Jerry Kill was out of state this week celebrating a daughter’s graduation from college, and also his 30th wedding anniversary, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t thinking about the Gophers.
Kill and his staff finished their third spring practice at Minnesota last month. The coaches inherited a dismal program on and off the field. In 2011, Kill’s first season, the record was 3-9, last year it was 6-7. Both seasons the Big Ten record was 2-6.
In the personnel department, the Gophers have lacked difference makers and depth at most positions. That won’t change a lot until Kill and his staff have gone through several recruiting classes. The 2011 class didn’t carry the Kill signature because of the short amount of time he had been at Minnesota. The 2012 and 2013 classes are his responsibility but the impact of those players is in the developmental stages because of inexperience and the need for players to mature physically.
“We have a long way to go in our program — period,” Kill told Sports Headliners. “We have to develop players at Minnesota. We have to recruit. Get…players who are going to play their tails off. Have three or four difference makers on offense and defense.”
Kill expects to have difference makers next fall in defensive tackle Ra’Sheede Hageman, safety Brock Vereen and cornerback Derrick Wells. “Hageman should be a first round (NFL) draft choice,” Kill said.
Offense receives most of the headlines in modern day football but Kill knows his program won’t continue improving without an impactful defense and solid kicking game that can help dictate field position and score points. The Gophers particularly need better punting and in two seasons also haven’t shown the reputation to block kicks that earned Kill’s special teams so much praise when he coached at Northern Illinois.
“Again, we can’t correct everything in one year (one recruiting class),” Kill said. “We haven’t been able to change a lot of things.”
Kill is looking for playmakers among his runners and receivers. Players who can break open a game — and that subject prompts him to mention incoming freshman running back Berkley Edwards, talking about how the prep track star from Michigan can “giddy-up and go.”
The Gophers also need speed and playmaking at wide receiver. Kill is optimistic about the potential of a group he followed in the spring including Devin Crawford-Tufts, Derrick Engel, Isaac Fruechte, Jamel Harbison and KJ Maye. Kill saw more playmaking among receivers in the spring than in the past.
Don’t be surprised if the Gophers’ passing game emphasizes the tight ends, too, a group that Kill is pleased with. “Maxx Williams had a great, great, great spring,” Kill said.
The last spring practice was April 27. Kill has had time to think about the 15 sessions in the spring that will help his team get ready for August practices and the first game against UNLV August 29. “I feel good where we’re at,” he said.
Each practice was graded like a game. “I think we accomplished everything we thought we needed to,” Kill said. “We built some depth (and) got some young players to play.”
Dating back to the start of last season the Gophers have been impacted by injuries including more than a dozen surgeries. Kill is hoping all of the injured will be ready by August 1 including key players like offensive tackle Ed Olson and defensive tackle Roland Johnson.
“We were playing kids not ready to play yet (which) is why so many injuries,” Kill said. “We’ll be bigger and stronger. When you win, you stay healthy.”
Despite having to play three quarterbacks and three centers last year, the Gophers made it to a bowl game for the first time since 2009. That’s an unusual accomplishment in college football.
Fill in the blank if you know what Kill is thinking when he ponders a healthier, stronger, faster, experienced and talented team in the years ahead: _____. Hint: the word begins with “W.”
The Gophers have Ohio State on their football schedule in 2014 for the first time since 2010. The Big Ten Conference announced 2014 schedules yesterday as part of its news about the West and East football divisions. The Buckeyes will play in Minneapolis along with Iowa, Northwestern and Purdue. Road games are Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Divisional play begins in 2014 with teams playing against the other six teams in their divisions, plus two games each versus schools from the other division.
Former California and NFL running back star Chuck Muncie died this week. He was the younger brother of Bill Munsey, the ex-Gopher who was an outstanding running back and defensive back on the Rose Bowl teams of the 1960s. Both brothers were from Uniontown, Pennsylvania but spelled their last names differently.
Despite a .205 batting average, Twins slugger Josh Willingham has reached base safely in 31 of 33 games. Willingham is hitting .135 in his last 10 games.
Joe Mauer has a 14 game hitting streak, the third longest of his career. It’s his longest since May 5-21 in 2009 (also 14 games). Twins teammate Justin Morneau has hit safely in 17 of his last 19 games and is hitting .368 during that period.
Pedro Florimon is four-for-four in stolen base attempts this season. The Twins have 13 steals in 16 attempts since April 15.
Local author Jim Bruton said his new Bud Grant book, I Did It My Way, will be on sale in September.
Former Vikings running back Dave Osborn said the best NFL runner he ever saw was Bears’ legend Gale Sayers.
No doubt eyes rolled at the Seahawks offices when the NFL Network’s top 100 players program announced Percy Harvin at No. 90. The versatile former Viking is among the league’s most dangerous playmakers and could certainly be ranked higher. The rankings are determined by a vote of NFL players.
Former Minneapolis City Council member Denny Schulstad was an advocate for the Metrodome and he correctly remembers the building helped save the Twins and Vikings for this area while not costing the taxpayers “one penny” because the rent from the teams paid off the bonds sold to build the facility. He wrote in an e-mail to Sports Headliners that while the Metrodome is labeled unattractive it has served the city and area well. His comments included: “It is the only facility in the world to have hosted a World Series (2), a Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four (2), and so many other world class events, from the Special Olympics to Scandinavia Today.”
A total of 29 All-State players are expected to participate in the 40th annual Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game on June 29 at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud, according to an announcement made earlier this year.
The Saint John’s football team is scheduled to have two scrimmages on Saturday in Saskatchewan against the Regina Thunder, a member of the Canadian Junior Football League.
Did you know that among 1,000 NCAA schools only Division III St. Thomas and Division I Florida State have sent baseball and softball teams to the NCAA regional playoffs the last 10 years?
Canterbury Park opens its live horse racing season tonight, with the first of 69 dates this year — the most since 2006. Purses are on the rise at the Shakopee racetrack. In June last year Canterbury Park and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community entered into a cooperative marketing and purse enhancement agreement that will add $75 million to the horsemen purse structure over the 10-year life of the agreement.
The 2013 Canterbury Park promotional calendar will include a Memorial Day performance by “Human Cannonball” David “The Bullet” Smith Jr. He will be shot out of a 34 foot cannon and land in a net. “The Bullet” holds Guinness World Records for both the longest and highest distances a human has been shot out of a cannon — 193 feet, 8.8 inches and 77 ½ feet.
Lea Blackwell Favor, the former Edina High School all-state basketball player, takes over in June as the new executive director for the Fred Wells Tennis & Education Center in the Twin Cities.
The new Vikings stadium won’t have a retractable roof. So what? Get over it.
About one-third of the world’s population subsists on $2 per day, according to last Sunday TV’s 60 Minutes. Don’t whine about not being able to accommodate a retractable roof in the $975 million budget. That’s plenty of money to spend without adding on the retractable roof for another $25 to $50 million.
The design announced on Monday night detailed how part of the roof and huge pivoting doors will allow light into the building, providing the feeling of that long desired outdoor experience. The stadium will have seven levels, seat 65,000 fans for Vikings games, provide close proximity to the field and be able to accommodate more types of events than any facility in the world, according to venue promoters.
Pro football is a spectacle well suited to indoor accommodations. It’s a made for TV sport and NFL stadiums are giant TV studios. Vikings fans will be cozy inside their new stadium with views of the downtown skyline and giant video boards to entertain themselves. The purple-dressed throngs will be able to walk to the stadium in controlled climate comfort because of the skyway system linking to the facility.
From Detroit to Houston, the NFL has embraced the indoor football experience in multiple cities. In Detroit the Lions play in a fixed roof facility and in Houston the Texans hardly ever play under blue sky despite having a retractable roof, preferring a climate controlled environment.
Instead of complaining about the absence of the roof, celebrate that this city and state has decided to build a state-of-the-art facility that will compare favorably to any in the world. This will be no built-on-the-cheap stadium like the Metrodome, a facility where tightwad politicians and administrators thought about not using air conditioning to save money.
Even when it was new, the dome with its Teflon coated roof, never won a beauty contest. Shoulder pads are optional in the overcrowded concourses. Visiting the restrooms is usually a tradeoff in missed game time. Worst of all, a roof collapse always seemed a possibility.
The Metrodome did ensure the presence of the Twins and Vikings in Minnesota for more than 30 years. In the 1970s both franchises wanted the downtown dome rather play in outdoor Met Stadium. The Vikings particularly pushed hard for a dome. Historians will remember there once were plans for the Twins to stay in Bloomington while the Vikings would move into a football only covered facility on the west side of downtown. A parking ramp was to surround the exterior and daily revenues would help pay for the stadium.
The design detailed by HKS Sports on Monday night gave confidence to the notion that this new endeavor will be a world-class stadium. There’s been a history here of building stadiums without a commitment to quality but that won’t be true of the Vikings’ stadium. Both Met Stadium and the Metrodome were built with “what can we get by with approaches.” TCF Bank Stadium and Target Field broke with that sorry mantra and the Vikings stadium looks like it will go a step higher.
The new stadium will host 10 or more Vikings games per year but it will also be a giant indoor park hosting high school and college baseball, saving the spring season in some years here in our bizarre climate. There will be glamorous and not so glitzy uses of the facility ranging from Final Fours to neighborhood rollerblading, from rock concerts to conventions. Yes, we might even see a bowl game here and certainly the stadium will host the Prep Bowl just like the Metrodome has for all these years.
A few years ago speculation was the Vikings were headed to Los Angeles. But the Vikings will be playing in a new stadium in Minneapolis in 2016 and right now LA is still trying to figure out how to finance a pro football facility. Not only that but LA’s baseball and college football teams play in old stadiums while here in Minneapolis our teams are in new facilities.
Maybe Hollywood is overrated. Maybe like a retractable roof.
Quoting Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman after a one-on-one interview earlier this week:
On Joe Webb playing wide receiver, not quarterback: “We’ll look at a lot of different options. Coaches will make that decision on where he finally ends up, but I know we’ll experiment and do a lot of different things. That’s why you’re in this offseason program now.”
Background: Webb, 26, has been practicing his catching skills this spring and is expected to play wide receiver in the team’s organized practices during May. Although Webb has three seasons of NFL practice and game experience at quarterback, his size, 6-4, 220, and athleticism make him an interesting experiment at wide receiver, a position he played at times in college. It’s an opportunity created too by the acquisition of veteran quarterback Matt Cassel who is the No. 2 quarterback now, not Webb.
Spielman on quarterback Christian Ponder who came out of a slump and helped lead the then 6-6 Vikings to a 10-6 record and the playoffs: “We saw that last year (a step forward). The biggest thing was for him to start out strong, to go through his slump…but to be able to come out of that and then lead us. We had Adrian Peterson who had a phenomenal year, but give a lot of credit to Christian with what he was able to do through those last four games, especially two very tough places to go play on the road (St. Louis and Houston).”
Background: The Vikings like the presence of having nine year veteran Cassel around Ponder to help as a mentor. Ponder is the team’s No. 1 quarterback and his continued development begins any list of whether the Vikings can win the NFC North, or even qualify for the playoffs again.
Spielman on building a championship team: “We’re feeling we’re trying to do everything we think is right to bring in the right players. We feel very confident and excited about the coaching staff, and with coach (Leslie) Frazier and everything they’re able to do and bring. So just like everybody else, we’re definitely trying to build a championship team or else we wouldn’t be doing this.”
Background: Spielman said this time of year every team in the NFL has championship ambitions and he’s right. The Vikings haven’t won a division title since 2009 and bottomed out in 2011 with a 3-13 record. The franchise has made astute draft choices to rebuild the roster and create competitiveness among players. The Vikings have also given new contracts to retain core players in offensive tackle Phil Loadholt, wide receiver Jerome Simpson and linebacker Erin Henderson, although they did lose veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield this offseason. But the Vikings are on the rise in accumulating young, talented players while keeping most of their best veterans.
Spielman on whether the political views of Chris Kluwe were a factor in releasing the nine year veteran punter: “…I have the utmost respect for Chris and his outspokenness — that he has the courage to get out there and speak his mind. That has nothing to do with the evaluation on what we’re trying to do as a football team. So that’s two totally different, separate entities, and what he does outside of our building, more power to him. …That’s his right as a U.S. citizen.”
Background: Kluwe’s replacement, 2013 fifth round draft choice Jeff Locke, will earn a lot less compensation than Kluwe, and that had to be a consideration by the Vikings. The Vikings will also have a punter in Locke who is eight years younger than Kluwe. At UCLA, Locke did his punting outdoors while Kluwe, playing at Mall of America Field and other domes, did a lot of indoor kicking. In 2014 and 2015 the Vikings will be playing outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium. Perhaps Locke gained favor for that reason, too.
Spielman on Kluwe punting outdoors and the decision on replacing him with Locke: “I think he (Kluwe) can punt outdoors. He’s just been a little inconsistent. I know the way our roster is shaping up and understanding where we’re going to be two, three, four years from now, it was a unique opportunity to get a young punter. ..Just a little bit a part of our youth movement, and understanding the financial situation with Chris. It’s just all purely based on football and trying to make the best football decisions you can make.”
My reaction will be extreme surprise if plans announced next Monday regarding design of the Vikings’ stadium includes a retractable roof. It seems improbable with the limitations of the $975 million budget — and now uncertainty regarding projected revenues for the state’s share of $348 million — that the project can include a retractable roof.
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the Vikings and HKS Sports will announce details regarding design of the multi-purpose stadium Monday night at a MSFA board meeting at the Guthrie Theater. Expect the stadium plan to include creative ways to allow light into the building even though the roof will be fixed.
This week the Steelers signed veteran offensive tackle Guy Whimper. Not exactly a made-for-Hollywood football name. Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman was asked light-heartedly if he would sign a player with that name.
“Actually he’s a very good player,” Spielman said. “In our business we don’t pay very much attention to names. We just pay attention if they can play or not.”
Schedulemakers from the two conferences sent the Gophers a message when the matchups were announced on Wednesday for next season’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The matchmakers don’t think the Gophers will be an exceptional team, and delivered the same message to Florida State, Minnesota’s opponent for the Tuesday, December 3 game at Williams Arena.
Not that Gophers’ season ticket holders aren’t at least somewhat appreciative to have a power conference team on the home nonconference schedule that is typically filled with the likes of American, Lafayette and Tennessee State. It’s just that a yawn can be excused since the schools have played against each other four times (2-2) in the 14 year history of the Challenge.
The Gophers will have to become a Big Ten title contender to command a game against legendary ACC schools like Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse but even a game in 2014 against Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State would be more fun than another matchup against the Seminoles.
The surprising Twins, now over .500 with a 16-15 record, won three of four games in Boston this week and will play the Red Sox in Minneapolis May 17-19.
The Twins will see their former shortstop, J.J. Hardy, when they play the Orioles in a three-game series starting tonight at Target Field. The Twins traded Hardy in 2010 and never have replaced his offensive production at shortstop. He has six home runs this season, more than any Twins player.
The Twins have parted with several players in recent years who would be major assets to the club. A list can start with outfielders Carol Gomez, Torri Hunter and Michael Cuddyer. Gomez leads MLB in hitting at .386, Hunter is fifth in the American League at .344 and Cuddyer is among NL leaders at .319.
Former Twins’ first baseman David Ortiz has impressive numbers for the Red Sox in limited plate appearances (68), hitting .353 with a .662 slugging percentage. Wilson Ramos, who would give the Twins needed catching and bench depth, has often shown a good bat since joining the Nationals in 2011.
Collective earned run averages for Twins’ starting pitchers have ranked high this spring but ex-Twin Kevin Slowey has surprised with a 1.81 ERA and 1-2 record for the Marlins.
Productive moves by Twins’ general manager Terry Ryan in the last two off seasons have included adding pitchers Jared Burton and Kevin Correia, catcher Ryan Doumit, outfielder Josh Willingham, and 2012 draft choice Byron Buxton (outfield). Ryan is rebuilding the club in his second tenure as GM.
Augsburg’s football team defeated a Canadian foe 78-6 in an exhibition game in Winnipeg last weekend. It was the Auggies’ third international football game in school history having previously been to Canada and New Zealand.
The Hobey Baker dinner on May 22 at 317 On Rice Park in St. Paul is a near sellout. The event will honor 2013 Hobey Baker winner Drew LeBlanc and Legend of Hockey recipient Jeff Sauer. More at Hobeybaker.com.