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Zimmer Weighs How Much to Use Starters

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August 15, 2017

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A Tuesday notes column beginning with the Vikings.

The Vikings have their second of four preseason games Friday night at Seattle against the Seahawks.  Traditionally, teams play their starters the most in the third exhibition game, which this year is August 27 at U.S. Bank Stadium against the 49ers.  “Honestly, I am really weighing that a lot,” Mike Zimmer said this morning about how much to use his regulars in game three and before the season starts.

In the third game starters often play the entire first half and even part of the third quarter.  What gives the Vikings head coach pause is potential injuries.  He knows the capabilities of many regulars and wants to protect their bodies in the preseason, but he also needs to know they are in game shape for the season opener September 11 against the Saints in Minneapolis.

Zimmer said he’s competitive and wants to win at just about anything but he also has perspective on the preseason and sees it as a time to teach and evaluate.  “We know what the record is but we don’t really go out of our way to win,” he said.

Is four the right number of preseason gam? “Yeah, I don’t have a problem,” Zimmer said. “Preseason is a lot less stressful to me.  I am not as nervous on gamedays.”

The performance of the offensive line, with some new personnel and presumably good health, might have more to do with determining the success of the 2016 season than any other unit. Last year was a dark time for the group, with too many injuries and shuffling players in and out.  The Vikings had a disappointing 8-8 record and third place finish in the NFC North.

Alex Boone (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Guard Alex Boone, who started 14 games last season, said the line will be improved. Despite injuries, players trying out at different spots and Zimmer still sorting out who his starting five during training camp will be, Boone believes the offensive line will be better.

Boone added, the “biggest thing is getting continuity—you have so many new guys in there and guys are kind of getting shuffled around.” By the opening game next month the goal is to have a unit where everyone is on the same page with how they approach assignments and react.

“Sometimes guys are stubborn,” Boone said. “I am stubborn sometimes. I don’t want to do things everybody else’s way. At the end of the day you gotta look at it as a collective (goal) and say, ‘Is this good for the group?’

“Right now I don’ t think we have any problems with anything. Everybody is kind of on the same board. It’s really getting footwork together and jelling together. How do you see this? How do you see that? How do you want this set? Every day we’re taking steps to get better—and that’s the key to this camp and that’s the key to this league. As long as we keep doing that, we’ll be all right.”

Boone is one of the more interesting and even entertaining Vikings to interview. During the offseason he and his wife Dana took their three young children on a driving trip in a 50-foot RV. They drove from Minneapolis to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, down to Ohio and back to Minnesota.

“It was the greatest time of my life,” Boone said. “I had so much driving for like 18 hours straight.”

Did the kids bother him? “They had an amazing time in the back, just breaking everything. Awesome.”

There’s an assumption that rookie Dalvin Cook will be the starting running back for the Vikings, replacing future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson. While that’s likely to be true, Jerick McKinnon, with three years of experience and a reputation as one of the NFL’s more effective pass receivers in the backfield, wants more than a third down role for himself.

“…That’s what it’s all about. If you’re not here to compete, then I don’t know why you’re here,” McKinnon said.

Moritz Bohringer, the 23-year-old German native and wide receiver who is trying to make the Vikings gameday roster after spending last year on the practice team, has only been playing American football since 2013. Playing for teams in Germany for three seasons and 40 games, he caught 164 passes for 4,327 yards, averaging 26.4 yards per reception and scoring 57 receiving touchdowns.

The Gophers have football practices open to the public Tuesday (today) and Thursday at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex. Both practices begin at 3:30 p.m.

Trevor Hildenberger, the Twins rookie side-armer who got his first Major League save on Sunday in a win over the Tigers, has a 1.57 career ERA in four seasons as a relief pitcher in the minors. Drafted by the Twins in the 23rd round in 2014, the right-handed Hildenberger was even a relief specialist in college where he tied a Cal-Berkley school record with 10 saves in a season.

The Twins are 5-8 so far this season against the Indians, the team they trail by five games in the American League Central Division. With three games this week at Target Field against the Indians, a Minnesota sweep could tighten the division race fast.

It’s likely the Twins will sell a lot of last minute tickets for the series, including tonight’s crowd that perhaps could exceed 32,000.

Former Twins World Series manager Tom Kelly, recently honored with a statue outside Target Field, has his 67th birthday today.

The “clock” is moving fast on first baseman-DH Byung Ho Park, the South Korean slugger who turned 31 last month and is struggling to impress the Twins who acquired him in a much hyped free agent signing in December of 2015. Park is hitting .260 with 10 home runs and 47 RBI in 342 at bats playing for Triple-A Rochester. He has played the entire season with the Red Wings after a part-time showing with Minnesota in 2016 when he hit .191 with 12 home runs and 24 RBI.

The Minnesota Football Coaches Association is reminding prep coaches that annual membership in their organization and the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association makes coaches and players eligible for MFCA post-season awards.

Erik Haula, the former Wild forward now with the expansion Golden Knights, is among the NHL players participating in the summer Da Beauty League in Edina. He will be back in Minnesota November 30 when his Las Vegas team plays the Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

The Wild, in partnership with Minnesota Hockey and the National Sports Center, will host the Mite Fall Jamboree presented by Xcel Energy on September 15-17 at the Center in Blaine. Discounted single game tickets are offered to jamboree participants and families for Wild home preseason games September 21 and 30. More at Wild.com/mites.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers.

Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section.

A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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