Weekend notes and opinions on the Wild, Vikings, Gophers and Twins.
Wild coach Mike Yeo doesn’t understate the importance of tomorrow night’s Game 3 against the Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center. “We have to treat it like a Game 7 right now,” he said.
A frustrated Yeo made that comment at his news conference last night when the Wild fell behind the Blackhawks 2-0 in their second round Stanley Cup playoffs series. Yeo, talking on KFAN Radio from his Chicago news conference, expressed confidence in winning the series but even a casual fan knows the Wild will be all but ready to make summer vacation plans if the team trails 3-0 in the series after tomorrow night.
The Wild fell behind 2-0 against the Blackhawks the last two years and lost both series. Minnesota will need a much better performance tomorrow night than in Game 2 in Chicago. The Wild made too many mistakes including turnovers with the puck and produced one goal (Matt Dumba) during a 4-1 loss. The Wild weren’t sharp including a lax approach on defense.
“I think we were focused on (getting) the win and not focused on the things we need to do,” Yeo said.
The Wild scored three goals in Game 1 in Chicago as the Blackhawks won 4-3 on Friday night. Last evening the team’s playmakers were even less productive. Will there be lineup changes?
Yeo acknowledged he will review a lot of things today but it didn’t sound like personnel changes are forthcoming. “It wasn’t a personnel thing. It was a between the ears thing tonight.”
The Wild has played in 10 playoff series in franchise history and has a 2-8 record in opening games including five overtime Game 1 losses. The Wild has never won a playoff game in Chicago. The Wild’s 4-3 first game loss to the Blackhawks on Friday night was the first time Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk had lost when his team scored at least three goals. Dubnyk had been 22-0-1.
The Wild will host free pre-game parties for fans prior to home playoff games this week outside Gate 2 at Xcel Energy Center. The pre-game party for Game 3 tomorrow night will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday’s pre-game activities will be from 6 to 8 p.m.
NHL alums and Minnesota natives Dave Christian (Warroad), Ben Hankinson (Edina), Reed Larson (Minneapolis) and Dave Snuggerud (Minnetonka) will sign autographs tomorrow night at the party from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s commitment to defense was reinforced during the 2015 NFL Draft. The team’s first three selections were all defensive players, although the club has multiple personnel needs on offense.
First round draft choice Trae Waynes, along with third-year player Xavier Rhodes, gives the Vikings a potential pair of shutdown corners. When cornerbacks don’t need much support from teammates in pass coverage, the defense turns a weakness into a strength.
“You can do numerous things that allow you to attack offenses,” Zimmer said. “But when you have to help a guy or protect a guy—use some more of your guys than you really would like to—then it makes it more difficult.”
Waynes described Zimmer as a “DB guru.” Zimmer’s NFL experiences include being an assistant coach with the Cowboys where he coached all-time great cornerback Deion Sanders. “He coached up Deion, he coached up some other good corners, as well,” Waynes said. “If he can make me into half the player Deion Sanders is, I think we will be pretty good.”
ESPN analyst Jon Gruden raised a concern about Waynes Thursday night when he said the cornerback’s tackling sometimes is a “liability.” That’s a surprising comment since Waynes played for two defensive taskmasters at Michigan State, head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
Waynes attended Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Sports Headliners reader and Gophers football historian Dana Marshall e-mailed that Bradford’s football alums include Melvin Gordon III, a first round selection by the Chargers last week, and Alan “The Horse” Ameche who won the 1954 Heisman Trophy at Wisconsin and also played for the NFL’s Colts. Waynes and Gordon played together at Bradford.
Waynes is projected to receive a $11,567,500 deal from the Vikings, according to a Friday story on NFL compensation for first rounders by Jason Belzer of Forbes.com.
That was Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater announcing the ceremonial “riders up” prior to Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Bridgewater was introduced to the crowd and NBC TV audience as the “former Louisville quarterback”—no mention of the Vikings.
Sports Illustrated’s April 20 NFL Draft issue projected ex-Gopher Maxx Williams as the first tight end being taken in the draft, with the Broncos choosing him at No. 28 in the first round. Reality is he was the first tight end selected but the Ravens chose him at No. 23 in the second round, the 55th overall pick. Although Williams’ pass catching is reminiscent of Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, he was targeted with some concerns on his Nfl.com/draft profile page including the need for additional strength, and “limited feel and instincts as a move blocker.”
