Friday, Apr. 29, 2016


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Viking Pick Promising, But No Certainty

April 29, 2016 - (0) comments

 

It was a no-brainer for the Vikings to use their first round pick in last night’s NFL Draft to select Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.  It’s far from certain, though, how much he will help the team—and how soon.

While the Vikings have needs in the offensive line and at safety, adding a quality wide receiver is the franchise’s major personnel need.  The Vikings WR group caught only six touchdown passes last season.

The hope is Treadwell can help boost production immediately.  The 20-year-old 6-2, 222-pound Treadwell is known as a physical pass catcher who can go up and take the ball away from defenders.

In its April 18 issue rating NFL Draft prospects, Sports Illustrated ranked Treadwell No. 1 among wide receivers.  The magazine praised his ability to push around defensive backs and be dominant in the air.

Mike Zimmer

Mike Zimmer

After selecting Treadwell last night, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer described him as “the best blocking receiver I’ve ever seen.”  General manager Rick Spielman listed several of Treadwell’s attributes including his work ethic.  Indeed, the Vikings must have been sold on Treadwell’s attitude because in two seasons coaching here Zimmer has let the world know he won’t tolerate poor work habits.

What the Vikings didn’t acquire in Treadwell is speed.  The call for a fast receiver to open up the long range passing game has been heard for quite awhile now, but that’s not Treadwell, who ran a slow 4.63 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine.  It could be challenging for Treadwell to get separated from quick cornerbacks in the NFL.

Last night ESPN draft analyst Jon Gruden had another word of caution.  “He’s got to catch the football better to be great,” Gruden said.  “There’s just too many times he lacks concentration.”

The months and years ahead will show what Treadwell can do but Vikings fans can feel some optimism looking back at the influence of Speilman.  The franchise has made 11 first round selections going back to 2007 and 10 were starters in their rookie seasons, seven were All-Rookie picks, and four were Pro Bowlers as rookies.

Worth Noting

There’s speculation that next season will be Adrian Peterson’s last with the Vikings because of his advanced age and compensation for a pro running back.  It’s been thought for awhile he might end his career with the Cowboys but that seems unlikely after Dallas used its first round draft choice last night to select Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott.  With his power and speed, Elliott could be an AP clone.

Elliott, chosen No. 4 by the Cowboys, was one of three Buckeyes selected in the top 10 last night.  A total of five Ohio State players were chosen in the first 20 selections.

Minnesota sports trivia master Dave Mona e-mailed that despite successes as college running backs, ex-Gophers haven’t gained a lot of rushing yards in the NFL.  He researched 15 prominent U runners going back to the 1960s and learned the following:  “Six of them had no NFL carries. That group includes Thomas Hamner, Tellis Redmon, Amir Pinnix, Garry White, Chris Darkins and Barry Mayer.  The leading rusher, by far, is Marion Barber III with 4,780 yards and 53 touchdowns.  His college running mate, Laurence Maroney, was second at 2,504 and 21.”

Darrell Thompson

Darrell Thompson

Darrell Thompson, the Gophers all-time leading career rusher, ran for 1,641 yards and seven touchdowns during five years with the Packers.  His totals placed third on Mona’s list behind Barber and Maroney.

Multiple media reports during the last several days have Benilde-St. Margaret’s offensive lineman Eric Wilson verbally committing to Harvard and declining offers from other schools including the Gophers.  Wilson will be a high school senior next fall and is a Rivals.com three-star recruit.

Tickets are available for the Jerry Kill Roast & Toast May 6 at Jax Café.  The event starts at noon and is sponsored by the Minnesota Minute Men.  Proceeds benefit the Chasing Dreams program for children through the Epilepsy Foundation.  Jim Carter, Dave Lee, Joel Maturi, Mike Max and Ron Stolski will be among those roasting the former Gophers football coach.  Dick Jonckowski will emcee.  More information is available at Minutemen.com, or by calling Claud Allaire at 952-913-6502.

Former Gophers football coach Jim Wacker, who died in 2003, would have been 79 yesterday.

A memorial service for former Gophers All-Big Ten linebacker Bill Light will be held tomorrow (Saturday) starting at 11 a.m. at Westwood Community Church in Chanhassen, 3121 Westwood Drive.  A lunch at the church will follow.  Condolences to Bill’s wife Julie, children, other family and many friends.

Former Gophers basketball trainer Roger Schipper and his wife are relocating to Naples, Florida.

Some fans attending this evening’s Twins-Tigers game at Target Field purchased Wrestling Night VIP Packages.  Perks include a Twins wrestling mask, and private meet and greet with pro wrestling legends “Jumpin” Jim Brunzell, Greg Gagne, Larry “The Axe” Hennig and Baron Von Raschke.

Glenn Caruso, who coached the Tommies last year to the Division III football title game, is proud his team placed first among 3,500-plus national student fundraising groups generating monies to support Memphis-based St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  His team raised nearly $40,000 in donations in 2015-16, a record total, according to Tommiesports.com.  The website reported the total tripled the UST amount from the previous school year and is the most any single organization has generated for the national effort called Up ‘Til Dawn that raises money for St. Jude.

