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.
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.
The University of Minnesota Athletic Department has sold almost 500 more public season tickets for men’s basketball than in early August of 2016. Totals in several public season tickets categories as of August 3 of this year showed increases over 2016, according to figures provided by the department to Sports Headliners.
The Gophers reported 251 new public season accounts and 594 new tickets. Those totals on August 3, 2016 were 63 new accounts and 102 tickets.
The public season tickets total provided was 6,848, compared to 6,141 last year. (No student season tickets figures are published here because the sales campaign doesn’t start until September.)
Although the athletic department is still selling season tickets for the home 2017-2018 schedule, the renewal deadline for past ticket holders was May 31. The department reported 97.8 percent of tickets were renewed, compared with 82.7 percent a year ago.
The “box office” trend isn’t surprising given the unexpected success of last season’s 11-7 Big Ten team and national media optimism about the 2017-2018 Gophers who Sportingnews.com ranked No. 10 in the country. The public season ticket totals will increase between now and the team’s first games in November, and student sales seem likely to surpass those for 2016-2017.
That’s good news for an athletic department which has seen a decline in public season tickets since 2000. There has also been a drop off in individual game tickets sold. In recent seasons sellout crowds have been the exception at historic 14,625 seat Williams Arena.
Minnesota ranked 11th in average attendance last season in the 14-member Big Ten Conference. The Gophers averaged 10,308 fans per game and ranked No. 37 in the nation. By comparison, Wisconsin led the Big Ten with a per game average of 17,286 and ranked sixth nationally.
For years the Gophers basketball product has often been disappointing fans including the 2-16 Big Ten record in 2015-2016. Last season’s 11-7 record was just the third time since 2000 that Minnesota has finished with a winning record in league games.
Coach Richard Pitino, who will begin his fifth season at Minnesota in the fall, has the program trending upward now with all but one of his key players returning for next season. He also has promising newcomers on the 2017-2018 roster led by flashy New York City point guard Isaiah Washington. There appears to be more good news coming with what might be a national top 10 recruiting class in 2018.
A run next winter at a Big Ten title and a couple of wins in the NCAA Tournament could really make ticket numbers jump in the next 12 months. That would be a welcome addition for a season ticket base whose core features aging customers who have been supporting the program for a long time.
One player who likely won’t be in Pitino’s 2018 class is Tre Jones. The Apple Valley High School senior point guard will announce his college choice later today and basketball recruiting authorities will be stunned if he doesn’t select Duke. (Every predictor on 247Sports, for example, says Duke).
The Blue Devils have been on his short list and the successful experience of older brother Tyus Jones at Duke seems like an important factor. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski might be the best basketball coach on any level in the world and has produced a long list of pros.
The Saint John’s-St. Thomas football game at Target Field on September 23 is one of the college games for the 2017 season featured in the current issue of Sports Illustrated. S.I. said: “This one promises to be a thrill for those seeking the purity of ye-olde game: no national scholarships, no national-TV cameras, no football-player only dorms, no leaving early for the draft. It’s just two teams filled with mostly local kids pounding away for bragging rights.”
That was former Timberwolves broadcaster Kevin Harlan and ex-Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon working Thursday night’s Packers-Eagles game from Green Bay on the Packers TV Network. Harlan said the network, including stations in Alaska and Hawaii, is the “third largest” in the NFL.
During Friday night’s Twins-Tigers telecast, analyst Torii Hunter asked broadcast partner Dick Bremer if he will be wearing his Speedo swimsuit Monday. The Twins will have an off day then and Bremer plans to be at his lake place. Bremer’s Monday plans prompted Hunter’s question, and a quick no from the veteran broadcaster.
Hunter’s son, Torii Jr., was drafted in the 23rd round last year by the Angels and is playing center field for the Orem Owlz in the Pioneer League where he is hitting .317 with one home run and 11 RBI in 32 games. The 22-year-old was better known for football at Notre Dame where he was a wide receiver.
A Thursday notes column with golf up first:
Ask Hale Irwin who he thinks will win the 3M Championship in Blaine this weekend and you will hear several names. Yes, he likes Bernhard Langer who won the Senior British Open last Sunday in Wales and is among the hottest pro golfers in the world. Corey Pavin is far down the list of senior money winners this year but he finished second in Wales, and Irwin wouldn’t be surprised if Pavin wins the 3M, a regular stop on the PGA Champions Tour. Irwin–with more wins and money earned than anyone else on the senior tour—believes Pavin “is getting his game back after his surgery” and could win his first 3M title.