Williams is likely to receive guaranteed money from the Ravens but as a second round draft choice he will get a lot less (perhaps a $2 million-plus deal) than the projected $7,746,750 that Forbes.com expects the No. 28 pick selection (guard Laken Tomlinson) to earn. Tomlinson played at Duke and was drafted by the Lions.
The Gophers had four players drafted—the most in one year since 2006. In addition to Williams, linebacker Damien Wilson was selected in the fourth round by the Cowboys, while running back David Cobb and safety Cedric Thompson were fifth round choices of the Titans and Dolphins. The 1950 NFL Draft was the last time Minnesota had four players selected in the first five rounds. Among Big Ten schools, the Gophers and Michigan State with four each had the most players selected during the first five rounds of the 2015 draft.
Congratulations to organizers of the 8th Annual Minnesota Football Honors event held last night at the Hilton Minneapolis. The Minnesota Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame recognized many Minnesotans for their high school, college and professional achievements. Among those honored were former Saint John’s coach John Gagliardi and members of his 1965 NAIA national championship team. Vikings award winners recognized were Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings Children’s Fund Rookie of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year; Chad Greenway, Community Man of the Year; Everson Griffen, Defensive Player of the Year; and Andrew Sendejo, Special Teams Player of the Year. The Gophers David Cobb was honored with the Bobby Bell College Impact Player Award. For a list of award winners, including scholar-athletes, visit Minnesotafootballhonors.com.
Whether Florida pursues Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino probably comes down to if the Gators can interest bigger names in their opening, and what athletic director Jeremy Foley thinks of Pitino based on the young coach’s work in Gainesville a few years ago as an assistant to Billy Donovan who has moved on to coach the NBA’s Thunder.
Coming off the departure of five seniors and a 6-12 Big Ten record last season, the Gophers now are an early choice to finish at or near the bottom of the conference standings in 2016. The roster is in transition and lots of names are on Pitino’s recruiting list, but know this for sure: he needs to reverse the trend of Minnesota’s best preps playing elsewhere. That’s code for landing Amir Coffey from Hopkins High School in 2016 and Gary Trent, Jr. from Apple Valley in 2017.
The Twins top prospect, outfielder Byron Buxton, is hitting better now at Double A Chattanooga. His average is at .287 and he is batting .432 in his last 10 games. He has struggled with hitting certain types of pitches this spring but remains likely to one day be the Twins center fielder.
The Twins have won four consecutive games to go one game over .500 with a 13-12 record. The starting pitchers have a record of 4-0 with a 2.91 ERA in their last six starts.
There’s nothing wrong with being upbeat about the Vikings’ choice of cornerback Trae Waynes with the No. 11 selection in the first round of last night’s NFL Draft. But fans are advised to evaluate the success of the selection in a few years.
The Vikings have made 11 first round selections dating back to 2007, including last night. In addition to Waynes, those selections were for Adrian Peterson (2007), Percy Harvin (2009), Christian Ponder (2011), Matt Kalil (2012), Harrison Smith (2012), Sharrif Floyd (2013), Xavier Rhodes (2013), Cordarrelle Patterson (2013), Anthony Barr (2014) and Teddy Bridgewater (2014).
All 10 of the previous first rounders from past years became starters as rookies. Seven were All-Rookie selections and four made the Pro Bowl. Peterson and Harvin were both NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Peterson was also selected first team Associated Press All-Pro as a running back.
Honors are nice but performance over time is what matters most—individually and contributing to team success.
Peterson will one day be a Hall of Fame running back and was worthy of going even higher in the 2007 draft’s first round than his No. 7 selection. Harvin, despite his superb talents as a slot receiver and runner, became a “headache” specialist with the Vikings—both suffering from head pain and giving it to coaches and management before he was traded to the Seahawks.
Ponder was mostly ineffective and didn’t follow the script to become the quarterback savior. Kalil is supposed to be the team’s franchise left tackle but he’s been inconsistent and sometimes awful. Safety Smith and cornerback Rhodes form half of a talented and promising defensive secondary. Floyd, a defensive tackle, started one game as a rookie and 13 last season, and faces a prove-it season in 2015.
Patterson’s talents—he was All-Pro as a kick returner for 2013 and flashed promise as a receiver—reminds us of Harvin’s skills, but he seems unfocused and perhaps difficult to handle. Barr and Bridgewater teased with their abilities and promise last season as rookies, and left coaches and fans anticipating how much more they can contribute in future years.
The report card is mixed for the 10 players referenced above, and more importantly so are the team results on the field. The Vikings have had losing seasons three of the last four years, making the playoffs once and compiling an overall record of 25-38-1.
