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Frazier Knows Vikes but Will It Matter?

October 20, 2014 - (0) comments

 

A year ago Leslie Frazier was the Vikings head coach but on Sunday his job will be to help defeat his old team.  In his role as the Bucs defensive coordinator, Frazier will not only lead the plan of how to stop the Vikings but he is qualified to provide information to his fellow Tampa Bay coaches about the personnel he had on the Minnesota roster.

“I am sure this is going to be one he wants to win,” Vikings linebacker Audie Cole told Sports Headliners today.  “You want to beat your last team.  I am sure he’s going to be thinking about it.”

Frazier’s familiarity with players he coached here could help the Bucs.  “It always gives a coach the upper hand” knowing his former players, said Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler who like other players interviewed voiced respect and fondness for Frazier.

Leslie Frazier

Leslie Frazier

It won’t be Frazier’s intent but he could witness an improvement in the Vikings’ offense on Sunday.  The Vikings, 2-5, have managed to score just 45 points in their losses, averaging nine points per game.  Frazier has seen his unit give up the most points, 204, of any NFL team so far this season.

The Bucs, 1-5, had a bye yesterday.  It had to be welcome after a 48-17 loss to the Ravens a week ago Sunday.  In that game Tampa Bay was behind 38-0 in the second quarter.  The Bucs are giving up an NFL worst 422.8 yards per game and fans have to wonder if the team’s Tampa 2 defensive alignment is passé.

Frazier and Bucs coach Lovie Smith have long been advocates of the defense but things haven’t gone well in their first season together in Tampa Bay. Results aren’t so good in the points production category, either.  The Bucs have scored 120 points and that total ties them with the Vikings for lowest in the NFC.

The Vikings, though, have 120 points in seven games, while the Bucs have only played six games.  Minnesota has scored just two touchdowns in the last three games, all losses.  Playing with “spare parts,” the Vikings’ offense is without five starters who began the season as regulars including quarterback Matt Cassel, running back Adrian Peterson and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

The Vikings’ offense has to be hoping it’s the same old same old on Sunday for the Bucs’ defense.  Both teams are almost desperate in need of a win as the midpoint in the NFL schedule approaches.  The Vikings will take that win against anyone including their former coach, Frazier.  “We’ll talk to him after the game but I gotta get ready for a win against Tampa Bay,” said defensive end Brian Robison. “That’s all I am concerned about.”

Worth Noting

A bronze statue of Bud Grant will be unveiled outside the Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium this week.  Grant coached the Bombers to four Grey Cup championships.  He led the Bombers of the CFL before coaching the Vikings to four Super Bowls.

Troubled wide receiver Percy Harvin, who was traded last week by the Seahawks to the Jets, was dealt by the Vikings to Seattle in 2013 for draft choices that turned out to include defensive back Xavier Rhodes and running back Jerick McKinnon, both contributors to this year’s team.

Here’s how Sports Headliners ranks the Big Ten teams at about halfway through the college football season: 1. Michigan State; 2. Ohio State; 3. Nebraska; 4. Wisconsin; 5. Maryland; 6. Minnesota; 7. Iowa; 8. Penn State; 9. Northwestern; 10. Michigan; 11. Rutgers; 12. Purdue; 13. Illinois; 14. Indiana.

A representative of the Florida Citrus Bowl attended the Gophers-Purdue game on Saturday and later congratulated Minnesota coach Jerry Kill on his team’s win.  Located in Orlando, Florida, the bowl was formerly known as the Capital One Bowl and is seeking a new corporate sponsor.  The Citrus Bowl is played on January 1 of each year. The Gophers, 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten, haven’t played in a January 1 bowl game since 1962.

Kill on coaching this team: “I told them all year, if you listen to us (the coaches), you listen to me, good things will happen.”

The Gophers sold about 9,700 student tickets for the Purdue game with about 9,000 of those tickets used, according to an athletic department source.  The announced attendance of 51,241 was a TCF Bank Stadium record for a Gophers game.

Former Iowa All-American quarterback Chuck Long, who was in Minneapolis to provide color commentary on the game, was asked if he will lobby Big Ten Network decision makers to work the telecast of the November 8 Gophers-Hawkeyes game on November 8.  “They won’t let me do Iowa games,” he said laughing.  “I show too much bias.”

