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WR Johnson Finds a Home with Vikings

December 19, 2014 - (0) comments

 

Charles Johnson has travelled a varied route to Minneapolis, but he sure looks at home with the Vikings.  The 25-year-old wide receiver was signed off the Browns’ practice squad on September 20 and despite not playing a snap for the Vikings until October 2 he has become one of the team’s most productive offensive players.

Johnson totaled 103 and 72 yards in receptions the last two Sundays.  His 415 yards for the season ranks third on the team and his 16 yards per catch is best on the Vikings.  He has become a big play receiver, taking over as a starter and pushing high potential-inconsistent Cordarrelle Patterson to the bench.  Last Sunday his 72 yards on five catches against the Lions were better than Detroit’s All-World wide receiver Calvin Johnson who totaled four receptions and 53 yards.

“I’ve known I can do this my whole time,” Johnson told Sports Headliners.  “It’s just that you’ve got to have opportunity.  You wouldn’t know (Hall of Famer) Jerry Rice was the best receiver in the league until he got out there and played that day.”

Charles Johnson

Charles Johnson

Nobody is saying Johnson will have a career like Rice—perhaps the greatest wide receiver of all-time—but it’s interesting that the two played collegiately at small schools.  While the 49ers chose Rice in the first round out of Mississippi Valley State, the Packers drafted Johnson on the seventh round in 2013 from Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan.

Johnson, who also attended two other colleges before Grand Valley, believes he was worthy of being selected higher.  The 6-2, 220-pound native of Kentucky mentioned his 31 touchdowns in Division II, 40-inch vertical jump and 4.3 time in the 40-yard dash.  “I know I am a D-II guy; they’re not going to give too much credit for that,” he said.

Johnson, though, isn’t focused week to week on statistics.  He didn’t have much to say about his numbers being better than Johnson’s last Sunday.  “Stats don’t really mean too much to me.  I just like to win.”

The Packers—among the savviest of organizations in judging personnel—knew what they were doing in drafting Johnson.  Problem was Johnson injured a knee and it slowed down his progress last year.  That led to being placed on the Packers practice squad and then the Browns signed him.  In Cleveland he was told of an ACL tear and didn’t play in any games during 2013.  Norv Turner, the Vikings offensive coordinator, had the same role with the Browns last year so he became familiar with Johnson and thought he could help the Vikings.

Teammates like offensive tackle Mike Harris are happy to have Johnson on their side.  He and Johnson room together in hotels on Saturday nights before Sunday games.  Harris described Johnson’s journey to the Vikings as an “underdog story.”

“The guy is a beast,” Harris said.  “He’s a playmaker.”

Whatever success Johnson has achieved so far doesn’t surprise him. “If you’re willing to work hard you can do anything you want.  Like I always say, ‘When hard work meets opportunity, you create your own success.’ ”

Worth Noting 

Turner, who likes the ability of Johnson to get separation from defenders and thinks he has “very good upside,” also talked yesterday about how despite all the changes on the team’s offense including Adrian Peterson’s suspension and injuries to linemen, rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has demonstrated considerable promise.  “We’ve kind of had an interesting group and the people we’ve played on offense have been wide ranging and to do the things he’s done (Bridgewater), it just tells you something about the type of person he is. …

“The thing that excites me is he can make any throw you need to make.  He does it with people around him.  He does it with people hitting him.  He does it when he has to slide in the pocket.  He knows how to play football and that’s the starting point of the quarterback position. He’s got the intangibles you need and he’s going to continue to get better and better.”

Leslie Frazier

Leslie Frazier

If the Vikings defeat the Dolphins in Miami on Sunday and win their last game at home on December 28 against the Bears, Mike Zimmer will finish the season 8-8.  The franchise has never had a first-year coach with a .500 record.  Jerry Burns and Dennis Green had winning first seasons while Norm Van Brocklin, Bud Grant, Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier, Les Steckel and Mike Tice all had losing records.

