Enjoy a Monday morning notes column “colored mostly purple” with Vikings items.
Maybe I know something (or if you prefer, just assume I am speculating), but the Vikings offense likely will have an aggressive plan for tonight’s game against the Seahawks in Seattle. That unit has been under scrutiny for not producing enough points, lacking a running attack and faulty play calling.
A week ago the Patriots offense used early plays to spread the field and sometimes attack the flanks of the Minnesota defense in a game New England went on to win 24-10. Might the Vikings do something similar tonight, including misdirection plays to counter an aggressive Seahawks defense?
Minnesota hasn’t scored more than 25 points in a game since October 28. Head coach Mike Zimmer has regretted not having a better running game and after the New England loss the Vikings ranked 30th among 32 NFL teams in rushing. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has been scrutinized for his work.
The Vikings, 6-5-1, have four remaining regular season games and while some people within the organization don’t want to publicly place extra importance on the outcome tonight, others are willing. “We’re treating this game like a playoff game,” said wide receiver Brandon Zylstra. “Two…teams (Vikings and Seahawks) that are really fighting for a playoff spot right now. We’re going to bring the fight to them. Just be as physical as possible. We know a lot rides on this game.”
The NFC rival Seahawks are 7-5 and one of the teams that could potentially keep the Vikings out of the playoffs. Zimmer, who is often cautious about his comments with the media, was asked if the game has a playoff feel to him.
“I think going on the road with that crowd and the type of football team that they are, I think yeah, a little bit,” he said. “These next four games will determine what we do, and where we go, and how we perform in the clutch. Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
Vikings safety Harrison Smith: “We’re right where we need to be. That’s it.”
Not only do the Seahawks annually field competitive teams, but playing at noisy CenturyLink Field is challenging. The Seahawks are 41-12 in their last 53 home games and fans will be extra charged for tonight’s game that is so important to both teams and is being played on national TV. Since 2010, the Seahawks are 24-5-1 in prime time games, outscoring opponents 775 to 427.
How much pressure is there on coaches to win in the NFL? One way to look at it is that Zimmer, who has coached the Vikings since 2014, is the only remaining head coach in the four-team NFC North Division from last season.
Zimmer on first-year offensive coordinator DeFilippo: “I think he’s doing a good job. We talk all the time. We talk about things…I think are important and I think he tries to do those.”
First-year quarterback Kirk Cousins has some impressive stats including his 3,289 passing yards—the second most in team history for the first 12 games of a season (Warren Moon is first at 3,511 yards in 1994). Cousins needs 328 yards to set the franchise record for 13 games.
Zylstra, who attended New London-Spicer High School, plans to be at Saturday’s Minnesota Football Showcase at U.S. Bank Stadium. He played in the annual all-star football game that recognizes outstanding prep seniors. “Sure, I loved my time (as an all-star), that was something I really enjoyed out of high school,” Zylstra said.
Quarterback Cole Kramer from Eden Prairie and running back-safety Jason Williamson from Owatonna, both Gopher verbal commits to become freshmen in 2019, are among those playing in the Saturday afternoon game.
Former Vikings head coach Bud Grant, who was at the Triple Crown Sports Card and Bobblehead Show last Saturday in Bloomington, was surrounded by memorabilia including from his playing days with the NBA Minneapolis Lakers. Grant said he is the only living member of the 1950 Lakers team.
Kansas State could make a savvy coaching hire by convincing North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman to replace Wildcats’ legend Bill Snyder who has retired. If Klieman were to take over at K-State, it would make sense for he and his staff to continue recruiting undervalued Minnesota prep players just as he has done in winning FCS national titles with the Bison.
Renowned emcee and public address announcer Dick Jonckowski is pleased with sales of his book that came out last summer, and reports over 940 copies have been sold. It’s All About Me, Dick Jonckowski: A Minnesota Treasure is filled with tales and jokes from the Minnesota native’s colorful life. More at Polisheagle.com.
Holiday spirit: The Minnesota Wild hosts a coat drive to benefit the Salvation Army Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center when the team plays Montreal. Coats and monetary donations will be collected at Gates 1-5 from 5:15 p.m. until midway through the first period. New and “gently-used” winter coats for children and adults are needed. Wild defenseman Greg Pateryn will deliver the coats to the Salvation Army on Dec. 17.