David Cobb

David Cobb

The optimistic guess on Gophers running back David Cobb is he will be a midround NFL Draft choice.  Cobb, who is fourth among Big Ten rushers with 144.7 yards per game, doesn’t have breakaway speed but he is an extraordinary runner for Minnesota.  A senior, the Gophers wish they had redshirted him.

The Gophers Tommy Olson is one of 167 semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy given to the best college football scholar-athlete.  Others on the list include Division II players Thomas Obarski, Concordia, St. Paul; Charlie Kem, Southwest Minnesota State; and Ryan Gerts, Winona State; and from Division III Josh Treimer, Bethel; Josh Sinnen, Northwestern, St. Paul; and J.T. Ford, Saint John’s.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was in his second season with the Bulldogs in 2010 when the Gophers were looking to replace head coach Tim Brewster.  Mullen, who has Mississippi State No. 1 ranked in the polls, wasn’t interested in the Gophers job, a source told Sports Headliners on Saturday.

The Don Lucia Radio Show will be heard Monday nights from 6 to 6:30 p.m. on 1500 ESPN.  The first show of the season is tonight and the Gophers hockey coach is joined by co-hosts Judd Zulgad and Wally Shaver.

Minnesota Wild—the restaurant—is scheduled to open later this month at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.  The hockey-themed restaurant will seat over 200 customers and will be located beyond the Terminal 2-Humphrey security checkpoint.  There will be displays of goalie helmets, jerseys from the Wild and also youth players from around the state of Minnesota, and a mosaic made with hockey pucks in the shape of the State of Hockey logo.

WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson meets tomorrow with representatives from Xcel Energy Center and Visit Saint Paul to discuss ideas to make the league’s March 20-21 Final Five Tournament a hospitality success.  The agenda will target ways to benefit fans including through the involvement of bars and restaurants.

George Smilanich, 92 and a former Iron Range coach, served in World War II and was a consultant for the new movie “The Fury” starring Brad Pitt.  Smilanich drove a Sherman tank during the war.

Highlights of the Gophers’ baseball schedule for next year include a March 4 exhibition game in Fort Myers against the Twins. The Gophers will also play games at Maryland and Rutgers, the two new programs in the Big Ten Conference which now has 13 teams (Wisconsin doesn’t participate in baseball).  Minnesota’s home opener is scheduled for March 24 at Siebert Field.  The Big Ten Tournament will be at Target Field May 20-23.

Major League Baseball faces a roll of the dice every year with the World Series and the weather gods but 2014 should not be problematic.  When the Royals host games 1 and 2 in Kansas City Tuesday and Wednesday evenings temps will be in the 60s and 70s.  Giants games in San Francisco figure to be played in mild weather too.

 

U Winning but Future Looks Brighter

October 17, 2014 - (0) comments

 

With five victories already and six games remaining on the schedule, the Gophers could certainly reach last year’s win total of eight.  But program supporters who are close to head coach Jerry Kill such as Ray Hitchcock are optimistic that in future years the Gophers could have double figure win totals.

Hitchcock, the former Gophers center and now a postgame radio host, told Sports Headliners that “2015, 2016, those could be 10, 11 year wins.”  Kill and his staff have improved the player talent since taking over for the 2011 season and done a superior job of maximizing individual and team skills.  The 2014 team is heavy with underclassmen—including starters who will return in 2015—and the staff is developing players who can come off the bench when needed.

Hitchcock readily offers enthusiasm about Kill and the future.  “He’s building so much depth with these guys.  What is he, 6-2 in his last eight Big Ten games?”

That’s exactly the number, and only Michigan State and Ohio State with 8-0 records can boast better numbers than the Gophers.  Minnesota’s 6-2 record in league games is the program’s best since the Gophers came up with the same totals from November 6, 1999 through October 21, 2000.

Going into tomorrow’s game at home against Purdue, the Gophers are 5-1 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten games.  The most difficult part of the schedule will come next month against Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.  Kill will be the first to acknowledge the Gophers need to still improve a lot but Minnesota’s next win makes the team bowl-eligible and is another step toward at least an eight win season.

