<
>

Despite spotty offensive line, Taylor Heinicke impresses in Vikings' loss to Titans

8m
Play0:59
Mariota tosses first touchdown in win

Marcus Mariota throws a 59-yard touchdown pass to cap his only series as the Titans beat the Vikings 24-17.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings lost a preseason game for the first time in Mike Zimmer's tenure as head coach, finishing the exhibition schedule 4-1 after a 24-17 defeat against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. But the performance of rookie quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who threw for 279 yards and a pair of touchdowns behind a spotty offensive line, provided some reason for optimism.

QB depth chart: Heinicke played the entire game on Thursday night, as the Vikings rested Teddy Bridgewater and Shaun Hill. Coach Mike Zimmer has said he expects the Vikings will keep three quarterbacks, and the rookie free agent from Old Dominion has likely done enough to earn a spot. As poor as the Vikings' offensive line was on Thursday night, Henicke did an impressive job moving the offense. It seems unlikely the Vikings would risk exposing him to waivers by trying to get him to the practice squad.

Maybe that dude could start: Most of the players the Vikings would consider starting were on the bench Thursday night, but linebacker Eric Kendricks made a strong final impression in his bid to land a starting spot. The second-round pick made four tackles, showing the impressive quickness and instincts he's displayed all preseason. He might see most of his playing time in the nickel package, but Kendricks has shown plenty of potential in the preseason.

Who got hurt? The Vikings appeared to escape Thursday's game without any major injuries; most of their offensive starters sat out, and all but two of their projected defensive starters (Hodges and Robert Blanton) were on the bench.

A player who impressed: Running back Dominique Williams scored a touchdown on Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys, and made another solid contribution on Thursday. He carried nine times for an underwhelming 24 yards, but caught five passes for 45 yards, hauling in a one-handed grab for a 14-yard touchdown pass from Heinicke.

Rookie watch: Linebacker Edmond Robinson, a seventh-round pick from tiny Newberry College, had five tackles and a quarterback hit. Robinson's athletic ability is what led the Vikings to take a chance on him, and he could stick on the team's practice squad. Austin Shepherd started at left tackle, and Tyrus Thompson was next to him at left guard. Thompson has struggled in pass protection for much of the preseason, and Thursday was no different. Fifth-round pick Stefon Diggs caught eight passes for 85 yards and a touchdown; he fumbled while trying to stretch for a first down, but added a 29-yard punt return to what's been an impressive preseason.

One reason to freak out: Kicker Blair Walsh finished the preseason 5-for-11 on field goals, after pushing a kick to the right from 48 yards on Thursday night. Walsh's job isn't in jeopardy after the Vikings gave him a contract extension in training camp, but he'll have to fix things before the start of the regular season on Sept. 14. Otherwise, the Vikings could find themselves at a disadvantage in a few of the close games they'll inevitably have to win to make a playoff push in 2015.

Mauti makes his case: Linebacker Michael Mauti, who's struggled with knee injuries since college and was fighting for a roster spot this year, saved his biggest play of the preseason for the final minutes, blocking a punt and recovering it himself. Mauti will be in competition with several other young linebackers for a spot, but his work on special teams could help keep him around.

Pruitt returns: Tight end MyCole Pruitt, who hadn't played since the Vikings' second preseason game, returned on Thursday night from a sprained ankle. The promising rookie caught three passes for 41 yards.