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Unlucky Vikings Feature Limping QBs

October 10, 2017 - (0) comments

 

What’s next for Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford?

A source close to the organization told Sports Headliners prior to kickoff last night against the Bears that Bradford had missed the previous three games because he tore scar tissue in his left knee causing soreness and swelling. The person said the hope was a knee brace would provide enough protection in Chicago to prevent re-injury, and that adrenaline would block out whatever pain Bradford experienced.

But Bradford didn’t look right from the beginning of the game, throwing off target and taking a safety in the end zone because he waited too long holding the ball. “I don’t like his body language,” ESPN’s Jon Gruden told a national TV audience watching the game.

Sam Bradford (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Gruden speculated about Bradford not being able to throw properly off his left foot. Ben Leber, the former Viking working as a sideline reporter on the team’s radio network, wondered if the brace was limiting Bradford’s passing form.

Sometime during the first half Bradford took a blow that clearly re-injured the knee. He began limping, looked vulnerable and was an easy target for Bears tacklers. “Throw the damn towel,” Leber said from the sidelines.

With less than a minute to play in the second quarter, head coach Mike Zimmer finally replaced Bradford with Case Keenum. The Vikings led in the game 3-2 and Bradford had completed 5 of 11 passes for 36 yards.

The source referred to above said that when Bradford was sidelined earlier in the season there was “no structural damage” to a left knee that has been surgically repaired in past years. After the Vikings won last night’s game and improved their record to 3-2, there was no word that Bradford’s re-injury was serious enough to end his season. But today and in the days ahead there will be more definitive information—even if not details about the knee, at least an estimate about a timeline before a return to starting games.

The Vikings are also monitoring Teddy Bridgewater and his rehabilitation from his devastating knee injury suffered over a year ago. Currently on the physically unable to perform list, there is enough time remaining in the season for a Bridgewater return. Whether it will happen is something no one can know for sure but the source who talked with Sports Headliners about Bradford said Bridgewater “is still limping.”

Worth Noting

In Sports Illustrated’s NHL preview out last week the magazine predicted the Capitals will defeat the Wild for the Stanley Cup championship. While talking with Sports Headliners, Minnesota hockey icon Lou Nanne declined to make a prediction on the teams he believes will qualify for the NHL finals. “The league is so close you can go from making the playoffs on the last day to winning the Cup,” he said.

The Wild has never played in the finals. Asked about a major storyline for the Wild, Nanne brought up 33-year-old star Zach Parise who has health issues. “A key is Parise being healthy,” Nanne said. “That’s a big deal.”

Devan Dubnyk

Nanne also said Minnesota needs more production from young players Charlie Coyle, Matt Dumba, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker. He likes Alex Stalock as the team’s backup goalie and said the Wild need starter Devan Dubnyk to perform as he did last season.

The Wild has a postseason history characterized by disappointments. Only once has the team played in the final four, 2003. After an impressive regular season in 2016-2017, the Wild lost its opening playoff series to the Blues. But a late September Associated Press quoted owner Craig Leipold as saying “anything short of winning the Stanley Cup would be a disappointment” in 2018.

The team is winless in its first two games this season but plays in Chicago Thursday night where Minnesota is 4-1-0 in its last five games at the United Center.

Nanne is a regular at the newly renamed Tavern 23 sports bar and restaurant in Edina. He is an investor and said business is up “50 percent in the past month” and that 36 new items have been added to the menu. Happy Hour, with views of Centennial Lakes Park, is particularly popular at the location formerly known as Lou Nanne’s American Grill.

It will be a homecoming for Brad Salem, the Michigan State quarterbacks coach, when the Spartans come to Minneapolis for Saturday’s game against Minnesota. Brad was a Gophers ball boy when his father Joe was Minnesota’s head coach. Brad’s twin brother Brent is offensive coordinator at O’Gorman High School in Sioux Falls, while brother Tim, the former Gophers quarterback, is tight ends coach at Pitt.

The Gophers are one of the youngest teams in the nation, with 50 of 111 players (45%) being freshmen or redshirt freshmen. There are 77 underclassmen (69.3%) on the roster. Minnesota has just 14 players (six on offense, eight on defense) who have started 10 games or more in their careers.

Defensive tackle Steven Richardson leads the team (not including specialists) in career starts with 37, while tight end Nate Wozniak has the most among offensive players with 29. Minnesota has used 65 players this season—13 freshmen, 21 sophomores, 16 juniors and 15 seniors.

The Gophers 2018 football recruiting class is No. 35 in the latest 247Sports composite rankings that have several Big Ten schools ahead of Minnesota, with Ohio State No. 1; Penn State No. 3; Michigan No. 14; Maryland No. 18; Michigan State No. 27; Nebraska No. 31; Wisconsin No. 32.

Amani Hooker, the Iowa sophomore safety from Minneapolis, had an impressive day last Saturday in the Hawkeyes’ win over Illinois. Hooker had a pass interception and ran for a first down on a fake punt to set up an Iowa touchdown.

In that game Jeff George Jr., the son of the former Vikings QB, made his first start of the season at quarterback for Illinois.

Sean Engel, the 6-5 redshirt freshman wide receiver from Chaska High School, has played in four of North Dakota State’s five games and has one catch for 15 yards. The 5-0 Bison are averaging 51.6 points game, while opponents are averaging 6.2.

October 10 sports birthdays include Brett Favre, 48, and former Gophers athletic director Mark Dienhart, 64.

 

Frustrated Fans Target Fleck, QB

October 08, 2017 - 3 Comments

 

Gophers football fans are understandably frustrated after two consecutive defeats, including Saturday’s 31-17 loss to Purdue. Communications sent to Sports Headliners focus on coach P.J. Fleck and quarterback Conor Rhoda.

No surprise there.

Football fans typically direct attention to the head coach and quarterback, two of the most visible and important positions on any team. The Gophers, 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, have lost to mediocre league rivals in Maryland and Purdue. The remaining seven teams on the schedule are more formidable than the first five opponents and that prompts pessimism about Minnesota qualifying for a bowl game—something the program has achieved for five straight years.

The feedback received here is fans want to know why Fleck doesn’t use another quarterback, or have Rhoda become a running threat. Those questions are understandable and expected when after a 3-0 nonconference start the Gophers lose games late in the fourth quarter they could have won.

Let’s start with this. Fleck and his assistant coaches are with the players, including the quarterbacks, every day. That constant exposure gives the coaches the best possible opportunity to evaluate personnel. Fans don’t have that advantage, nor are most fans professionally qualified to make such evaluations.

Fleck is earning a $3.5 million salary and he better know what he is doing. He is charged with choosing a quarterback who best fits his system—a scheme that doesn’t emphasize the quarterback running the ball. His starter must have the knowledge to run the offense, make impromptu and correct decisions on the field, and be a strong and exemplary leader.

Through five games the coaches have determined Rhoda best fits the job description. They have also decided backups Seth Green and Demry Croft aren’t ready to play. They are better runners than Rhoda but Fleck and his assistants have so far decided Rhoda has the best command of the offense, and is the better leader and passer.

Rhoda is instructed by the coaches to use caution when making decisions to run on option plays. Fleck’s concern about Rhoda sustaining an injury sends a message about the lack of QB depth on the roster.

Saturday Rhoda made a first half run and fumbled the ball, killing a scoring drive inside the Boilermakers’ 10-yard line. Late in the game Rhoda came up limping after taking a blow trying to pass, according to KFAN Radio. His physical skills and body don’t appear well suited to running and absorbing a lot of hits during a game. Even in high school at Cretin-Derham Hall Rhoda didn’t make his reputation as a running quarterback.

Rhoda has been an effective game manager and he has completed some timely passes, although he has a few he wishes he could take back. He has demonstrated poise and command. Overall, he has played well within his abilities and what the coaches have asked him to do.

During a football season things evolve, so maybe Rhoda will be directed to run a dozen times per game in the future instead of handing the ball off to his running backs. That could be an indication Fleck is more comfortable using Green or Croft if needed. Perhaps the coach will see enough improvement in either or both of them to provide playing time.

Whatever the quarterback decisions going forward, it’s suggested fans take a deep breath and trust that the coaches have the expertise to know who their best candidate is for the job and what he is capable of doing.

Worth Noting

New Vikings running back Stevan Ridley seems like a third option to play Monday night against the Bears but he’s ready for whatever workload comes his way. “As many as the coaches throw my way, man,” Ridley said. “I really feel confident in that.

“I can’t say an exact number (of carries). I just know that it was more than I was getting last week at the house. I am really anxious and ready to get out there and do whatever I can.“

Ridley was home in Mississippi and football-unemployed last weekend, hoping to hear from an NFL team. He played in one game last season for the Falcons. The 28-year-old former LSU running back was among the final cuts by the Broncos in training camp last summer.

Ridley, who ran for 1,263 yards with the Patriots in 2012, has had two ACL surgeries but believes his physical abilities are the same as five years ago. Ironically, the Vikings added him to their roster because rookie running back Dalvin Cook is out for the season because of a torn ACL.

Being without a team didn’t discourage Ridley from taking care of his body but he’s been frustrated after playing for four teams. “It’s been tough, man. It’s been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of different stops,” he said. “A lot of hoping and praying that things work out.”

Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon will get the first opportunity to replace Cook but with 12 games remaining in the regular season, Ridley could see the field sooner or later.

Ridley has a passion for not only football but hunting and had a new bow he was planning to try out soon. He has been hunting ducks, deer and turkey since he was a child. “Everything I kill, I eat, man,” he said.

Dalvin Cook (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Cook’s explosive running made him an early season candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year. His absence could cost the Vikings a couple of wins because he’s that effective of a playmaker. While Cook goes off the roster, the Vikings do add a potential points-producer in wide receiver Michael Floyd who was suspended for the first four games but seems likely to play Monday night.

Floyd, at 6-3, 220 pounds, brings size to the Vikings’ wide receivers roster in his first year with Minnesota. In three of Floyd’s six seasons with the Cardinals he averaged 16 yards or more per reception.

“Mike is a little faster than people will give him credit for,” said Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “That’s sort of what I factored in after watching him here in the training sessions.”

Floyd is living with Vikings tight end and former Notre Dame teammate Kyle Rudolph and his family. Do the two players talk football around the house?

“From time to time but not a whole lot,” Rudolph said. “I really don’t see him much. He kind of just hangs out in the basement, and comes up for dinner—and that’s about it.”

Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph will get an early birthday present if the Vikings win against the Bears. Joseph turns 29 on Tuesday.

A local sports industry source believes the Twins may sign manager Paul Molitor to a new contract for two or three years at about $1.5 to $1.8 million annually. MLB manager salaries aren’t well document but the source said Molitor’s old contract was for three years and worth about $4 million. Ron Gardenhire, who Molitor replaced in the fall of 2014, is believed to have made $2 million annually.

The Twins and Molitor, 61, seem likely to reach a deal this week or next.

Executive Dana Warg, who used to be with Target Center, now makes booking and entertainment decisions for the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

Congratulations to high school football coaches David Haugen of Pelican Rapids and James Semmen of Lanesboro on earning 100th career wins earlier this season. Both have known career postseason success including Semmen’s second place state tournament finish in nine-man football in 2010, and Haugen’s 1997 Class 2A title in 1997.

 

U Football Revenue Tops Last Year

October 05, 2017 - (0) comments

 

The Gophers have already surpassed last year’s total for football ticket revenue, according to numbers provided Sports Headliners by the University of Minnesota Athletic Department.

A department spokesman reported via email “about $10.75 million in football ticket revenue” has been generated, approximately $3,000 more than the total for the entire seven-game home schedule in 2016. The $10.75 million figure was provided late last month after Minnesota’s first two home games this season. The total includes public and student season ticket revenues and single game sales for all seven home games in 2017.

It’s anticipated that no additional 2017 public season tickets will be sold because three home games have already been played. However, the student season ticket sales campaign started much later than the public sale this year and, according to athletic department spokesman Jake Ricker, more student sales are likely. Also, many more individual game tickets and resulting revenue will be generated in the days and weeks ahead.

None of the Gophers remaining games are sellouts, but capacity crowds are a possibility for the November 11 and 25 games with Nebraska and Wisconsin. Those rivalries are considered premium priced games and they attract thousands of Cornhuskers and Badgers ticket buyers. For the Nebraska game, prices start at $90 and go up to $235, while the range for Wisconsin is $80 to $210.

“We anticipate hundreds of thousands of additional dollars in football ticket revenue …over (last) year by the time this season concludes,” Ricker wrote in an email.

The Gophers had only one premium game (Iowa) last season. While the Nebraska and Wisconsin tickets are pricey, the Gophers did some price reduction from 2016 on early season home games this year, according to Ricker. He also said the cost for season tickets remained the same in 2017 as last year, with the athletic department nixing a long-planned increase in scholarship seating donations.

Although it’s apparent there is curiosity and interest among ticket buyers in new coach P.J. Fleck, the Gophers have been several thousand tickets short of selling out any of their first three games in TCF Bank Stadium.

The athletic department sold 21,985 public season tickets in 2017, 566 fewer than last year.  Ricker said a larger base of season tickets partially carried over from 2015 into 2016 than was in place this year. However, the U sold 1,713 new public season tickets this year, compared with 776 in 2016. The total of new accounts is 688 versus 285 in 2016.