That record, of course, isn’t just the responsibility of the 10 first round draft choices. Other players—whether they were later rounds selections or veterans already on the club—are accountable too. Coaches and personnel decision makers are also part of the story. But what would the team record be the last couple years if Ponder had been a franchise quarterback? If Harvin had been All-Pro every year? Or if Patterson was the equal of Harvin in making explosive plays by catching passes and running for extra yardage? And if Kalil was mentioned in the same breath with the league’s best left tackles.
Get the idea? Let’s wait a few years and see what the impact really is of Waynes and past first round draft selections, and how the wins and losses are adding up for the Vikings.
With their selection of Waynes in the first round last night, the Vikings tied the Bengals (1984-1987) for most NFL first round selections in a four-year period, with eight.
Last Sunday’s first round Game 6 between the Wild and Blues from Xcel Energy Center was the most watched hockey game ever on NBC in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market. Late in the game 53 percent of all television households in this market with TV’s on were tuned to the Wild game.
The Wild will host a Playoff Pep Rally at the IDS Center Crystal Court in downtown Minneapolis today from noon to 1 p.m. The Wild face the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs tonight in Chicago. Fans are encouraged to wear Wild team colors on Friday and for future playoff game days. Team mascot Nordy will join former Wild captain Wes Walz, 1995 Stanley Cup Champion Tom Chorske, and others on stage at the rally.
Round 2 Rally Towels will be distributed to 500 fans beginning at noon. One lucky fan will win a Zach Parise autographed jersey. Complimentary raffle tickets will be distributed beginning at 11 a.m. There is a limit of one raffle ticket per person and the winner must be present when announced.
The new Capital Club featuring local sports figures as speakers meets on selected mornings at Town & Country Club in St. Paul. Gophers football coach Jerry Kill will speak next Tuesday. For more information contact, Patrick Klinger, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Talty, the SMG executive working on attracting events to the new Minneapolis Vikings stadium, said a bid will be submitted by the end of May to host the college football national championship game. The downtown facility, opening in 2016, might be the site of the game in 2018, 2019 or 2020.
Among other attractions, the stadium could also host the WWE’s WrestleMania. Talty said the economic impact for a city having the event can be $100 million.
Condolences to family and friends of Verne Gagne who died earlier this week at age 89. Gagne played football for the Gophers and was a two-time NCAA wrestling champion. As a pro wrestling champion and promoter, he made the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association a household phrase in this marketplace. His zest for life and entertaining will long be remembered by Minnesotans.
Gagne impacted the development and livelihoods of many athletes who made careers out of pro wrestling. Among them is former Gophers football player Jim Brunzell who became part of the famous “High Flyers” tag team along with Gagne’s son Greg Gagne. “Verne played a major part of my early wrestling career,” Brunzell wrote via e-mail. “He trained me, booked me, and enabled me to learn my trade from some of the greatest wrestlers of all-time. …
“He was a tremendous competitor, no matter what the activity—wrestling, racquetball, or tennis. He’d just as soon knock your teeth out, than lose! He loved the outdoors, fishing and hunting, and probably would have preferred to live in the early Wild West! He loved his family, and the University of Minnesota, and was truly a modern day icon!”
A sold out crowd of more than 800 is expected Sunday when The Minnesota Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame hosts its 8th Annual Minnesota Football Honors event at the Hilton Minneapolis. See the April 16 issue of Sports Headliners for a listing of individuals being honored.
Twins marketers like this year’s home schedule that has the club playing 48 dates at Target Field between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
New Twins manager Paul Molitor told Sports Headliners the first month of the season and 22 games played isn’t a large enough sampling to know what he’s got for a team including decisions on who deserves to stay on the roster. “I think probably 30-40 games is a little better gauge…so let’s see how it plays out a little bit longer.”
Molitor said on Wednesday morning first baseman Joe Mauer is achieving more “quality at bats” than anyone else on his roster. Mauer, who entered this year with a career batting average of .319, hit just .277 last season. Molitor wouldn’t predict what Mauer’s average will be this season, but as of today he is at .318. Mauer is hitting .366 in his last 10 games, while driving in 12 runs in the past 14 games. “I do have confidence he’s going to have a good year,” Molitor said. “I am just not going to put a number on it.”
Jessie Aney, who won the MSHSL girls singles tennis title as an eight grader in 2011, has joined the Rochester Century High School boys team. Now a junior in eligibility, she is ranked No. 8 among Class AA players in the state by the boys tennis coaches association. A senior academically, Aney will be attending North Carolina on a tennis scholarship next fall.
