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Vikings QB Kirk Cousins being extra nice to his linemen. On Saturday, it's their turn.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to pass the ball to running back Latavius Murray (25) during the teams night practice at TCO Stadium in Eagan, Minn., on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

EAGAN, Minn. — It is no surprise that Kirk Cousins has spent plenty of time this week offering encouragement to the Vikings' offensive linemen. After all, his health is in their hands.

The Vikings open the preseason at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at Denver with their high-priced quarterback playing behind a makeshift line and against a very good Broncos defensive line. Three Vikings starters will not play: center Pat Elflein and guards Nick Easton and Mike Remmers.

Of the five who will start, left tackle Riley Reiff has 84 career regular-season starts, left guard Tom Compton 16 and right tackle Rashod Hill seven. But center Cornelius Edison (none) and right guard Danny Isidora (one) have just one career start between them.

"Kirk's been encouraging all of us," Hill said. "He's saying things like, 'Good job' and 'Good pickup.' We don't want him to get hit (Saturday). As an O-line, you're always trying to not let the quarterback get hit, but we also just feel we know him as a person, and when you've got a bond with somebody, this is like a family. We'll do whatever we can for him not to get hit."

Cousins, who signed a three-year, $84 million contract in March, likely won't play past the first quarter. But he will be on the field long enough for there to be cause for concern.

"It is a challenge," Cousins said Wednesday. "I've played with a depleted offensive line a little bit last year (with Washington), and it's certainly not preferred. Much of the offensive line play is like quarterback where you have players who down the road you know are going to be good players, but they may not be there yet, and so it takes time, it takes reps. It takes these preseason games. We've got to throw them in the fire and get them work so that they can take those next steps."

Elflein is on the physically unable to perform list as he recovers from ankle and shoulder injuries. Easton has a neck injury, and the Vikings are expected to find out later in the week week the severity of it. Remmers has an ankle injury and shouldn't be out much longer.

Reiff and Hill are the only two projected regular-season starters on the line expected to play Saturday.

"Anytime, whether it be a preseason game or regular season game, I think when you're missing a bunch of starters, you have to protect your guys," offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. "We'll know very early how we're holding up up front. I anticipate us holding up really, really good because we're playing a darn good defensive line out here (during training camp) and holding up pretty good."

Regardless of the line issues, DeFilippo is excited about Cousins finally making his debut for the Vikings in a game.

"There's definitely reason to be excited right now for Vikings fans," DeFilippo said. "We have high expectations for ourselves. We have high expectations for Kirk and for everybody."

So does Cousins.

"You look around the league at some of the all-time greats that are playing right now, and they've had a revolving door at offensive line and they never really caused a drop in their play," he said. "So if I ever want to be mentioned among those guys, I've got to be able to play regardless of who's in front of me.''

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