Before the season Bob Lurtsema predicted his ex-team would finish at 8-8, as reported previously in Sports Headliners.

The  Twins announced today 18 players on minor league contracts have been invited to major league spring training camp.  The players are right-handed pitchers Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey, Mark Hamburger and Adrian Salcedo; left-handers Ryan O’Rourke and Taylor Rogers; catchers Mitch Garver, Tyler Grimes, Dan Rohfling and Stuart Turner; infielders James Beresford, Doug Bernier, Argenis Diaz and Heiker Meneses; outfielders Byron Buxton, Eric Farris, Danny Ortiz and Shane Robinson.

The Gophers’ offense had little success against TCU’s fast defense when the Horned Frogs defeated Minnesota 30-7 last September.  The Gophers will face a similarly fast defense against Missouri in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on January 1 in Orlando.  The Tigers tied Alabama with seven selections each on the coaches All-SEC first and second offensive, defensive and special teams.  Among those honored were defensive linemen Shane Ray, a first team choice; and second team selection Markus Golden.

Sun Country Airlines sent e-mails to potential customers earlier this week notifying them the Minnesota-based airline has added flights to Orlando from Minneapolis that depart December 31 and January 1, and return January 1, 3 and 4.

It appears the Gophers Athletic Department will sell all of its 9,000 tickets allotment for the Citrus Bowl.  Figuring in other ticket sources, the Gophers might have between 12,000 and 15,000 fans cheering for them at the game.  That would be the largest bowl game number for the Gophers since they played in the Rose Bowl more than 50 years ago.

Among the speculated reasons Gary Andersen left Wisconsin for the Oregon State job is the Badgers don’t competitively pay assistant coaches.  The Badgers rank ninth in total salaries for assistants at $2,368,600 among 12 (of 14) Big Ten schools that disclosed information, according to data released by USA Today on December 10.  The Gophers rank fifth in the Big Ten at $2,757,000 and just ahead of Nebraska.

The top paid assistant coach in college football is believed to be newly hired Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp at $1.6 million.  According to USA Today, MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is the highest paid assistant in the Big Ten at $905,033.  Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ranked No. 33 in USA Today‘s listings at $600,000 while offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover ranked No. 47 at $550,000.  Former Gophers head coach Tim Brewster, now tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Florida State, makes $340,000 and is ranked No 159.

Last minute Christmas shoppers looking for an entertaining and inspiring true story about dog ownership and spiritual faith will want to consider David Wheaton’s new book, “My Boy, Ben.”  The Minnesota native and former professional tennis star writes with passion and provoking thought about his daily journey with Ben, an extraordinary yellow lab.  More at Davidwheaton.com.

Twins outfielder Torii Hunter, and ex-Twins Dave Winfield and LaTroy Hawkins, are among the scheduled baseball celebrities to be in Las Vegas in January for a poker tournament and golf tournament to benefit the Players Trust, a charitable foundation.

When the Star Tribune relocates its offices to the Capella Tower complex, the company may have an exterior news ticker similar to that in Times Square in New York.

 

Zimmer ‘Glad’ Teddy Playing as Rookie

December 15, 2014 - (0) comments

 

Mike Zimmer is now comfortable with the decision to make Teddy Bridgewater his starting quarterback.  The Vikings coach has seen rookie quarterbacks “get the heck beat out of them” and the resulting damage to their careers.

When Zimmer lost veteran Matt Cassel to a season ending injury in September, he was concerned about exposing Bridgewater, his first year QB, to the learning curve and pressures of the NFL.  “I know this guy’s got a chance to be the guy for a long, long time here, and what I was nervous about at the beginning of the year is I didn’t want to get him beat up,” Zimmer said.  “I didn’t want to get him a bunch of bad outings where he didn’t have that confidence and that attitude (to be successful). …”

Mike Zimmer

Mike Zimmer

The Vikings have tried to create an environment where Bridgewater, despite his inexperience, can avoid trauma and progress positively.  “I think in the long run his playing and going through all of these experiences, and getting a chance to play against Green Bay and Chicago and Detroit, will be a big factor for us in the future because he’s been through these things now,” Zimmer said. “It’s not new.”

