NEW ORLEANS — The interior of the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive line remains a work in progress.
Starters Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen, who still haven’t been cleared for team drills in practice, were held out of Friday’s preseason opener against New Orleans at the Superdome. Joseph was replaced at nose tackle by Jaleel Johnson and Stephen at three-technique defensive tackle by Jalyn Holmes.
The Vikings also were without starting right tackle Brian O’Neill, who missed practice during the week. He was replaced by Rashod Hill.
Also out for the Vikings were cornerback Mike Hughes and tight end David Morgan, who are on the physically unable to perform list; defensive end Tashawn Bower, who is on the non-football injury list; and cornerback Kris Boyd, defensive end Ade Aruna and offensive tackle Aviante Collins.
Perfect start for Cousins
In for just one series Friday, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was perfect.
Cousins completed all four of his passes for 65 yards and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie running back Alexander Mattison. That gave him a 158.3 passer rating, perfect by NFL standards.
It’s the second straight year Cousins has led the Vikings to a touchdown while playing just the first series in the preseason opener. Last year, Cousins was 4 of 4 for 42 yards and a touchdown at Denver. But that passer rating was slightly lower at 150.0.
Surprise for Smith
Rookie tight end Irv Smith Jr. received a warm welcome shortly after the Vikings arrived Thursday night in New Orleans.
Smith, a native of the city, was taken to his favorite restaurant for a surprise birthday party. Smith turned 21 on Friday, and started the game.
Smith starred at Brother Martin High School in New Orleans. He father, tight end Irv Smith Sr., played for the Saints from 1993-99.
Zimmer wastes no time
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasted little time in challenging pass interference for the first time.
Zimmer threw a challenge flag midway through the first quarter on a Saints completion, saying offensive pass interference should have been called. He lost the challenge.
This is the first season teams can make challenges related to pass interference. Zimmer had said he would test the new rule plenty in the preseason as the NFL works to establish how it will be handled.