lot of work to do. If you want to call it a wake-up call, that’s fine, but it’ll get us ready to go when we get back on Monday.”
Running back Latavius Murray’s struggles with ball security were uncharacteristic for a player who fumbled eight times over the first four years of his career and lost only two. Murray fumbled two times on his first five carries.
The lone bright spot on offense centered around the competition for the No. 3 running back spot. Mike Boone rushed 13 times for 91 yards and a touchdown, rebounding after an up-and-down outing last week in Denver.
“To be honest with you, I’m glad we didn’t win that game today because we didn’t deserve to win,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t play well enough, and we’re going to get back to work and get going here.”