Zimmer has seen Bridgewater learn from being on the field and is “glad” the 2014 first round draft choice is playing so soon.  Bridgewater has quarterbacked the team to five wins and six losses.  Yesterday he had interceptions on consecutive possessions in the first half and that changed the momentum of a Vikings lead but overall he made plays with his arm and legs.  He completed 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards and one touchdown.  He ran three times for 30 yards.  Two of his last three games his passing rating has impressively been over 115.

Bridgewater has helped lead the Vikings, 6-8 overall, to comeback wins in previous weeks but couldn’t yesterday.  The game ended with a 16-14 loss to the Lions when Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed what would have been an NFL record field goal of 68 yards.  Walsh said this afternoon he “lobbied” for the opportunity to try the kick.

Although it’s not reasonable to expect a record game winner, the last two weeks—by Walsh’s admission—have been “tough.”  He missed a potential 56 yard game winner in regulation a week ago Sunday against the Jets before the Vikings scored a touchdown to win in overtime.  He was one for three on field goals in that game and yesterday didn’t connect in three tries including a 26-yard attempt that was blocked.

“I don’t feel like I am hitting the ball poorly but the results say otherwise right now,” he said.   “So it’s something I gotta get shored up and fixed.”

Trailing 16-14, the Vikings didn’t make enough productive offensive plays on their final drive—and really all game—to defeat the Lions, now 10-4 and tied with the Packers for first place in NFC North.  But Zimmer did praise his rebuilt offensive line that is without three starters.  “I thought they battled their rear ends off,” Zimmer said. “I think they competed.  I thought they fought like crazy to give us the opportunity to get the ball in the right place.”

One replacement is Mike Harris who has taken over at right tackle for Phil Loadholt.  Harris said the coaches gave his work yesterday the best evaluation he’s received this season.  He thought his run blocking and physical play was evident against the Lions.

“My pass blocking was okay,” Harris said.  “It‘s something I continue to work on with timing, with my punch.”

Worth Noting

George Edwards

George Edwards

When the Vikings prepare this week for the Dolphins, Minnesota defensive coordinator George Edwards will have knowledge of Miami’s personnel since he was that team’s linebackers coach last season.

Rookies Anthony Barr, Teddy Bridgewater and Jerick McKinnon have received more attention but the Vikings have other first-year players they like, too, including seventh round pick Shamar Stephen.  A defensive tackle at 6-5, 310, Stephen was in on 10 tackles in the game against Carolina last month and he has become a starter replacing the injured Shariff Floyd.

Jerry Kill gave an answer that couldn’t resonate better with Gophers football fans when asked by L. Jon Wertheim in the December 1 issue of Sports Illustrated about the program’s long-term goal.  “Our long-term goal is to continue to get better. Our mission is to win the Big Ten championship.  It’s not easy to do, but that’s what our mission is.

“The next stage is, we haven’t been to the Rose Bowl—I get reminded every day—since (1962).  So everybody wants to get that accomplished.  The ultimate thing is to win it all.  But we’ve got to take steps.  We have to improve our operating facilities because in recruiting that’s what kids look at. …”

The Big Ten Conference has 10 teams in bowl games, a total that ties the league’s previous high set in 2011.  A difference, though, is three years ago the conference had 12 teams and now has 14.

After bowl matchups were announced, odds-makers had all of the Big Ten teams as underdogs in the 10 games.  Dating back to 2000, the conference is 38-62 in bowl games.

