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P.J. Fleck Talks QB, Team Record

August 01, 2017 - (0) comments

 

A Tuesday notes column kicking off with Gophers football.

The Gophers start practices today without a No. 1 quarterback but redshirt senior Conor Rhoda and junior Demry Croft are the presumed leading candidates to win the job sometime before Minnesota’s opening game August 31.  A quarterback question was the first one asked during a media Q&A session with head coach P.J. Fleck yesterday.

“The quarterback question is one I’m sure you all have on your minds,” Fleck said.  “I have it on my mind—I’ll be honest with you—every single day, every single night.

“What I’m looking for is somebody to take ownership of our football team. (Florida State coach) Jimbo Fisher had a question from ACC Media Days, (and said) you have a tough quarterback, you have a tough team.

“We have to find out how tough the quarterbacks are. They both played minimum snaps, the minimum of one game. So you have to put them through rigorous, high-stress, high-pressure—(and also) easy, relaxed, type of situations—all  throughout the spectrum to see how they respond to that. Decisive decision-making in everything that they do.”

Fleck won’t put a deadline on naming a quarterback this month.  He said “…eventually we have to make a decision and be able to train that quarterback, so he gets a little bit more reps than everybody else.”

The Gophers were 9-4 last season but most media don’t see that many wins for Minnesota this fall.  The team not only has uncertainty at quarterback but in the offensive line and other areas including lack of depth at key spots on defense.  The program’s strongest unit on either side of the ball is the linebackers.

Fleck isn’t predicting the team’s final record this season.  “I think we have 42, 43 lettermen coming back, which makes us one of the least experienced teams in the country,” he said. “We have a new offense, new defense, new special teams, completely new culture, new way of doing things. Twenty-two (injured) guys who (can) have an impact that are out and we still haven’t seen what they can do, or how they implement with our system.

“Those aren’t excuses, those are just facts. We could go 12-0, or 0-12. I’m not worried about the ‘W’ or the ‘L’—what that looks like.  I’m worried about this team doing everything they can to become their best and reach their maximum potential.”

Fleck and the staff take a comprehensive approach to educating their players in subjects that go far beyond the fundamentals of football.  Those topics range from dating to yoga to Pilates.

Tracy Claeys

True to his energetic style, Fleck stood at a podium when he talked to the media yesterday.  Former Gophers head coaches Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys sat at a table as they made remarks and answered questions.

Fans can attend six practices scheduled at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex: August 4, 6 p.m.; August 5, 3:30 p.m.; August 8, 3:30 p.m.; August 11, 4:15 p.m.; August 15, 3:30 p.m.; August 17, 3:30 p.m.  (Practice dates, times and locations are subject to change).

Jeff Jones, the 2013 prep Mr. Football in Minnesota and ex-Gopher running back and wide receiver, is headed to Fullerton College, a California community college, according to Giovan Jenkins who was his head coach at Washburn High School.  Jenkins told Sports Headliners he spoke to Jones recently about his plan.

Casey O’Brien, son of former Gophers defensive backfield coach and athletic department administrator Dan O’Brien, is a freshman walk-on holder for Minnesota. Casey, who beat cancer twice in his teen years, was a holder and golfer at Cretin-Derham Hall, and won the 2016 Minnesota Football Honors Courage Award.

The Twin Cities Pro Am basketball league has four teams remaining in the playoffs.  Tonight’s games at DeLaSalle High School include Team Jones against Diggs Team starting at 5:45 p.m.  The Team Jones roster features Jones brothers Tyus, Tre and Jadee.  Finer Way Inc. plays EC Playaz at 7 p.m.

Gophers sophomore forward Michael Hurt will play overseas this month on a amateur team for legendary coach Larry Brown.  Hurt will be one of 12 players, mostly from Power Five conferences, who will play for the East Coast Team against squads from Japan, Mexico, Senegal and Venezuela in Madrid, Spain.  The American team will have games against those countries on August 8, 9, 10 and 11.

The Twins acquired relief pitcher Gabriel Moya from the Diamondbacks last week and he could be a name to watch for in 2018. Twins president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners Moya is expected to go with the big league club to spring training, with an opportunity to make the team.