Although it hasn’t been reported, Minneapolis native and former Gophers linebacker Pete Najarian was a candidate to be the next President of the University of Minnesota. Najarian, who was co-captain of the 1985 Gophers, confirmed his candidacy to Sports Headliners during a telephone interview this week.
Najarian, who found success and fame nationally as an options trader, financial markets analyst and TV personality, didn’t seek the position that now has a sole finalist in University of South Carolina Provost Joan Gabel. “The fact that I was nominated was very flattering,” Najarian said.
Najarian loves the University and pursued the school’s athletic director’s position before it was filled in 2016 by Mark Coyle. Unlike that process when he was given a formal interview, there was no such sit down for the President’s position, although he had conversations with selection committee members.
To some observers of the Presidential selection process that could raise the question of whether a business person with an accomplished background like Najarian was treated as a serious candidate. “You know, I think it’s a tough thing, quite frankly. I think they were legitimately considering (alternative) folks but I think also they’re looking for somebody…within the educational system already,” Najarian said. “I am sure there are many, many highly qualified candidates out there…who have great résumés from different universities.”
Najarian has an easy going personality, and that along with his professional background, could have made him a strong leader and uniter of the many factions at the University. He said that while the President’s position “was not something I had sat back and dreamed about like I did the AD position,” he envisioned things where he could make the University better.
A source told Sports Headliners the final three candidates to become President were all females and high level administrators at other schools. Cabal would be the first female President ever at the University of Minnesota.
Condolences to family and friends regarding the death this week of pro wrestling legend and Minnesota native Larry “The Axe” Hennig. He was a star in the old American Wrestling Association that entertained generations of fans in Minneapolis, St. Paul and other major cities.
Jim Brunzell, another AWA star, emailed with the news yesterday and wrote: “I affectionately called him Dad, and would greet him with a hug and big kiss on the cheek! May he rest in peace!”
Former Spring Lake Park football player E.J. Ejiya, a senior at North Texas, was named this week as a Conference USA all-league first-team linebacker. After graduating from high school in 2014, he became a Junior College All-American at North Dakota State College of Science. His skills and work ethic have him positioned now as an NFL prospect.
Ejiya ranks fourth nationally in tackles for loss with 23 and leads the Mean Green in sacks with 9 (fourth in C-USA). His 113 total tackles are also fourth most in the league. As the top rated defensive player for North Texas, he has a grade of 86.5 from Pro Football Focus. That ranks him 26th among all FBS linebackers.
A side benefit for the Golden Gophers in preparing for Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense in the December 26 Quick Lane Bowl is that Georgia Southern, Minnesota’s nonconference opponent on September 14 of next year, also employs that seldom used system. The run-dominated offense at Southern is coached by coordinator Bob DeBesse who was Gopher OC under Jim Wacker from 1992-96.
Will the Gophers have all their starters for the Quick Lane Bowl game on December 26? Maybe more on that later.
Bud Grant will be at the Triple Crown Sports Card and Bobblehead Show from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday at Southtown Shopping Center in Bloomington. Two of his former Vikings players, Bob Lurtsema and Dave Brown, make appearances from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Minnesota Twins legend Joe Mauer was in the holiday spirit last weekend at Mauer Chevrolet where he was helping build bicycles for Toys for Tots.
Mark Rosen said he is retiring January 10 from his longtime position as WCCO TV’s No. 1 sports anchor. Rosen, whose wife Denise is dealing with cancer, had announced earlier this year he intended to retire from TV in April but he has moved up the date. The 67-year-old started working part-time at WCCO TV in 1969 and will be missed a lot by Minnesota sports fans.
Rosen told Sports Headliners he has signed a new contract with KFAN and will continue a regular role with the Minneapolis FM station. His new schedule without TV but with radio will allow him to be home by late afternoon weekdays. The Rosen family will vacation in Mexico later in the month.
Recently retired Star Tribune sports editor Glen Crevier is interviewed on “Behind the Game,” the Twin Cities cable TV program co-hosted by Patrick Klinger and Bill Robertson. Crevier had a 43 year career in journalism, including the last 20 at the Star Tribune. He is passionate about college football and has visited famous stadiums including Michigan Stadium this year. In addition to cable, the Crevier interview can also be viewed on YouTube.
As the nation mourns the death and also celebrates the life of George H.W. Bush, coaches and athletes could pause and remember the grace and humility with which the former war hero and President lived his life.