Student ticket sales for this year are at 5,964, down about 1,000 from 2016, but a few hundred more tickets could be sold.

Worth Noting

If the Twins dismiss Paul Molitor as manager—or ask him to make changes with his staff—Brad Mills might be a name to watch in Minnesota. The 60-year-old former Astros manager coaches for the Indians where he is highly regarded. He presumably is friends with Derek Falvey, the Twins baseball boss who was with the Cleveland organization until last fall.

After Tuesday night’s wild card loss to the Yankees, the Twins finished 0-4 in games this year at Yankee Stadium. For the season the Twins were 2-5 against New York and Minnesota also had losing records against other superior teams including the Astros, Indians and Red Sox.

Despite having four of five starters in their 30s, the Lynx brought the energy to win last night’s Game Five against the Sparks, earning the Minnesota franchise its fourth WNBA title in seven years. The 12-woman roster has five players with 11 years or more of professional experience. The titles are rewarding for a core group of players who have been together for years, and owner Glen Taylor whose other pro team, the Timberwolves, haven’t made the playoffs since 2004.

The NBA general managers’ survey was announced yesterday on NBA.com. The Timberwolves and Karl-Anthony Towns did well but a year ago the same experts predicted Minnesota’s Kris Dunn would be the league’s Rookie of the Year. This year 69 percent of the votes forecast the Wolves to be the NBA’s most improved team, while Towns was voted the player GMs most want if starting a franchise. He was also voted the league’s best center and most likely to have a breakout season.

Twelve former players from the WCHA are on NHL opening night rosters this fall including Minnesota State Mankato alums and forwards David Backes and Tyler Pitlick, who are with the Bruins and Stars respectively.

The Wild open tonight against the Red Wings in their new home, Little Caesars Arena, where Stubhub.com was listing tickets last night for over $990 each.

Case Keenum said this morning he doesn’t know if he or Sam Bradford will start at quarterback for the Vikings in Monday night’s game against the Bears.

Purdue has been promoting tickets starting at $10 for Saturday’s home game with the Gophers.

Conor Rhoda

Gophers quarterback Conor Rhoda has rushed only nine times in four games for his 3-1 team. He mostly hands the ball to a running back on option plays and that’s with the approval of Fleck who is concerned that Rhoda stay healthy, playing a position where Minnesota has no one in reserve who has starting experience. Fleck said the mission is to “keep him (Rhoda) healthy, continue to get him to distribute the ball and continue to develop the other quarterbacks behind him.”

Those quarterbacks on the depth chart include true freshman Tanner Morgan who enrolled at Minnesota after the first of the year. A finalist for the prep Mr. Football Award in Kentucky as a senior last year, he passed for over 10,000 career yards in high school. “I think he’s getting a lot better,” Fleck said about the young quarterback who he wants to redshirt this season.

Rhoda has also been impressed with Morgan. “I’ve been around a lot of guys who have come in here as 17 year olds, leaving high school early and (I) know how difficult that can be. He’s grown so much just as a person since he got here, but so much as a player as well.

“I really think the sky’s the limit for him. He’s an incredibly intelligent person off the field and on the field. As long as he keeps working the way he’s working, who knows what he’s going to be able to do.”

The Gophers were among the national leaders in targeting penalties last fall, but not in 2017. Through four games Minnesota is the least overall penalized team in the Big Ten with 16 infractions. “I think we’re a very disciplined football team,” Fleck said.

The Gophers are about 14 months out from the basketball game they committed to playing in U.S. Bank Stadium in December of 2018. An announcement about their opponent has been anticipated for awhile and that could be indicative of not being able to secure a high profile team.

Free advice to the Gophers: schedule an annual nonconference game with either Iowa State or Northern Iowa. The Cyclones likely would have to be home-and-home but perhaps the Panthers would be willing to play at Williams Arena two out of every three years.

The 1982 Minnesota State University Moorhead cross country team, led by All-Americans Randy Goblirsch of Redwood Falls and Keith Haverland from Farmington, will be inducted into the school’s sports Hall of Fame on Friday. The Dragons won conference and district titles, before going on to finish 7th at the national meet. Gophers senior associate athletics director Marc Ryan was also a member of the team but missed the 1982 season because of mononucleosis.

Ryan was saddened this week over the death of music legend Tom Petty, who he saw perform at 25 concerts, in 12 different venues across six states. Most recently Ryan watched Petty in late June at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

 

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