Gophers teams have only won eight games 11 times since the program began in 1882. Minnesota has won nine games twice, 10 games three times, and earned 13 and 14 single season win totals once each.  In today’s college football world of 12 game schedules—plus a bowl game—teams play more games than in most past years but for the Gophers to accomplish a win total of eight or more this fall will obviously be special.

Mitch Leidner

Mitch Leidner

To get there the Gophers will need to fix another number.  Kill’s teams are 0-22 when trailing at halftime.  The Gophers haven’t been capable of coming from behind and one reason has been struggles with their passing game.  Instability at the quarterback position has characterized the offense but the Gophers might have a fix with redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner who has impressed in his last two games, completing 24 of 37 passes for 320 yards.

“I think over the last two games, the biggest thing about Mitch, he’s relaxed,” Kill said.  “Went out and played.  Had a smile on his face.  I think early in the year he was pressing, then he got hurt, went through some things.  I think he’s feeling good, feeling better.  I always say, if you feel good, you play good.  I think he’s…more comfortable.”

Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Leidner, who was only a part-time starter last season, felt a lot of pressure during the nonconference season.  When Leidner was injured and couldn’t play in the last nonconference game against San Jose State he watched the Gophers win without him.  Limegrover believes that relieved weight-of-the-world-expectations.

Leidner was back on the field for the next game, at Michigan on September 27.  “He literally was like a different young man when we went to Michigan as far as just how he was on gameday, how he was in the huddle, his demeanor gameday, the enjoyment of it,” Limegrover said.  “He was out there having fun.  That carried over to last week (and) then there was that confidence.”

The strength of the Gophers starts with their 15th ranked national scoring defense but the offense and Leidner might have to contribute more than usual tomorrow against a Purdue team that has scored 69 points in its last two games.  The Boilermakers, 3-4 overall and 1-2 in league games, have changed quarterbacks from earlier in the season and Austin Appleby has challenged defenses with runs and passes.  Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys targets holding opponents to 17 points or less and if Minnesota can limit Purdue to that total tomorrow a victory is very likely.  And, so, too are a lot more wins later in the season and during the years ahead.

Gophers sophomore defensive back and kick return specialist Jalen Myrick said he has big expectations for the program. “That’s the reason I came here. I wanted to play for a Rose Bowl—so being in a Big Ten championship—that was always my goal and everyone else’s goal.”

Worth Noting 

Myrick’s 100-yard kickoff return was the difference in Minnesota’s 24-17 win over Northwestern last Saturday.  How has his life been impacted since?  “A lot of media followed me on Twitter,” he answered while also mentioning friends who reached out.

Myrick said he was clocked at 21.5 miles per hour on the return but can run faster.  “It’s not impossible,” he said.

Cameron Botticelli

Cameron Botticelli

Gophers defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli on whether tomorrow’s game could be a shootout since Purdue has a high scoring offense but suspect defense: “If I have anything to say about it, it won’t. …”

A source told Sports Headliners the Gophers received $500,000 for playing their September 13 nonconference game at TCU.  The Horned Frogs, 4-1, defeated the Gophers, 30-7, and are ranked No. 12 nationally in the Associated Press poll.

Former Gophers defensive back Dom Barber hopes to have his communications degree by next March.  Although he isn’t interested in coaching, Barber is working in a recruiting role for the Gophers.  His brother Thomas Barber, a junior linebacker and running back, plays for Armstrong High School and is an outstanding college prospect.

The Vikings offensive line gave up eight sacks in last Sunday’s 17-3 loss to the Lions.  Among those receiving blame is left tackle Matt Kalil who after a successful rookie season in 2012 has been much criticized since.  In Kalil’s defense, a Vikings insider said the former USC star is facing some of the best pass rushers and highest paid players in the NFL.  But he also said Kalil’s confidence needs to be restored.

“I would not trade Kalil,” the source said.  “I would hope we could get him to play up to his potential.”

While rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater receives much of the public and media attention, the team’s other first round draft choice, Anthony Barr, leads the Vikings in tackles with 58 and is one of the more impressive first-year players in the NFL.

The Vikings play in suburban Buffalo on Sunday and fans here will recognize names associated with the Bills having Minnesota connections.  Bills starting offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson is from Cretin-Derham Hall High School.  Todd Downing, the team’s quarterbacks’ coach from Eden Prairie, graduated from the University of Minnesota and worked in quality control for the Vikings.