Today’s “look at what I did” athletes stand in sharp contrast to the quiet, humble and kind manner in which Mr. Bush lived his life including accomplishments that in perspective were far more important than winning touchdowns, last minute goals and ninth inning home runs. When the heroes from “The Greatest Generation” scored touchdowns, they simply handed the football to the referee. After a creative scoring play in basketball, the athlete from that era quietly headed back up the court to take his position on defense.
Hotdogging after a spectacular accomplishment in sports or another endeavor? Mocking an opponent by wagging a finger, or nodding a head? Not in Mr. Bush’s generation that included all those World War II men and women who came home and were reluctant to even talk about what they had seen and done.
Nobody is talking much about this now but how the Vikings offense performs in the remaining games could have a lot to do with the immediate future of John DeFilippo.
Minnesota’s first-year offensive coordinator has been prominently mentioned this fall for a head NFL coaching job next season. The Vikings’ offense, though, has sputtered with the run game and been inconsistent with the pass. At times the team’s head coach, Mike Zimmer, has more than hinted that his offense needs to run the ball more, and run it better.
Both Zimmer and DeFilippo know the offense is held back by a substandard offensive line, particularly lacking efficiency in the interior. First-year quarterback Kirk Cousins has been on and off, with critics claiming he needs to process faster what is happening on the field, and thereby connecting better with receivers, throwing the ball away when needed, and even executing an occasional scramble or straight line run.
The Vikings rank 16th in the 32-team NFL in yards per game at 360.9. Cousins has thrown for 3,490 yards, sixth best in the league. Wide receiver Adam Thielen ranks No. 2 in reception yards with 1,166. This an offense that has had its highlights including six times scoring 24 points or more, and twice topping 35 as the team has compiled a 6-5-1 record.
Fox analyst Troy Aikman, the former Super Bowl winning quarterback with the Cowboys, gave a shout-out to DeFilippo during last Sunday’s Vikings-Patriots game. Aikman and broadcast partner Joe Buck were delivering news that Green Bay’s longtime head coach, Mike McCarthy, had just been fired.
Aikman referred to the 40-year-old DeFilippo as a “great young mind.” Then Aikman referenced how DeFilippo could fit with a young quarterback, or perhaps a veteran like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, and perhaps approach the offensive fireworks of the 11-1 L. A. Rams. They are among the NFL leaders in both passing and rushing, ranking second in the league in yards per game at 439.9 under the direction of 32-year-old head coach Sean McVay.
“… I think John DeFilippo is worth taking a look at,” Aikman said Sunday in regard to the Packers opening, and the franchise that is Minnesota’s biggest rival.
Internet stories identify DeFilippo as a favorite for the Green Bay job. A 247Sports article Monday by Brian Jones had DeFilippo listed first among possible candidates. The next favorites were Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Dolphins head coach Adam Gase and University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
In a SI.com article last month mentioning names to watch for NFL head coaching jobs in 2019, DeFilippo was described as the “safest bet on this list to be leading an NFL sideline next season.”
The Sports Illustrated article by Jenny Vrentas referred to his success in 2016 and 2017 with the Eagles where he was the quarterbacks coach, and his impact on Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. This season the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles have regressed without DeFilippo and offensive coordinator Frank Reich, now with the Colts.
That 2018 Super Bowl experience should add “esteem” to DeFilippo’s resume, according to S.I. who seems to believe the former James Madison college quarterback is overdue for a head job. “DeFilippo interviewed for the Bears and Cardinals jobs last offseason, and the 49ers vacancy three years ago,” Vrentas wrote.
Before joining the Eagles, DeFilippo was the Browns’ offensive coordinator and he has solid NFL experience dating back more than 10 years. He has worked for several head coaches in the league including Zimmer.
“What I love about Coach Zim is that he’s the same guy every day,” DeFilippo said answering a question from Sports Headliners last week. “He’s knows what he believes in and he holds those values true to himself, the staff, and our team.”
Vikings center Pat Elflein raves about his offensive coordinator. “He coaches with a lot of emotion, very passionate. Loves the game, loves his players, his coaches. He treats everyone with respect and he is always bringing ‘juice.’ He’s always has a lot of emotion behind what he is preaching.”
What about DeFilippo’s football know-how? “He is very knowledgeable about offense,” Elflein said. “He always has a plan for worst case scenarios, (and) best case scenarios. He is always getting us in the right position, so he’s very knowledgeable about all that.”