Former Timberwolves president Bob Stein told Sports Headliners when he was assembling a staff for the Minnesota expansion team years ago he wanted Scott Layden to be the franchise’s first general manager.  Layden was working for the Jazz in the late 1980s and declined Stein’s offer.  Last week Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor hired Layden to become his GM, taking him away from the Spurs where he was assistant general manager.

It might be a couple of weeks before new Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau decides on his assistant coaches and other staff.  A sentimental choice with the public, of course, is Ryan Saunders who was hired as an assistant by his late father Flip two years ago.  It will be a surprise if Ryan isn’t given a continued assignment with the franchise.

The Lynx are considering multiple sites in the metro area for playing home games in 2017 while Target Center is renovated.  The WNBA team will be able to work around arena renovation this summer for its 2016 schedule.

Horse racing analyst Kevin Gorg guests on the KARE 11 Saturday show tomorrow morning about 9:35 a.m. and will talk about the May 7 Kentucky Derby, a popular wagering day at Shakopee’s Canterbury Park.  Nyquist might be an early favorite for winning the Derby.

 

The Kid Sure Looked Like Prince

April 27, 2016 - (0) comments

 

In the days since Prince’s death last week, it seems like most of the world has a story about him.  I thought I had one, too.

Back in the early 1970s my ninth grade boys basketball team, the Ramsey All-Stars, played Bryant Junior High whose roster included a really small kid with a big Afro.  After Prince became famous, I thought the little guy was him.  This made a nice memory for a long time because not only did my Ramsey team defeat our south Minneapolis rivals, but we played against a future music legend.

Uh, oh.

A couple of days ago I called one of the Ramsey players I coached.  He let the air out of my balloon pronto, telling me Prince was a few years younger than my bunch and the mysterious little guy we played back in the day wasn’t Prince Rogers Nelson.

So I turned to my friend Al Nuness, the former Gophers basketball captain who has true Prince stories in his “memory bank.”  Nuness took a job as a physical education teacher and basketball coach at Central High School in 1971.  At the time Prince was at Bryant, the junior high school located near Central.  Prince was drawn to basketball and so was his brother Duane and Prince’s best friend Paul Mitchell.

Al Nuness

Al Nuness

It didn’t take Nuness long to meet up with the threesome who regularly rode their bikes over to Central.  “These guys would sneak into the Central gym, and they would bring their dog with them,” Nuness told Sports Headliners.  “My office had a window that looked right into the gym.  I would see these kids and I heard this dog barking.  I’d chase these guys out of the gym at least three days a week.  I have no idea how they got (in) there. …They were good kids.”

Prince eventually played on the Central sophomore team but never the varsity.  “He was a good player,” Nuness remembered.  “He loved basketball.  He was quick, (but) he was small.  Prince was 5-6 in his high heel shoes.  He was probably 5-2 in his stocking feet.”

At Central it was evident music, not hoops, was Prince’s future.  Nuness and others saw he was a natural.  “This kid could not read music.  He played everything by ear.  He could play five instruments.  He was the music guy in school.”

Prince was even part of a band while at Central.  “They were playing for adult parties back when they were in high school,” Nuness said.

When Nuness became a sales and community affairs executive for the startup Timberwolves franchise in the late 1980s, he called Prince’s office.  Nuness wanted to make sure the basketball-loving Prince had the opportunity to purchase prime seats to watch Minneapolis’ new NBA franchise.

The person who answered the telephone at Prince’s office didn’t know Nuness and said he didn’t believe his boss was interested in tickets.  “I said, ‘Will you tell Prince coach Nuness called?’

“The guy called me back five minutes later and said, ‘Hey, I am really sorry.  I didn’t know.  Yes, Prince wants to talk to you.  Yes, he wants season tickets.’

“The guy was very apologetic.”

There was another time Nuness learned the famous entertainer hadn’t forgotten about the coach who many years before had chased him out of the gym.  Kelly Smith, a young lady who was a friend of the Nuness family, was a Prince fanatic and formed a Prince fan club in Chicago.  Smith called Nuness because she remembered his Central connection to Prince.  Nuness responded by sending her an old Central yearbook that included Prince—but that wasn’t the end of hearing from Smith.

“She just went crazy (after receiving the yearbook), and so she calls me back and she says, ‘I need something.’

“I said, ‘What do you need now, Kelly?’  She says, ‘Can you get a picture of Prince in front of his house?’

“I said, ‘What?  Prince doesn’t give pictures out.  He doesn’t do stuff like that.’

“She said, ‘Oh, but I know you can get it for me.’

“I called his brother Duane.  I said, ‘Duane, I need you to get me a picture of Prince in front of his house.’

“He said, ‘Coach, you want me to do what (then)’?

“I said, ‘Duane, this is coach Nuness.  You tell Prince that coach Nuness wants a picture of him in front of his house.’  This is when he lived on Lake Riley in Chanhassen and had that purple house.

“He said, ‘All right, coach.’