Bills offensive line coach Pat Morris had the same title with the Vikings from 2006-2010.  Linebackers coach Fred Pagac was the Vikings defensive coordinator in 2011 and for several years was Minnesota’s linebackers coach.  Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards was the DC for the Bills from 2010-2011.

Gophers senior guard Rachel Banham is the Big Ten women’s basketball coaches choice for Preseason Player of the Year.  Banham was also named to the coaches’ preseason All-Big Ten team that includes Minnesota native Nia Coffey, a sophomore forward at Northwestern.

Ali Lucia, daughter of Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia, is now with WCCO TV.  Her journalism career experiences includes being a Fox news anchor in Rochester, Minnesota.

Her dad’s nationally No. 1 ranked Gophers have a bye this week after winning the Ice Breaker Tournament at Notre Dame, Indiana with games last Friday and Sunday.  Only several hundred fans were in the seats at the games.

Gustavus, 6–0 overall and 4–0 in the MIAC, is off to its best start since the 1987 season when the “Cardiac Kids” went 10–0 and 9–0 while winning the league title.  The Gusties probably will face their most formidable opponent tomorrow at home against Saint John’s, 4-1 and 2-1. The Gusties rank third in NCAA Division III with an average of 385 passing yards per game.

Congratulations to Luverne High School football coach Todd Oye who won his 100th career game last week.  The victory gave him a 100-43 record in 13 seasons at Luverne.

 

Winner on & off Field: Vikings’ Smith

October 15, 2014 - (0) comments

 

The NFL’s image has taken numerous hits in recent weeks but there are high character guys in the league including Vikings’ safety Harrison Smith who hosted kids from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities last night at Winter Park.

“There’s obviously not a lot of good PR going (on) all around the league, and I just don’t think that’s reflective of what the majority of the guys in this league are about—the players, the coaches (and) the people,” Smith told Sports Headliners on Sunday.  “All these guys care about doing things, care about helping people.  I just think the PR is not the truth of what’s going on (with) the majority.”

Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith

Smith has been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters since 2013, his second year with the Vikings.  At last night’s event several teammates joined Smith for activities with the kids that included a kickball game, tours of the team’s practice facility, and player autographs and pictures.

Smith has also been involved with other community activities since joining the Vikings as a first round draft choice out of Notre Dame in 2012. The club emphasizes involvement by players with nonprofits and employs a community relations executive to manage the Vikings’ many projects and events.

Smith was raised by parents who encouraged him to think of others. “My parents kind of always taught me to include everybody in everything,” he said.  “I think you gotta do a good job with the youth today, because they’re gonna be the leaders when they grow up.”

Paul Wiggin, a former NFL head coach and now a consultant for the Vikings, knows how Smith was raised.  “He hasn’t been idolized.  He’s been brought along like a normal human being.  I think he’s classy.”

Smith’s play on the field has impressed Wiggin and others.  “He’s a great player,” Wiggin said. “He’s better than what we thought he would be and we thought he’d be great.”

Wiggin said the Vikings use colors to label players and blue is elite status.  “You have five or six blue players on your football team if you’re lucky—winners do. He’s one of them.”

Smith, 6-2, 215-pounds, has made a difference in the Vikings’ secondary.  He can make an impact both with tackling and defending the pass.  “He has a little hate in his heart when he plays, even though he’s a great kid.” Wiggin said.  “A lot of collision football players in the game today run into people and they don’t go down.  This guys brings ‘em down because he wraps them up.”

In the opening game this season Smith returned an interception for a touchdown. It was the third of his career for a touchdown and it tied him for the club record. What are his thoughts about getting the fourth and breaking the tie shared with eight others?

“It would be big (but) that’s not the end-goal.” Smith said.  “Right now I just want to win.”

The Vikings are 2-4 after Sunday’s loss to the Lions but part of the positive news was the ankle injury that had made Smith’s availability questionable for the game didn’t keep him from playing.  In the locker room following the game he said the ankle was okay.

That doesn’t surprise Smith admirers who know he is a “tough guy” and loves playing football.  And enjoys helping others.

 

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