The preseason may be over and the 53 men for each team are in place, but there’s always growth and development to observe. Whether it’s Blaine Gabbert getting better toward the end of the season in 2011 or the decline of Marcedes Lewis there’s someone that will have a profound impact in a game. Whether it’s a Jag or a Vike on Sunday, these are your five players to watch.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota
- Ponder begins the regular season after a mediocre preseason campaign that netted him only one touchdown. With Adrian Peterson questionable and probably not 100% it will be curious to see if Ponder is able to make himself the leader of the offense and get points on the board. If he throws a touchdown in this game and looks in control like he did against the Bills in the preseason then he will be making some serious strides over last year.
William Middleton, CB, Jacksonville
- With Derek Cox out of the starting lineup, Middleton will be starting opposite Aaron Ross at corner. Middleton was abused in the preseason “dress rehearsal” against the Ravens. It won’t be Torrey Smith lining up opposite him for the Vikings, but there are still some good receivers that may be able to beat him. If Middleton can play like he has the last few years there may be less concern, but if he continues to struggle then the Jaguars D may be in worse shape than anticipated this year. He may get some relief if things open up underneath or over the middle due to poor pass coverage by the linebackers.
Laurent Robinson, WR, Jacksonville
- Like Middleton, Robinson was lackluster in the preseason. The big free agent acquisition by the Jags this offseason, his one catch and route running leave a lot to be desired. He may be trying too hard to be the #1 wideout the Jags brought him in to be. The Vikings game will give him an opportunity to either relax and get back to his 2011 level or continue to tighten up and become forgettable.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Minnesota
- With Peterson questionable and probably limited for Sunday’s game, Gerhart will look to be that sleeper on the team who is seeking to impress. A second round pick in 2010, Gerhart is being given the starter’s treatment and looking to make a stand against the Jaguars. If Gerhart shows that he is a capable back for the Vikings against a rather stout Jaguars defense he would do a lot to quell fears over Peterson’s return from his knee injury.
Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota
- Watching Jared Allen is like watching an artist. Albeit a redneck artist with a mullett. I love watching him play, he’s exciting, he knows what he’s doing, and he’ll bring up the play of the entire Vikings defense. He was a half sack short of Michael Strahan’s record in 2011 and will probably come out swinging early in the season after having some late starts over a few years. He wants the record and he’s a force not to be underestimated. His play will probably indicate how the Jaguars O-line will hold up through the season. As Allen goes so goes the defense. If it ever comes down to a defensive game, Allen is making sure he’s on the winning side.
– Luke N. Sims
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims