Dean Dalton, the former Vikings running back coach, was asked about Dalvin Cook’s comeback. The second-year running back has been arduously working his way back into game readiness after a serious left knee injury suffered after playing just four games in 2017.
Dalton said the surgery for a torn ACL is so state-of-the-art, that part isn’t a concern in the recovery process for Cook who could emerge even this season as one of the NFL’s elite rushers. The obstacles for Cook, or any NFL runner who has the surgery, are regaining the physical efficiency of the knee and the confidence to move the same way as in the past and not be fearful of re-injury, and also getting in game shape.
Can Cook be what he was before the injury? “That’s all about Dalvin. I believe he will be fine,” Dalton told Sports Headliners.
Cook didn’t play in the Vikings’ first preseason game last Saturday. Head coach Mike Zimmer said awhile ago he expects Cook to receive some preseason playing time and that his former second round draft choice will be ready for the regular season opener next month.
What about tomorrow’s home preseason opener at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Jaguars? “I don’t know if he’s going to play this Saturday or not,” Zimmer said on Wednesday. “The only thing we’re trying to do is each day we’re trying to stack on a few more plays, (a) few more days in a row. That’s really what we’re…trying to do, is trying to get him in game ready shape.”
Cook said yesterday he can be ready for the regular season opener on September 9 against the 49ers without preseason game action. “Yeah, one hundred percent (sure about that),” he said. “I’m ready to go. Ball is ball, and when that ball rolls out, I’m going to go one hundred percent, I’m going to fly around, and I’m going to do me. …My knee is ready to go, I’m ready to play, and it’s just football now.”
Cook’s return is a key piece to the team’s plan to reach the Super Bowl. Dalton refers to him as a complete back with skills that include being an “excellent receiver.” Catching the ball out of the backfield can certainly be another tool for the offense but it’s Cook’s ability to take a handoff in the backfield and break long plays that has tantalized Vikings coaches and scouts even before he arrived in Minneapolis from Florida State.
Vikings talent evaluator Scott Studwell said this last year about Cook: “He is an exceptional athlete. He can do everything. He catches it extremely well. He’s got great feet, he’s got really good eyes. He plays probably faster than he times . He’s got game speed. He’s got exceptional inside run ability. He’s pretty much the entire package.”
The 5-10, 210-pound Cook is only 23 years old, with potentially a lot of productive seasons ahead. He set a Vikings’ record last year for most rushing yards by a rookie through the first three games, 288 yards.
Dalton is president of the NFL Alumni Pro Day Experience. The first event nationally was scheduled for this month at Eden Prairie High School but will now be held November 10 and 11. The event is for boys and girls ages 13-18, who will have an experience similar to the NFL Combine, and also participate in a Microsoft technology workshop. More at Nflalumniproday.com.
State football coaching legends Mike Grant from Eden Prairie, Dwight Lundeen of Becker, and Ron Stolski from Brainerd, will be recognized at the November event as “honorary coaches.”
Dalton was a Vikings assistant coach from 1999-2005 and since then has been involved with various career experiences in health and wellness, media and technology.
The Vikings, who play the Jaguars tomorrow at U.S. Bank Stadium, are no longer using hard tickets or printed PDF’s. Tickets are accessible via the Vikings app or the online My Vikings Account portal and can be saved to fans’ mobile devices.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins turns 30 on Sunday. Wide receiver Adam Thielen will be 28 next Wednesday.
Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarroccha told the Big Ten Network late yesterday it’s head coach P.J. Fleck’s decision on timing, but the Gophers might announce their starting quarterback over the weekend for the August 30 opener against New Mexico State. Redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan and true freshman Zack Annexstad have never played in a college game but have impressed with their leadership in August training camp.
Ciarroccha said 6-4, 240-pound Seth Green, a quarterback last year who was switched to tight end, is now a wide receiver. Minnesota coaches like the redshirt sophomore’s athleticism and size.
Among verbal commits for the Gophers’ class of 2019 is four-star defensive end Jason Bargy from Momence, Illinois. His pass rushing ability might be superior to anyone on the Gopher roster currently.
Bargy is the only four-star player on the Gopher list of verbal commits, per 247Sports who as of yesterday had Minnesota’s 2019 class ranked No. 26 nationally and No. 7 in the Big Ten.
It will be one of the more emotional nights in Lynx history Sunday when the team and fans celebrate Lindsay Whalen’s career following the regular season ending home game against the Mystics. All fans in attendance will receive a Whalen commemorative card. Whalen’s retirement announcement was well-timed earlier this week, allowing the team and fans to recognize her legendary career in Minnesota basketball.
It will be interesting to see the size of the crowd on Sunday, with Target Center capacity at 18,978. In franchise history the largest regular season crowd is 17,933, a record set on July 7 of this year. The all-time attendance record came at a playoff game in October of 2016, 19,839.
Gustavus Adolphus football coach Peter Haugen speaks to the CORES lunch group September 13 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bloomington, 1114 American Blvd. Haugen, a Bethel graduate, is starting his 10th year at Gustavus after 15 years as head football coach for Washburn High School where he compiled a 76-8 record in city league games. For lunch reservations and other information, contact Jim Dotseth, email@example.com. CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans.
Gary Smith, the athletic trainer for the fabled 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, is in his 21st season with the Eden Prairie football team. Smith has 51 years of experience as an athletic trainer, including working for the Gophers.
Classy move: Ex-Twin Brian Dozier’s full page advertisement headlined “Thank you, Minnesota” in the August 9 Star Tribune. The second baseman, now with the Dodgers after being traded in July, will be remembered as one of the classiest Twins ever.
Enjoy a Wednesday notes column.
Safety and post-season Big Ten awards candidate Antoine Winfield Jr. was fielding punts at a recent Gophers football scrimmage open to the public and media. Winfield, who missed eight games last season because of injury, is part of an “experiment” by head coach P.J. Fleck to determine who will have the punt return job when the season opens August 30 at home against New Mexico State.
Fleck is also considering redshirt senior cornerback Antonio Shenault and true freshman wide receiver Rashod Bateman. Winfield is a redshirt sophomore who probably is Minnesota’s best player regardless of position.
No doubt Fleck wants an athlete with sure hands to become his No. 1 punt returner. He will welcome a playmaker at the position who can advance the ball up field when few could. The Gophers, who struggled to score points last season and could again in 2018, didn’t return a punt for a touchdown last season, or the year before.
Shenault shared punt returning last season with the departed Drew Hmielewski. Shenault had four returns for 11 yards. Winfield hasn’t returned punts in college, while Bateman has yet to step on the field for a college game.
Bateman made some difficult catches at last week’s scrimmage open to the public and media. “He’s like that everyday,” Fleck said.
A four-star recruit in high school, per 247/Sports and Rivals, the Tifton, Georgia native has a reputation for speed, explosiveness and big plays. National power Georgia tried to persuade Bateman to change his mind about becoming a Gopher.
The Gophers’ football schedule avoids three of the five Big Ten teams Sports Illustrated has in its top 15 teams in the nation. The S.I. college football issue out last week ranks Wisconsin No. 3 (predicting a national playoff spot), Penn State No. 7, Ohio State No. 9, Michigan State No. 11 and Michigan No. 15. Minnesota plays at Ohio State October 13 and closes the regular season at Wisconsin November 24.
Eden Prairie, defending 6A football state champs, started two-a-day practices this week along with other high school teams in the state. Head coach Mike Grant minimizes tackling in preparation for the season. His best players might only participate in contact for a series or two in a scrimmage before the Eagles open the season against Eastview on August 30. Excluded from any contact will be starting quarterback Cole Kramer.
Grant has won 11 titles at Eden Prairie since starting there in 1992. He told Sports Headliners the Eagles might have won five more if not for injuries.
A pro football source said the Vikings reached out to 59-year-old Mike Tice about becoming offensive line coach after the unexpected death this summer of Tony Sparano. Tice, a former Vikings head coach with a 33-34 record from 2001-2005, is retired from coaching after most recently working as offensive line coach for the Raiders.
Viking veteran Kai Forbath has a history of inconsistency on extra points. New rookie kicker Daniel Carlson will give Forbath a lot of competition for the job of converting extra points and field goals, and kicking off. This could be the most intense player competition in training camp.
Carlson was 4-for-4 on extra points and 2-for-2 on field goals last Saturday night in the Viking opening preseason win in Denver against the Broncos.