“A week later I got a picture in the mail—Prince sitting on top of his car in front of his house.  I sent it to Kelly.

“I said, ‘Kelly, don’t ask me for anything else.’ ”

 

U Boosters Voice Concerns to Governor

April 25, 2016 - (0) comments

 

Jim Carter thought it was an idea going nowhere.  Carter’s friend Jim Brunzell told him a few weeks ago he requested a meeting with Governor Mark Dayton to talk about University of Minnesota athletics.

Not only did the Governor’s office respond but a lunch meeting was scheduled with Brunzell, Carter and Alvin Ray Hawes.  Last Friday the three U alums met with Dayton at the Governor’s residence in St. Paul.  Shannon Patrick, Dayton’s senior policy advisor for higher education, was also there.

Brunzell, Dayton, Carter and Hawes.

Brunzell, Dayton, Carter and Hawes.

Brunzell, Carter and Hawes played football together at Minnesota in the late 1960s.  They and many other Gophers boosters have been concerned for some time about the school’s leadership in athletics, and the performances and reputations of football, and men’s basketball and hockey—the highest profile sports at the University and major producers of revenues contributing to a $100 million annual budget supporting 25 men’s and women’s sports.

Carter came to the meeting with a list of facts and concerns including how long it’s taking to find a permanent athletic director, how fundraising is stalled on the $190 million Athletes Village project, the missed opportunity to place former football coach Jerry Kill in a high level position within the Athletic Department, how department monies have been used inefficiently, and how the revenues, culture and image of the department could be much better.

“We just wanted the Governor to know how frustrated we are,” Carter said of the meeting.  “How frustrated we’ve been with the lack of pursuit of excellence in athletics at the University.  With the long time—almost a year now—to put an athletic director in place.  What we see with continuing issues in the Athletic Department that make us wonder where the tradition of the Golden Gophers has gone.  We shared that with the Governor.

“It was very positive (the discussion), not mudslinging.  We talked with him…and discovered he’s got the same love for Golden Gophers football, hockey, basketball, and many of the sports that we all do.”

The Governor, 69, is about the same age as Carter, Brunzell and Hawes.  A Minneapolis native, Dayton grew up in Minnesota and loved hockey.  He was an all-state goalie for Blake and followed Gophers hockey and football teams.  “He seemed to be one of us,” Carter said.

Carter said during lunch Dayton expressed similar concerns to what his visitors voiced.  Dayton also recalled an offer he made to former Gophers athletics director Norwood Teague and later to interim AD Beth Goetz.  Dayton is willing to use his residence to help the Athletic Department, including to host Gopher donors.  While Teague didn’t take him up on the offer, Goetz has scheduled a dinner.

What may transpire from the meeting last Friday?  “I think the only thing that we could expect for him to do would be to use influence,” Carter said.  “Not financial necessarily but he speaks with the president of the University.  He speaks with people over there.”

Vikings & NFL Draft

The Vikings have eight selections in next week’s NFL Draft and a priority should be finding a speed receiver who runs disciplined routes.  At least that’s the opinion of former Viking Bob Lurtsema who remains close to the franchise.

Lurtsema is an admirer of third-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater who he said “can throw the ball” but doesn’t receive enough praise from the media.  Bridgewater ranked No. 22 in the NFL last season with 3,231 passing yards.  The 23-year-old had a just okay 88.7 passer rater.

Teddy Bridgewater (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings).

Teddy Bridgewater (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings).

It takes awhile for young quarterbacks to establish themselves but Lurtsema believes Bridgewater’s numbers and the perception of him would be more positive if his wide receivers ran better routes than they did last season.  Bridgewater, he said, often made superior judgments compared to his targets.

“They (wide receivers) would come off the routes,” Lurtsema said.  “They weren’t reading the same (as Bridgewater).  A lot of it is the responsibility of the receiver.”

Lurtsema hopes to see improvement among the wide receivers next season.  “You talk to the players themselves and you talk to them off the record, they tell you all the little things that Teddy Bridgewater can do,” Lurtsema said.

The first of the Vikings’ eight selections comes Thursday night when Minnesota has the No. 23 pick in the first round.  Mock drafts frequently project the Vikings will use the selection on a wide receiver, perhaps TCU’s Josh Doctson, Notre Dame’s Will Fuller or Ohio State’s Mike Thomas.  All three have first round credentials but on their NFL.com profiles none draws praise for route running.

The Vikings will also draft No. 23 in rounds two through five, then No. 5 in the sixth round, and 19th and 23rd in the seventh and final round.  The first round begins at 7 p.m. CDT Thursday.  Rounds two and three start at 6 p.m. Friday, while rounds four through seven begin at 11 a.m. Saturday.  All three days of the draft from Chicago will be televised by ESPN and the NFL Network.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman meets with the media tomorrow (Tuesday) to preview the draft.

Lurtsema talking about 33-year-old linebacker Chad Greenway who has decided to play an 11th season for the Vikings and whether a player that age slows down:  “You might lose a half a step but your experience picks up a half a step—so you’re still a pretty good athlete.”

 

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