After a few weeks of players going up against teammates, the Vikings will have some new blood this week when they host the San Francisco 49ers for joint practices.
This has become commonplace throughout the NFL as of late with teams looking for a spark during the dog days of training camp.
Looking specifically at the Vikings-49ers joint practices, they will take place Wednesday and Thursday at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, with a preseason game to follow at 6 p.m. Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Here are five things to look for this week:
KIRK COUSINS RETURNS
After testing positive for COVID last week, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is expected to return to practice this week. He did not make the trip to Las Vegas for the Vikings’ exhibition opener over the weekend and missed their 26-20 loss to the Raiders.
Though it’s unlikely Cousins would have played in the preseason game against the Raiders regardless of his health, he will benefit from the joint practices against the 49ers this week.
This will be the first chance for Cousins to showcase his knowledge of the new offense against an opposing team. He has looked pretty sharp throughout training camp to this point.
TREY LANCE’S HOMECOMING
Marshall, Minn., native Trey Lance will make his return to his home state this week. He made a name for himself in high school a few hours away from the Twin Cities, then went on to star at North Dakota State.
After the the 49ers selected Lance with the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, he spent most of his rookie year learning under established veteran Jimmy Garoppolo.
Now it’s Lance’s time to shine. He is the unquestioned starter for the 49ers and could turn some heads this week against the team he rooted for as a kid.
BACKUP QB COMPETITION
No player on the Vikings roster helped himself more than Kellen Mond in Sunday’s game against the Raiders. He completed 9 of 14 passes for 119 yards and a pair of touchdowns, vastly outperforming Sean Mannion, his competition in the battle to be the backup quarterback.
The joint practices this week will go a long way in determining which player is better suited to occupy the spot behind Cousins on the depth chart.
While it’s undeniable that Mond has looked worse than Mannion in practices throughout training camp, it will be interesting to see how they fare leading the Vikings’ offense against the 49ers’ defense.
JUSTIN JEFFERSON VS. DEEBO SAMUEL
Justin Jefferson has made it clear that he wants to be considered the best receiver in the NFL by the end of this season. No doubt the Vikings would welcome that honor from their rising superstar.
That said, Deebo Samuel might have something to say about that. He dominated for the 49ers last season, developing into arguably the most dangerous player in the NFL with the ball in his hands.
Look for both Jefferson and Samuel to make some splashy plays in the joint practices this week. You can bet they will be keeping tabs on each other.
No position groups benefits from joint practices more than the offensive and defensive lines. Simply put, it’s hard to simulate the same level of intensity against teammates.
In that sense, it will be interesting to see how someone like, say, Christian Darrisaw performs for the Vikings in team drills against star pass rusher Nick Bosa.
On the other side, the Vikings will get a chance to see how the dynamic duo of pass rushers Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith looks in live action. This might be the only chance to see that as there’s a good chance the Vikings rest both players in preseason games.