At the time of the trade, Moya had pitched in 34 games for Double-A Jackson, with a 4-1 record and 0.82 ERA.  He was 17-for-17 in save opportunities.  With the Twins Double-A Chattanooga team he is 1-0, pitching 2.1 innings and allowing one hit and no runs.

The Twins gave up minor league catcher John Ryan Murphy who had been a disappointment offensively since the Twins acquired him from the Yankees in 2015 for centerfielder Aaron Hicks. Murphy is exceptional defensively.

VSAauctions.com is offering sports memorabilia including a Ted Harris-signed early 1970s era North Stars jersey, and a team signed 1980 U.S. Olympic jersey.

The late Herb Brooks, who coached that Olympic team to the gold medal and won three national titles leading the Gophers, would have turned 80 this Saturday.

The “Breakfast with Leroy” group will have former Gophers All-American basketball player and now Minneapolis Director of Athletics Trent Tucker as its speaker September 9 at the Bloomington Knights of Columbus, 1114 American Blvd. West.  The public is welcome, with more information available by contacting Pat Rickert at 612-861-3981.

The local Wood Bat Little League Baseball Tournament is August 3-6 and will raise funds to assist youth baseball in Benin, a small and impoverished nation in West Africa.  More at Baseballinbenin.org.

 

Mauer Future Looks Unsure Past 2018

July 30, 2017 - 1 Comment

 

A Sunday notes column leading off with the Twins:

Joe Mauer’s $184 million, eight-year contract with the Twins ends after next season.  What happens then?

“I think Joe has a big say in that in terms of what his interest is in playing beyond the 2018 season,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said.  “I don’t think Joe is there yet (on a decision)—at least I haven’t seen that back from him yet.

“But we’ll sit down at the appropriate time.  I would guess it would be at the end of the 2018 season. Joe will assess where he’s at, where his family is at. A dialogue with Joe and/or his representatives will take place at the appropriate time.”

Mauer will be 35 when next season ends.  The Minnesota native and sports legend has fought through a lot of physical challenges including at least one concussion.  How much more stress does he want to put on his body?  The guess here is that Mauer, a dedicated family man with a wife and two young children, will end his career and retire as a Twin—the only pro baseball organization he’s ever played for.

Mauer is among the team’s leading hitters for average (.280) and has been clutch this season driving in runners in scoring position.  But his production as a hitter is considerably less than earlier in his career when hitting over .300 was routine and his name was among the first to be considered for an American League batting title.

St. Peter referred to Mauer as a “huge asset” for the organization, including because of his high character.  The Twins’ boss also praised Mauer’s timely hitting this season and for putting himself “in contention for a Gold Glove at first base.”

The Twins don’t work on contracts with players during the season so there’s no reason to expect discussion of a new deal with Mauer to receive attention until after the 2018 season.  If Mauer were willing to accept a lesser role (part-time starter, for example) and drastic reduction in salary, it seems likely the Twins would invite him to compete for a roster spot in 2019.

The MLB trading deadline is tomorrow.  Regarding a trade, St. Peter told Sports Headliners on Friday, “I expect on some level the Twins will participate.”

This morning the Twins announced they have acquired two minor league prospects from the Yankees, left-handed pitcher Dietrich Enns and right-handed pitcher Zack Littell, in exchange for veteran left-handed pitcher Jamie García and cash considerations.

Enns, 26, was 1-1 with a 2.29 ERA in seven starts for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season. Enns is on the Twins’ 40-man roster and will report to Triple-A Rochester.

Littell, 21, was 14-1 with a 1.87 ERA in 20 appearances (18 starts) between Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton this season.  Littell will report to Double-A Chattanooga.

Garcia, 31, made one start for the Twins since being acquired from Atlanta July 24, earning a win a couple of days ago against the Athletics after pitching 6.2 innings.  The trade of the established starter to the Yankees will be seen by many Twins fans as an indication the front office is unsure about staying in the race for the postseason and is taking a build-for-the-future approach.  Minnesota has lost seven of its last 10 games, has a 50-52 record and is seven games out of first place in the AL Central Division.

Among reasons the Twins are playing under .500 baseball and fading in pursuit of winning at least half their games this season is their record against MLB’s better teams.  The Twins were swept last week in a three-game interleague series against the National League West Division leading Dodgers.  The Twins are 0-6 against the AL West leading Astros, 2-5 versus the AL East second place Red Sox and 5-8 against the first place Indians—Minnesota’s rival in the AL Central.