Another battle is to see who emerges as the No. 3 wide receiver. Laquon Treadwell, a No. 1 draft selection in 2016, hasn’t caught a touchdown pass in two seasons. In Saturday’s preseason opener he had one reception for three yards. Rookie Brandon Zylstra, injured and not able to play last Saturday, could not only make the roster but perhaps emerge as the No. 3 WR this season.
Legacy statistic for Lindsay Whalen who is retiring from the Lynx after this season: Since 2011 the club’s record is 60-3 when she has seven assists or more.
Former Gopher basketball player Larry Overskei, a three-year starter from 1967-1970, is retired after 47 years of coaching including most recently the boys golf team at Coon Rapids High School. During Overskei’s career he also coached basketball and one of his players was now Baseball Hall of Famer Jack Morris. At Highland Park High Morris helped the team win two St. Paul conference titles.
“Quick as a cat, tenacious, and a wonderful shooter,” Overskei wrote about Morris via email.
It will be interesting to see how center fielder Jake Cave of the Twins hits the rest of the season. Since being recalled on June 25, he is batting .377 (20-for-53) at Target Field. He has a hit in 18 of 22 games at home this season, batting .358 (24-for-67) with 18 RBI.
The 25-year-old Cave enters today’s home game against the Pirates hitting .273 with four home runs and 22 RBI in 139 at bats.
Williams Arena is 90 years old. It’s one of the most storied basketball venues in America and a huge part of this state’s sports history. The building’s raised playing floor is unique and a focal point of the arena that opened in 1928.
As of this summer that floor has a new look with a gray-white paint job. Included in changes is floor signage more prominently referring to “The Barn,” the building’s nickname.
The floor has gone through various looks in the past, and the change now is dramatic. A half century ago the oak floor had a simple gold-like look, with signage limited to a block M in the center jump circle. More recently the floor has been a mix of gold (aged yellow?) and maroon, with the former having the emphasis.
The new coloring’s intent is to provide a “barn replica” appearance, according to Athletic Department spokesman Jake Ricker. Gone is the maroon border that contrasted sharply with the gold.
I am warming to the barn look but don’t time me with a stopwatch. Judging by photos, the change appears to create a lighter atmosphere in the arena. However, there is so much history and tradition to Williams Arena that my preference would be the simple oak colored floor of decades ago. To me, that appearance best honors the historic venue on University Avenue.
I never have liked references to “The Barn.” The building was named after the great Gopher football coach Dr. Henry Williams. Let’s honor Doc. We’re not rubes with eighth grade educations that play basketball in a barn. Students dressed as barnyard animals? Puh-leeze, not classy.
The Williams Arena floor needed renovation this year because of wear and tear. A bunch of folks at the U came up with and approved the design for the floor. It will probably be another seven to 10 years before renovation will be discussed again.
Ricker said although few fans have seen the floor yet, positive responses out-number negative. I reached out to more than 20 readers of my column for their take on the new look and “The Barn” nickname. They came back with varied views and emotions, with some reviewers saying they want to reserve final judgment until they can evaluate in person (thumbs up).
Here are many of the responses received by Sports Headliners (edited for brevity and clarity):
Jim Dutcher, former Gophers coach whose 1982 team won the Big Ten: “Anything they can ever do to update the building, I am all for it. If that includes the floor, go for it. …’The Barn’ is an affectionate term, not a derogatory term at all. For better or worse, people love ‘The Barn.’ “
George Dahl, a Gopher basketball fan since the early 1960s: “How long do you think a white floor at ‘The Barn’ will last before they spend more to redo it appropriately and maintain tradition? Whose idea was it? Terrible!”
Steve Hunegs, a season ticket holder since 1971: “I love the look. Reminds me of the simpler appearance of the (coach Bill) Musselman years (1970s). Of course the success of the basketball teams will enhance the look of the arena (even more). I have never cared for the nickname ‘The Barn.’ Dr. Williams was a great figure of Minnesota sports history and Williams Arena bears a certain historic power.”
Former Gopher and past season ticket holder Larry Overskei: “The color of the floor is much too light in color. A nice light oak would be preferred. Fans do not want to squint when watching a game. Creativity is sometimes overdone. Let’s just play basketball.”