Bobby Bell

Bobby Bell

Bobby Bell ranks among the greatest Gophers football players ever.  He was a two-time All-American tackle and 1962 Outland Trophy award winner.  Yesterday he posted the following news on Facebook:  “I went back the past seven months to the University of Minnesota after 52 years in order to complete my college degree.  It feels so good to be a college graduate. …”

Dave Stead, executive director of the Minnesota State High School League, said he doesn’t have a final figure but he expects ticket sales revenue from the 2014 Prep Bowl to be down about 50 percent.  Attendance and ticket revenues will significantly increase when the Prep Bowl leaves outdoor TCF Bank Stadium for the enclosed Vikings stadium in 2016.  Stead said although the Prep Bowl normally is a profitable event, he’s not sure if it will be in 2014.

Timberwolves rookie Andrew Wiggins is on the cover of Mpls.St. Paul Magazine’s best of the year issue.  The article on Wiggins, who last June was the first overall pick in the NBA Draft, discusses the 19-year-old’s life as a professional and living in a new community.

While Wiggins has been a regular starter, rookie guard Zach LaVine, also 19, has started just 11 games.  But that is 10 more than at UCLA last season, and before the Timberwolves made him a first round choice.

A local pro hockey source said Thomas Vanek’s slow start scoring goals for the Wild can be explained by off-ice distractions including his transition back to Minnesota where he knows so many people.  He predicted Vanek could be productive, though, by playoff time when things have settled down and the 30-year-old forward knows his teammates better.  Vanek has only three goals in 28 games but does have 14 assists and is fourth on the team with 17 points.

The same source said the Wild have been looking for goalie help and doesn’t believe the team is committed to starter Darcy Kuemper.  The franchise decision makers, though, are “solid” in their commitment to fourth season coach Mike Yeo and the players like him.

It wouldn’t be surprising if former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who has been offered a role with Minnesota, ends up working for the Rangers, Astros or Mets.  Gardenhire grew up in Oklahoma and the two Texas teams, the Rangers and Astros, provide proximity to home while the Mets were the team Gardenhire played for in the major leagues.

Former Gustavus Adolphus golf coach Whitey Skoog was recently inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame.  Skoog, who retired in January of 1995 after 22 seasons, coached the Gusties to 17 MIAC titles and 12 NCAA Division III tournaments including second place finishes in 1990, 1991 and 1992. The former Gophers All-American basketball player also coached basketball at Gustavus after his NBA career with the Minneapolis Lakers.

 

Minneapolis Looking at College Title Game

December 12, 2014 - (0) comments

 

Local representatives of the new downtown Vikings stadium will meet leaders from the College Football Playoff next month in Texas with the intent of some day bringing the championship game to Minneapolis.

Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, told Sports Headliners yesterday she will be going to the Dallas area where the first ever College Football Playoff title game is scheduled for January 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  She said playoff officials have already expressed interest in the Minneapolis stadium scheduled to open in 2016.

Kelm-Helgen and other stadium representatives—including Meet Minneapolis executive Melvin Tennant who will also go to Texas—have already secured the 2018 Super Bowl and 2019 Final Four for Minnesota.  Next up on the priority list is the College Football Playoff Game that annually determines the Division I champion.

Kelm-Helgen said nothing is in place yet to attract the Big Ten Football Championship Game but conversations could develop in 2015.  Already discussions have begun with the University of Minnesota regarding a basketball game—or perhaps a tournament—at the $1 billion-plus enclosed stadium.

The stadium project is more than 25 percent complete.  With its innovative design, including the huge partially transparent roof, the stadium is expected to be among the most talked about facilities in North America when it opens.

Worth Noting

Mike Zimmer

Mike Zimmer

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater developing as a leader:  “There are so many different types of leaders.  I just want him to be himself.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be a rah-rah guy, or grab somebody by the throat kind of guy.”

Cordarrelle Patterson has lost his starting assignment and Zimmer said the second-year big play wide receiver must become more consistent.  “It’s being in the right place, doing the right things, running the right routes, blocking the right people, lining up in the right place.  I don’t know when it’ll happen, and I’m hoping like crazy it does because I want him to be a great player.”

Forty-eight hours prior to games, NFL teams must announce the probability of injured players participating.   Fans hear that players are “out” (not scheduled to play); “doubtful” (approximately 25% chance of playing); “questionable” (approximately a 50% chance); “probable” (likely to start).

