Aug. 15—The battle to be the Vikings’ backup quarterback is not exactly off to a scintillating preseason start.
Jake Browning looked to have a solid shot at the job entering Saturday’s opener against Denver at U.S. Bank Stadium. He has the most experience of the contenders and he had looked good in practices when rookie Kellen Mond recently missed 10 days while on the COVID-19 reserve list.
But Browning, with starter Kirk Cousins sitting out, did nothing to help himself in an ugly 33-6 loss. He started and completed 5 of 10 passes for 31 yards and his last throw of the day was picked off run back 30 yards for a touchdown by Pat Surtain II.
“It wasn’t as good as it has been,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of Browning’s showing. “The interception for the touchdown was thrown behind (wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette). I just didn’t feel like he was as sharp as he’s been in the past maybe week.”
Browning was relieved by Mond in the second quarter, and he had a chance to really help himself. But Mond completed just 6 of 16 passes for 53 yards and, like Browning, couldn’t lead the team to a touchdown.
“He was OK,” Zimmer said. “He used his legs a couple times (rushing five times for 25 yards). He just has to get moving a little bit quicker. Everything is in slow motion with him and he’s going to have to improve that.”
Training camp began with Browning, Mond and Nate Stanley competing to be Cousins’ backup. It remains to be seen if Stanley is still a serious candidate. He didn’t play Saturday after having missed the last two practices with an injury and early in training camp having been on the COVID-19 list for five days.
Mond, a third-round pick from Texas A&M, was excited to play in his first NFL game. He said he “didn’t feel rusty at all,” but knows he has plenty of work to do.
“I think just the big thing with me postgame and not seeing the game yet (on tape) is just my pace, my feet, just getting the ball out of my hands quicker,” he said. “Being able to evaluate after the first game, I think I’ll just continue to get better at that.”
Zimmer said Mond needs to be more vocal.
“He’s kind of a laid-back guy, doesn’t really say a whole bunch,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s got to kind of get out of his shell a little bit. If you’re going to be the quarterback, you’ve got to do those things.”
Mond, though, doesn’t see that as an issue.
“I don’t necessarily know what he means by that on my personality,” Mond said. “I thought I did a good job in the huddle and getting certain guys going. There’s really no excuses. It’s still my first game. … (I) got my feet wet, and I just have to go play and react and just have fun.”
As for Browning, Saturday wasn’t much fun at all. He called it a “missed opportunity” but believes he still could end up with the backup role.
“I still feel that I can play at a high level and be a legit backup this year,” he said. “Keep playing well and not let one bad outing and bad throw derail all that but definitely come back ready to fight.”
The Vikings spent much of the offseason beefing up their first-string defense. As for their second stringers, there are plenty of concerns.
Minnesota’s defense, with defensive end Stephen Weatherly the only starter playing, gave up 387 yards. The Broncos led 33-6 early in the third quarter and cruised to the win.
“Definitely some struggles,” said defensive end D.J. Wonnum, who cited some communication issues among the many young players. “We came out slow. We’ve got to start faster.”
Linebacker Troy Dye agreed.
“We’ve just got to get back to the drawing board and just get back to work,” he said.
Zimmer wasn’t happy with the play of Britton Colquitt, who punted four times for both a gross and a net average of 40.5 yards. “It’s a cause for concern,” he said. … Linebacker Cameron Smith, who missed all of last season following open-heart surgery, started before being lost for the game early in the second quarter with a concussion. When asked about his return, Zimmer called Smith “a good kid.” … Dakota Dozier has fallen farther behind Oli Udoh in the battle to start at right guard. While Udoh didn’t play, Dozier struggled, including having a holding call in the end zone that resulted in a safety. He was eventually replaced by rookie Wyatt Davis.