Is third preseason game Vikings 'dress rehearsal?' Not as much as you'd think

"We're just going to go play and do what we do," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "I know everybody says, 'Dress rehearsal,' but I don't know if it's like that any more." Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- The third preseason game of a NFL season is colloquially, and somewhat traditionally, referred to as a "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. In the pure sense of how much a team's starters will play, it's probably the closest thing there is to a regular-season game on the exhibition schedule. But from a game-planning perspective, there still isn't much resemblance between what the Minnesota Vikings are doing this week and what they'll be doing before the Sept. 11 regular-season opener in Tennessee.

Coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings did some work off of play cards on Wednesday. The Vikings set up their practice schedule before Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers much in the same manner they would during the regular season. And Zimmer still indicated he sees enough value in gamesmanship before the matchup not to reveal whether Adrian Peterson will get any work during the game. "Call (Chargers coach) Mike McCoy and ask him if they’re going to care," Zimmer said Tuesday. "Just ask him, call him. Ask him if he cares."

The Vikings won't, however, prepare for the Chargers like they would for the Tennessee Titans. They're not spending much time studying film of the San Diego defense and what they'll need to do to solve it, or contemplating how they should slow down Philip Rivers. The game, in Zimmer's mind, is still mostly about his own team.

"I still want to know what our guys know without having to try to scheme somebody else," Zimmer said. "We're just going to go play and do what we do. I know everybody says, 'Dress rehearsal,' but I don't know if it's like that any more. At least, it hasn't been like that for me for a long time."

History would suggest the Vikings aren't going to risk playing many of their starters in their fourth preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams -- they turned the fourth preseason game of 2015 over to third-string quarterback Taylor Heinicke, for example -- but Zimmer said he wouldn't rule out using his starters next Thursday if he's not satisfied with what he sees Sunday.

"Obviously, we want to look good," Zimmer said. "If we're not ready, then I'm not going to (automatically rest players). It just depends. I know everybody judges off just the games, but we have to judge off practice every day, watching tape, seeing what guys do and things like that."

If quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returns from a sore shoulder to play on Sunday, though, it stands to reason the third preseason game would be his final work before the regular season. Bridgewater missed just one pass in the Vikings' first game against the Cincinnati Bengals, and has gone through a solid stretch of practices since the start of training camp. Without ruling anything out, Bridgewater's work on Sunday could be his final game action of the preseason.

"I think there’s value in playing," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "One of the reasons we went to Cincinnati (for two days of joint practices before the Aug. 12 game) -- I talked about this -- Teddy probably got 80 reps of as close to a game that you can get without being a game, and he didn't get hit once. So, there’s great value in doing that. You've seen a number of teams do that, so they can get their starting quarterbacks a lot of work without the physical contact that occurs in a game. But, Teddy has been sharp, and he’ll be ready for the opener."