That’s a combined 7-22 against three of the better teams in baseball.  In their losses to the Red Sox and Astros, the Twins were out-scored 47-13 and 22-7. Overall, the Twins have shown a lot of improvement after last season’s 59-102 record.

Eden Prairie’s football team starts practice August 14 and coach Mike Grant told Sports Headliners Gophers recruit Benny Sapp III is the best cornerback in the state.  Sapp, a Florida transfer and son of former Viking defensive back Benny Sapp, has never played in a varsity game because of injuries but Grant has seen enough of the Eagles senior to rave about him.

“Most importantly, he’s just a great kid,” Grant said. “If he couldn’t play a lick, we would like to have him.”

Grant will also use Sapp, who has verbally committed to the Gophers, at receiver and as a return man.  “He has tremendous speed and great hands,” Grant said.

Grant wants to get Sapp as “many touches” in games as possible.  That was the mission two years ago with explosive running back and return man J.D. Spielman, a breakaway threat now on scholarship at Nebraska.  “He (Sapp) is probably as fast as Spielman, or faster,” Grant said.

Another Eagle with Gopher ties is junior quarterback Cole Kramer, the grandson of former U football player and athletic director Tom Moe.  Grant refers to Kramer as a “top five quarterback” in the state.  A starter last season, Kramer has added weight and muscle.

“He could go on a college team right now and throw with them (other quarterbacks),” Grant said. “His arm is that strong.”

Grant, who has been coaching at Eden Prairie since 1992, isn’t willing to call Kramer his best ever quarterback because he hasn’t won a state title.  That might change this fall, though, because Grant likes the talent and work ethic of his team, despite having only five returnees on offense and three on defense.

Grant’s father, legendary former Vikings coach Bud Grant, has been hosting annual garage sales.  Mike said three years ago was supposed to be the final one but they keep coming including last spring’s which ended a day before Bud’s 90th birthday.  Mike predicted “still going strong at 91” could be the theme of next year’s sale.

Grant & Boom

The lines were long this year, partially because Grant was selling a bobblehead depicting him wearing a Vikings cap and jacket, holding a duck, and accompanied by his hunting dog Boom. Mike is suggesting a double-bobblehead for next year with Grant and his longtime friend Sid Hartman.  Grant could be dressed in a red check hunting shirt, with Hartman in a suit and holding a microphone.  “That would be perfect,” Mike said.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer talking about where he expects to play 38-year-old Terence Newman:  “Terence is a corner. That is where he is going to play, and if we need him at nickel or safety or some other spot then we will do that, but he’s a corner.”

Zimmer on free-agent acquisition Riley Reiff who is expected to start at left tackle on offense:  “…I really like his demeanor. He’s going to try and hurt you, if he can hurt you. I think that’s going to bode well for us as we move forward.”

John Kundla, who died earlier this month at age 101, received a lot of praise for coaching the Minneapolis Lakers to five pro championships, but he didn’t receive enough credit for providing playing opportunities for African-Americans at the University of Minnesota.  When Kundla coached the Gophers in the mid-1960s he started three African-Americans, Archie Clark, Lou Hudson and Don Yates.  That was a first at Minnesota and unusual in major college basketball where prejudice was part of sports and American society.

 

Ex-coach Likes U Big Ten Title Chances

July 27, 2017 - (0) comments

 

A Thursday notes column including summer optimism about Gophers basketball.

Count former Gophers Big Ten championship coach Jim Dutcher among those who expect a memorable 2017-2018 basketball season for Minnesota.  “At a minimum they’re an NCAA (Tournament) team, with a great chance to win the league,” Dutcher told Sports Headliners.

Amir Coffey

Minnesota returns all but one key player (guard Akeem Springs) from last season’s surprise team.  The Gophers, who had a 2-16 league record in 2016, won 11 of 18 conference games last winter.  Dutcher looks at a roster that includes 2017 All-Big Ten guard Nate Mason, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Reggie Lynch, and Amir Coffey, who was named to the All-Freshman team, and sees an improved win total next year.

“I would think they gotta be in the 12, 13 range in minimum wins, and could even be better than that,” Dutcher said.