Former Viking Bob Lurtsema will speak at the January 8 CORES luncheon at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bloomington, 1114 American Blvd.  Bob Gustafson, from Grandma’s Marathon, will speak at the March 12 lunch.  CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans.  Reservations for the January 8 program can be made by contacting Jim Dotseth, dotsethj@comcast.net.

Ex-Viking Joe Webb has a more prominent role with the Panthers now as a backup quarterback following Cam Newton’s injuries from a car accident this week.  Derek Anderson will replace Newton as the starter with Webb in reserve.  Webb, who played both quarterback and wide receiver for the Vikings before joining the Panthers this year, hasn’t played enough to complete a pass.

Darrin Nelson, the former Viking and Stanford running back, was inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday night.

Zach Zenner, the ex-Eagan High School football player and record-breaking running back at South Dakota State, was awarded an $18,000.00 postgraduate scholarship by the National Football Foundation.  A biology major, Zenner has a 3.87 GPA.  He is the first player in FCS history to rush for 2,000 yards in each of three seasons.

CollegeFootballNews.com predicted earlier this week the Gophers will defeat Missouri, 34-20, in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on January 1 in Orlando.  The Tigers are about a touchdown favorite to win the game.

Friends are extending best wishes to former Gophers and Detroit Lions tight end Charlie Sanders after cancer surgery on his knee.  Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.ame.

Paige Tapp, a pre-major Carlson School of Management student at the University of Minnesota, is one of five Big Ten Conference volleyball players who maintain a 4.0 GPA.  Earlier this week the sophomore from Stewartville, Minnesota ranked fourth in the country with 1.55 blocks per set.

Richard Pitino

Richard Pitino

The Gophers basketball team, 8-2, doesn’t play a game again until December 19 because of semester exams.  Coach Richard Pitino has to hope the time off will help redshirt sophomore forward Charles Buggs with his continued recovery from offseason knee injury.  Pitino needs Buggs as a key reserve off the bench.  Buggs is averaging 4.2 points and two rebounds per game.

Talk about annoying conflicts: The Timberwolves and Gophers men’s basketball team played home games on the same nights of December 5, 8 and 10.

Jared Nuness, the former Hopkins High School basketball player and now an assistant coach for Baylor, will evaluate prep players on Saturday at the Tip Off Classic tournament at Minnetonka High School.  Nuness, former Park Center and Bloomington Kennedy head coach, has many recruiting contacts in Minnesota.  Tip Off games will include a matchup between two of the best high school teams in the state, Apple Valley and DeLaSalle.

The grand opening of the Minnesota Wild restaurant at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport was Wednesday.  The venue is located in Terminal 2 and promotes “gourmet food, live hockey and hockey sticks everywhere.”  It is a joint venture between HMS Host and the Wild.

“Restaurants like the new Minnesota Wild venue introduce visitors to Minnesota’s vibrant culture and help differentiate Minneapolis-St. Paul International from other airports,” said Jeff Hamiel, executive director and CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

Short-fused John McEnroe—along with James Blake, Michael Chang and Andy Roddick—is scheduled to play in the PowerShare Series Tennis Champions Shootout at Target Center on April 29.  Minneapolis is part of a 12-city tour next year involving former ATP Tour stars.  In each city there are three one-set matches (semifinals and finals) to determine a winner and accumulate points.

At age 55, McEnroe is the senior member of the group coming to Minneapolis but he is still more than a competent player.  He won the PowerShare Series points championship this year with 1,600 points and four tournament titles.  Blake, who finished No. 2 in the PowerShare standings, said “McEnroe is still playing great.”

McEnroe has long been known as a volatile competitor whose scorn can quickly place a “dark cloud” over a tennis court.  “Johnny Mac just doesn’t like to lose,” said Jim Courier who is another player participating on the PowerShare circuit.

Tickets for the event at Target Center range in cost from $37 to $252.

 

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