The Vikings talked with the Cowboys last week about a trade involving Adrian Peterson, according to a Sports Headliners source. “I think he’ll probably move on to Dallas,” said the source who is close to the Vikings.
The source stated yesterday he didn’t have an update on talks, but two of his contacts have acknowledged discussions between the Cowboys and Vikings organizations. Flamboyant Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is capable of putting together a trade offer for Peterson that the Vikings can’t refuse.
“Jerry Jones, you never know what he is going to do,” the source said. “He goes beyond the extravagant.”
The Cowboys need a quality running back and Peterson is a former All-Pro. The source believes another reason Peterson could end up in Dallas is because of his personal controversy. Peterson’s beating of his four-year-old son with a switch last year still draws condemnation from some Minnesotans and others around the country but the source said the former NFL MVP will find more tolerance in Dallas. “They accept that type of discipline,” he said.
A deal for the Texas native involving the Cowboys or another NFL team might be made on Thursday or Friday of this week—the first two days of the three-day draft. Internet speculation of late targets teams like the Bucs, Cardinals and Jags as more likely destinations for the disgruntled Peterson who is under contract to stay with the Vikings.
Connor Orr, writing yesterday for NFL.com, made the case the Cardinals who need a running back to complement potent offensive players already in place and he speculates they might make a trade with the Vikings on Friday. It’s believed a second round draft choice, not a first round, is the most any team will offer for Peterson who is scheduled to make about $13 million (not guaranteed money) with the Vikings this season.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said at a news conference this afternoon about the NFL Draft that his franchise’s view on Peterson remains status quo. “Our position has not changed since all of the statements we’ve made down at the owners meetings (last month). …I think coach (Mike) Zimmer stated it pretty clear that we have no interest in trading Adrian Peterson.”
Vikings Draft Notes
The 80th annual NFL Draft will be held in Chicago with ESPN and the NFL Network televising all three days of rounds one through seven. The first round will be Thursday starting at 7 p.m. Minneapolis time. Rounds two and three will be Friday with drafting starting at 6 p.m. The draft concludes Saturday with rounds four through seven and begins at 11 a.m. Time allocated for each selection in the first round will be 10 minutes per team while the second round allows seven minutes. Teams will have five minutes for picks in the remaining rounds.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Thursday for the Vikings Draft Party at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Current and former players will be signing autographs during the evening. Xavier Rhodes, John Sullivan, Charles Johnson, Babtunde Aiyegbusi, Chuck Foreman, Matt Blair, Dave Dixon and Tyrone Carter are scheduled to attend. Players are subject to change. Check Vikings.com for event details including ticket availability.
The Vikings have seven draft picks but Spielman, speaking at his news conference today, left open the possibility of maneuvering for additional selections. His goal in each draft is to have 10 selections.
The Vikings have the No. 11 choice in the first round and Spielman said there may not be that much difference in the quality of players who will be selected from about No. 7 or 8 through No. 20. He would “love” to move down in the first round and acquire more picks. The Vikings have talked with all the top prospects in the draft except for quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota but are undecided as to who they will choose at No. 11.
Character will play a major role in who the Vikings select throughout the draft and Spielman said the team has eliminated certain players from consideration. The club is also using a consultant to help with analytics and Spielman indicated the Vikings might be ahead of other NFL teams in what they are doing. He didn’t offer details other than to say that analytics can play a role in such areas as analyzing players and where a franchise drafts for certain playing positions on the team.
“This person is a lot smarter than I am in spinning numbers,” said Spielman, adding that analytics is just another tool for evaluation and that studying players on tape and what his “gut” tells him remains paramount.
When the Vikings began volunteer offseason workouts yesterday that was Cordarrelle Patterson’s car parked near the east Fieldhouse door at Winter Park. The car, parked on the other side of where other players leave their vehicles, had the words “flashy” painted on the rear window.
The Vikings chose safety Harrison Smith in the first round of the 2012 draft. He has saved negative comments that were written about him prior to the draft. “I just like to have it as motivation,” he said.
Smith on linebacker Chad Greenway’s decision to play a 10th season with the team: “I don’t think you’d find a guy in the building that doesn’t want him back. He’s a heck of a player, heck of a role model and example for everybody in the building.”
History lesson: Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, who played baseball and basketball for the Gophers but not football, was drafted by the Vikings during the 17th round in 1973.