Sam Sigelman, a Gopher season ticket holder: “Although I will miss the varnished dark maroon, I am open to the change and can’t wait to see the floor in person. While the nickname ‘The Barn’ emblazoned on the floor may be tacky to some, this is a much better outcome than the previous athletic director envisioned. I recall Mr. (Norwood) Teague openly discussing a new arena for men’s and women’s basketball. Considering this alternative, we should all embrace the new floor.”
Tom Klas, a fan for more than 45 years: “From the photos, it appears that the coloring of the lettering (on the floor) doesn’t match. ‘The Barn’ looks to be maroon. However, the balance of the lettering on the floor looks like it’s red. …And how is washed-out gray better than the traditional golden hue that is the coloring of the majority of basketball floors? To sum it up in two words: It stinks.”
Bob Klas Jr., Tom’s brother and a season ticket holder since 1973: “I wouldn’t miss Williams Arena if it were gone. I’m not one who is particularly nostalgic about its history, but unless and until it’s replaced, I think fans should embrace its uniqueness. So calling it ‘The Barn’ is fine with me.”
Pete Najarian, Gopher fan and former U football linebacker: “The new floor is beautiful. But…in my opinion we have pushed away from tradition on too many levels at the best school in the country.”
John Ferril, whose family were season ticket holders for nearly 30 years: “I like the name ‘The Barn.’ It gives it character. I like arenas and stadiums to have nicknames that are more reflective of the people, location, team and sponsors. Names like the ‘The Swamp,’ ‘The Shark Tank,’ ‘The Vault’ and my favorite, ‘The Igloo.’ As far as the new floor…it will take some getting used to. The white looks like a sheet of ice, like a hockey game can break out at any moment. Should be interesting to see in person for the first time, but quite honestly, the reality is that I don’t care what the floor looks like, just what the team on the floor looks like!”
Blake Hoffarber, former Gopher and now season ticket holder: “I think it looks pretty good. I like the fact that they put in ‘The Barn’ (lettering). I think that is what gives it character and what a lot of us fans know it as. I still wish the floor was raised as high as it used to be before my senior year, but it’s still one of the best places to play in the Big Ten!”
An anonymous Gopher season ticket holder since 1976: “My first reaction was not positive, looks like Mariucci Arena. I want to reserve judgment until I see it in person. I always thought the former floor was one of the best in the Big Ten. Maybe they should have had a fan survey to get a consensus before just coming up with such a drastic change. I haven’t talked to anyone who has had a positive reaction.”
Denny Schulstad, former season ticket holder: “There are modern professional stadiums and venues in other colleges, but none are as historic or mean as much as Williams Arena. I well remember the state basketball tournaments played there with people almost hanging off the rafters. The improvements made there have made it much more comfortable while still being historic. Yes, keep the name (‘The Barn’) and put it on the floor. We love it!”
Mark Lundgren, whose family has had season tickets for more than 50 years: “I’m not a fan of the light color, maybe it’s the lighting on the photos. I do embrace the history of the building and like ‘The Barn’ script (lettering). I also think it would have been better to keep the maroon band around the court. I’ll withhold judgment (about the floor) until I’m able to see it in person. More concerned with the team’s play than the floor!”
Bill Robertson, sports marketing expert and WCHA commissioner: “I like the new look overall. ‘The Barn’ is an iconic landmark on the University of Minnesota campus and that term resonates with the rich history of Gopher basketball. I applaud the move by Minnesota athletics in including floor lettering with the words ‘The Barn,’ as new traditions will be helpful in building a robust fanbase and generating more interest in the program overall.”
Tim Kelley, a Gopher fan for more than 30 years: “I like the new floor. I want the U to keep Williams Arena, but the U needs to find ways to update it. I’m guessing a new floor was an inexpensive way to update the arena. I’m fine with the U referring to the arena as ‘The Barn’—that’s the way most people refer to the arena.”
Mike Wilkinson, a Gopher fan since the 1950s: “I’m okay with the new look and ‘The Barn,’ which is a moniker that has been around for several decades and even has recognition outside of Minnesota.”
Adam Katz: “I think ‘The Barn’ concept while charming, hurts recruiting. The Twin Cities…is a destination to build a life after graduation as it is a center for Fortune 500 companies.”
Pete Hoffman: “I saw the new lighter floor on the news and it looks good. I think the goal was to brighten up the place. The U either needs to torch the place, or learn to embrace its age and history as an asset. Kind of like Wrigley (Field) and Fenway (Park).”