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Three Vikings concerns for Thursday’s game

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By Eric Edholm

The Vikings come into Thursday night’s season opener with some issues. Let’s take a look at three potential problems that could arise in their rematch against the Saints in New Orleans:

Shorthanded at cornerback

The Vikings have a numbers issue at corner, where Cedric Griffin almost certainly will not play as he continues to rehab from a torn ACL — an injury he suffered on the Superdome field a little more than seven months ago.

Antoine Winfield will start at left corner. Lito Sheppard will start at right corner. Asher Allen is the likely nickel back. Chris Cook likely will not play because of a knee injury. And that’s all the Vikings have at corner.

So what will they do when the Saints — as they are wont to do — go four- and five-wide? Well, you’d have to think that Hussain Abdullah, who is considered their cover safety, will have to be on the field, especially when RB Reggie Bush is split out as one of those four or five receivers.

It’s a tough assignment. I wouldn’t be stunned if the Saints open in their spread attack and push the pedal early to see how the Vikings’ DBs respond.

Who plays center?

John Sullivan, the projected starter, was limited in practice today and has been on and off the field for the better part of a month with a right calf injury. In limited snaps this preseason, he has struggled. His replacement at times was starting ORG Anthony Herrera, but Sullivan’s true backup is Jon Cooper.

Cooper would start if Sullivan can’t play. The coaches have been pushing Sullivan to see what he can handle physically. And it will be Brad Childress’ call whether Sullivan starts or not. Call it a 50-50 shot right now, but I think he’ll give it a go.

The Saints blitzed the heck out the A-gaps in the NFC title game, and that’s the center’s responsibility. There’s no reason to think they won’t try the same in this game, even if the Vikings have been focusing all week on pass protection. Without Chester Taylor, the team’s best pass protector last season, the Vikings really don’t have an ace in this department. And potentially being shorthanded at center just makes it all tougher.

Punt returns might return little

This is not as concerning an issue as the other two, but it could take a little away from field position. With Darius Reynaud now on the Giants, the Vikings are expected to turn to Bernard Berrian and possibly Greg Camarillo to handle punts.

Berrian is actually pretty good at it, but how much do you want to send your de facto No. 1 receiver out there to shag punts? Camarillo hasn’t returned a punt since college, but sources say he looked fairly natural handling punts in pregame for the fourth preseason contest, before Reynaud was traded.

Here’s a guess on how they will handle it. Berrian likely will get a few chances back there, likely in situations where the Vikings feel they need a boost in field position. If they find themselves forcing the Saints to punt from inside their own 20-yard line — or if they go for a block with no return on — perhaps they’ll send Camarillo out there to just fair catch the ball. He has good hands and concentration and should handle that duty well.

We'll examine the Saints' most pressing issues for the game tomorrow.

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