Throughout the chapters of Viking history, the backup quarterback has been a position that has been focused on obsessively and for good reason. In 1987, Wade Wilson took over for Tommy Kramer and led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. In 1998, Randall Cunningham did the same taking over for an injured Brad Johnson.
In the 2000s, numerous columns were dedicated to Todd Bouman taking over for Daunte Culpepper and earlier this decade, Matt Cassel was designated the savior to relieve us all from the Christian Ponder era.
Long story short, we sure love our backup quarterbacks here, which is why this year’s battle has been a hot topic of debate.
At the center of it all are Kyle Sloter and Sean Mannion. Both players have come from different backgrounds and have a different style of play that either excites or angers the coaches. In three preseason games so far, both quarterbacks have comparable stats with Mannion throwing for 247 yards, two touchdowns and an interception while Sloter has gone for 280 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and an absurd 85.2% completion rate.
The latest round in this competition took place last Saturday afternoon against the Arizona Cardinals. After starting quarterback Kirk Cousins mistook the noon kickoff for a 7:15 primetime start with the first team, Mike Zimmer turned to his trusty backup Sean Mannion to run the offense.
Zimmer has gone on the record that Mannion is the guy who currently brings what the Vikings want in a backup quarterback. He has experience of one start in the NFL, in which he threw for an electric 169 yards without a touchdown, but didn’t throw an interception, which is key. He also has a sick combover and according to my sources, he can get offensive consultant Gary Kubiak’s coffee order right from memory.
Perhaps more importantly, Mannion is the quarterback that simply lets the coach play the controls. In all honesty, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Kevin Stefanski holding a Playstation controller during a Mannion drive as he simply does what the coaches tell him to do. In other words, he’s a dream for a coach like Zimmer, who wants to win games by a score of 3-0.
In Saturday’s performance, Mannion came onto the field in front of a half-asleep U.S. Bank Stadium crowd and put the ball on the turf. By the time he left the game for Vedvik to miss his second field goal of the game, Mannion gave that crowd an opportunity for some REM rest by going 6-for-9 and 57 yards without a single scoring drive. Again…electric.
But then came Sloter, who’s biggest concern is that he doesn’t take practice seriously. For a disciplinarian like Zimmer, such a move could be fatal as he wants everything to be perfect up until the Vikings line up for a PAT. While Mannion put the crowd into a deep sleep, Sloter woke everyone up by driving the Vikings right down the field for a score.
As Sloter would lead the Vikings to another score on the final Minnesota drive in the game, you could see his control of the offense and his ability to actually put points on the board. His third-string teammates were fully behind him and by the end of the day, Sloter went 6-for-7 with 102 yards and a touchdown. (But about those practice habits…)
Sloter’s performance has been on par with the last three preseasons. The Vikings fall behind early in these games and Sloter torches the third string defense to lead Minnesota to a victory that doesn’t count. But the more important question is what would happen if Zimmer gave Sloter a chance with the second team?
In reality, that’s all the fans want leading into the Vikings’ final preseason game in Buffalo Thursday night. We get that Mannion has one more NFL start than Sloter has in his career and orders a fine double mocha Frappuccino, but don’t you want to make sure all of your bases are covered before making a decision?
We would sure hope so. Then again, perhaps Zimmer really does want to win those games without Cousins by a score of 2-0.