“I kind of like the gutsiness of a Corey Pavin,” told Sports Headliners today. “He’s the kind of guy that has proven time and time again, ‘I don’t care how far you hit it past me, I am going to beat you.’ That attitude I love.”
Irwin, who isn’t playing in the 3M, predicts competitive play at the TPC Twin Cities course and the field certainly could produce a winner other than Langer or Pavin. “This golf course…is really kind of wide open for the field,”said Irwin who won the 3M three times. “With the rain we’re going to have it’s going to be soft, so go with a longer (hitting) player. Kenny Perry, who won here a couple years ago, that’s another name that jumps out. Scottie McCarron, another long hitter, he’s playing well.”
What does Irwin think of Langer who won the 3M as recently as 2012 and leads the tour this year in earnings? He praised the German player’s work ethic and preparation, and how well he is playing. “I would say that he’s probably playing at the age of 60 as well as he’s played maybe his entire life,” Irwin said.
The Vikings play the first of their four preseason games next week against the Bills in Buffalo. An opening preseason game is a glorified scrimmage, with many obscure players on the field trying to make the roster. It’s a valuable evaluator for coaches and front office authorities but for fans there are few snap judgments worth making.
What does put some zip in next Thursday’s game is the anticipated debut of rookie running back Dalvin Cook. Fans and media have been looking forward to seeing him since the Vikings moved up in last April’s NFL Draft to select the former Florida State All-American who could as become a starter and Adrian Peterson’s replacement.
Back in May, Vikings veteran talent evaluator Scott Studwell was upbeat about Cook’s rookie season. “He’s going to play early and he’s going to play a lot,” Studwell told Sports Headliners. “We’ll see how it all shakes out.”
Cook can run with not only elusiveness but power. Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Cook is even making improvement as a pass blocker.
“Yes, he has done a good job,” Shurmur said yesterday. “I don’t see any elements of running back play that he can’t be very good at and pass protection is one of them.”
An email sent Monday by the Vikings to past group customers was offering $30 tickets for the team’s final home preseason game Thursday, August 31 against the Chargers. Stubhub.com listed $11 tickets as of yesterday morning.
A Division III single game football attendance record of 17,535 was set last fall at UW-Whitewater against UW-Oshkosh. St. Thomas and Saint John’s could break that record when the two teams meet for the first time at Target Field on September 23. With the Gophers having a bye, the Tommies and Johnnies will have the spotlight college game in this marketplace.
Lindy’s college football magazine includes both the Tommies (No. 3) and Johnnies (No. 4) in its preseason top 25 Division III poll. This is the first time both programs are listed together in any top five of a Division III poll/ranking.
The Tommies, who are the home and host team, have signed up a presenting sponsor for the September 23 game. Twin-Cities-based Oppidan is a property development firm working in real estate, asset management, brokerage services, construction management and project management.
Steven Richardson, the Gophers squatty defensive tackle who is about 6-feet tall and 300 pounds, is working at lifting his hands up quicker after new defensive coordinator Robb Smith gave him that suggestion. Richardson was third-team All-Big Ten last season as a junior.
Do Smith and his assistants use a more intense coaching style than last year under head coach Tracy Claeys and his aides? “Oh, absolutely,” said Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman. “This coaching staff, they’re all over the place, bringing a lot of energy. It fuels us to get us going, and makes practices a lot of fun.”
When the first national college hockey rankings come out just before the season begins, coach Don Lucia’s Gophers will be in the top 10—maybe top five. Minnesota will be the highest ranked Big Ten team in a league where newcomer Notre Dame might have been more powerful but was hurt by players turning pro early and Wisconsin is still rebuilding.
The Twin Cities Pro Am basketball league has its playoff championship game at DeLaSale High School tonight starting at 6:30 p.m. with Team Jones playing Errol Carlstrom Playaz.
Saint John’s will be among the favorites to win the men’s MIAC basketball title next season. The Johnnies return all their starters including all-league first teamers David Stokman and Tyler Weiss. Stokman, a guard, and Weiss, a post player, are high percentage shooters.
Stokman led the MIAC in three point field goal percentage last season at 50.3 percent. “He is an incredible shooter, one of the best pure shooters I have seen,” an MIAC follower and college administrator told Sports Headliners via email.
Weiss was second in MIAC field goal percentage, making 59.2 percent of his shots and trailing Bethel junior center Derek Magnuson (62 percent).