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O-Line Poses Concerns for Vikings

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December 12, 2017

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A Tuesday football notes column with Vikings, Gophers and prep news.

The Vikings, 10-3, have remaining games with the Bengals, Packers and Bears who have a combined 16-23 record. Two of the three games are at home. If the Vikings are to be upset before the playoffs it likely will be because of the uncertain offensive line.

Injuries to multiple starters had Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wondering yesterday who will be available for Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Bengals. A patched up offensive line struggled at times in Sunday’s loss to the Panthers who put an end to Minnesota’s eight game winning streak.

Mike Zimmer

“When you have injuries, you’re going to have backup players play in there,” Zimmer said. “We’re not going to make an excuse for this game (Panthers), or for players that come in or anything else. We’ll take ownership of what we did Sunday and we’ll move forward.”

While Zimmer could end up as NFL Coach of the Year, his former boss with the Bengals is on the hot seat. The Bengals are 5-8 under longtime coach Marvin Lewis who is 0-7 in playoff games since taking over in Cincinnati in 2003.

It will be 10 years next month that Lewis hired Zimmer as defensive coordinator. Past Bengals coordinators had struggled including Leslie Frazier who was fired after the 2004 season. Zimmer, in his fourth season as Vikings head coach, helped the Bengals earn top 10 defensive rankings in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Bovada has made the Vikings, at 8/1 odds, the NFC favorite to play in the Super Bowl, according to a story yesterday by Nbcsports.com/Philadelphia.

Stats: the Vikings defense ranks third in the NFL giving up 293.4 yards per game. That unit is second best in fewest rushing yards allowed, 88.3. The offense is seventh best in the league with 369.3 yards a game. Wide receiver Adam Thielen ranks third in total receiving yards at 1,161.

Ray Anderson, the athletic director at Arizona State since 2014 who made the surprise hire this month of Herm Edwards as Sun Devils head coach, was once the agent for former Vikings boss Dennis Green.

Antonio Montero, the Eden Prairie senior who won the 2017 state Mr. Football Award Sunday, may decide to walk-on with the Gophers. He visited the Minnesota campus last weekend and plans a trip to the University of Illinois in January where a scholarship offer could be forthcoming from the Illini, he said.

Montero, who also is considering opportunities at the Air Force Academy and with North Dakota State, projects as a linebacker in college after playing that position and running back for the 6-A state champion Eagles. Montero is about 5-11 and 215 pounds.

Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant raved about Montero. “He’s worked extremely hard,” Grant told Sports Headliners. “He’s not the tallest guy. He’s not the fastest guy. He’s just a great player.”

When Grant watches Montero, he sees an instinctive player who had 190 career tackles with the Eagles. “We like guys who make plays, and that’s what he does,” Grant said.

Major college recruiters can miss on players who are undersized. Recruiting is an inexact process for sure. Recruiters make judgment errors on many players who aren’t undersized, too. “I have given up trying to figure out how anybody recruits,” Grant said. “No one listens to me. …We like guys to make plays, that’s all I know.”

Grant has won 11 state championships. His players work during the offseason on physical development including speed and explosiveness. “We don’t worry about how big guys are,” Grant said.

The Mr. Football Award, sponsored by the Minnesota Football Coaches Association and the Vikings, started in 2004. Grant’s had three recipients with J.D. Spielman in 2015 and Blake Sorensen in 2006 also winning the award. That’s more than any other school.

Grant might have a fourth winner next year in quarterback Cole Kramer. He has played 22 games without throwing an interception during his sophomore and junior seasons.

Grant said Benny Sapp III, the defensive back who will sign with the Gophers on December 20, is close to a full recovery after missing all but two games with the Eagles because of a knee injury. “They were able to fully repair the cartilage,” Grant said. “He’s going to be a 100 percent. He’s running. He will be ready to go in probably a month or so.”

St. Cloud Tech’s Brevyn Spann-Ford was the only finalist among the 11 Mr. Football candidates who will be a scholarship recruit in the Gophers 2018 class. Ford, a 6-6, 237-pound tight end, told Sports Headliners his college decision was difficult but he liked the Minnesota coaching staff and the idea of staying close to home. Other scholarship offers included Missouri, North Dakota State and West Virginia.

Burns Bobblehead

Jerry Burns, who turns 91 in January, was at Southtown Shopping Center last Saturday as part of Triple Crown’s sports memorabilia show that included a bobblehead of the former Vikings coach. What did he think of the bobblehead?

“No big deal, a bobblehead of me,” Burns said. “I am an ugly guy to start with and a bobbehead makes me ugly too, so I am happy for it.”

Grant, 60, has known Burns for a long time, including back in the days when Grant was a ball boy at Viking training camp. Burns, a former Vikings assistant and later head coach, is a Grant favorite.

“I loved being a ball boy down there and trying to interpret what he said to the players,” Grant said. “Burnsie, great guy.”

The Gophers Signing Day Social December 20 at TCF Bank Stadium will inform fans about Minnesota’s 2018 football recruiting class. Doors open at 11 a.m. and a buffet lunch will be served prior to the 1 p.m. program. The cost is $30 per person with more information at GoalLineClub.org.

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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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