National media have the Gophers included in top 25 rankings for next season.  Sportingnews.com put Minnesota at No. 10 in a listing in the spring, and that’s not too high for Dutcher who sees the Gophers and Michigan State as the favorites to win the Big Ten championship.  The Spartans are a consensus top five team heading into next season.

It might be over 20 years since offseason optimism has been so high about Gophers’ basketball.  In the summer of 1996 Minnesota returned all five starters, including all-time great guard Bobby Jackson.  Minnesota won the Big Ten title during the 1996-1997 season and advanced to the Final Four—with those achievements and others later erased by the NCAA after an investigation involving academic fraud.

Summer optimism about coach Richard Pitino’s program also extends to recruiting for his class of 2018.  Three high profile state of Minnesota high school seniors have committed to Pitino—DeLaSalle’s Gabe Kalscheur, Cretin-Derham Hall’s Daniel Oturu and Orono’s Jarvis Thomas.  Dutcher believes landing Coffey, who starred at Hopkins, was a “breakthrough” for the Gophers in state recruiting.  Another factor in play is Minnesota’s new basketball practice facility that is expected to open in 2018.

Minnesota’s 2018 class is No. 5 nationally in the composite rankings by 247Sports.  That’s one of the highest rankings in program history.  Dutcher’s five-player 1978 freshman class was recognized as No. 1 in the nation.  The class formed the core of his 1982 conference title team.

Indigo Thompson, the daughter of Gophers all-time leading football rusher Darrell Thompson, is a junior volleyball player at San Diego State.  She started her college career at Virginia Commonwealth.

It wouldn’t be surprising if she has talked with her brother Race Thompson about playing basketball at San Diego State.  Race, a senior at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School and among the state’s high profile prospects, has verbally committed to Indiana.

Gophers’ offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover was dismissed by head coach Tracy Claeys after the 2015 season but Penn State has turned out to be “Happy Valley” for him.  Limegrover is in State College, Pennsylvania preparing for his second season as the Nittany Lions’ offensive line coach where he will have one of the best “o-line” units in the Big Ten.  Running back Saquon Barkley, a Heisman Trophy favorite, will make Limegrover and the blockers look good on a Penn State team that could repeat as Big Ten champs.

The Vikings are holding their 52nd and last training camp in Mankato this summer before relocating to their new training facility in Eagan.  The absence of the NFL team in Mankato is sure to have an economic impact on the city, with sources as far back as 2010 estimating the annual figure at $5 million.

A July, 2010 Mankato Free Press story reported that in 2009 an estimated additional $5 million in local revenue resulted from Vikings training camp, with more than 50,000 visitors coming to Mankato.  Those figures have likely increased in the years since, but multiple media reports this summer have still estimated the economic impact at $5 million.

Fans can attend practices between now and the close of camp on August 9, but players have off days August 1 and 8.  The Vikings’ first preseason game is August 10 against the Bills in Buffalo.  Fox 9 will televise the game that starts at 6 p.m. Minneapolis time.

Dalvin Cook (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Although much anticipated Dalvin Cook is a rookie, he isn’t that young for a first-year player.  Cook, who declared for the NFL Draft after three seasons at Florida State, turns 23 on August 8.  The Vikings know he could be their replacement for Adrian Peterson after making him the third overall running back chosen in the draft.

Vikings single game home tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. today via Ticketmaster.com only.  Included was the Green Bay game on October 15.

Controversial baseball umpire Joe West, whose confrontations include the Twins, is featured in a seven-page story in the July 24-31 issue of Sports IllustratedPeter Thamel writes that West once ejected Ron Gardenhire before the Twins manager could open his mouth.

Hale Irwin, who will be in town to compete in the 3M Championship next week, will speak to the Twin Cities Dunkers group next Thursday morning.  Irwin is the all-time leader on the Champions Tour in earnings with over $27 million and tournament wins at 45.

Originally known as the Minneapolis Dunkers, the group had its first meeting in October of 1948.  The most famous names in Minnesota sports history have spoken to members over the years—plus some national speakers such as Bobby Knight, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Brokaw and Thomas Friedman.

Minneapolis restaurateur Wayne Kostroski, who founded the Taste of the NFL in Minneapolis for the 1992 Super Bowl, was featured in the July 17-23 Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal.  Kostroski, who has started similar events for other high profile sports, comes full circle next year with the Minneapolis Super Bowl.

 

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