A Tuesday notes column including a former teammate’s perspective on ageless Terence Newman, and speculation about who the state’s most coveted 2019 prep football recruit will choose for college tonight.
That was no golden parachute the Vikings gave the 39-year-old cornerback Newman by re-signing him. He started seven of 16 regular season games last year, and could even be a regular again.
“Oh, for sure,” said Ben Leber. “There’s definitely a little bit of a step that he’s lost, but he’s still better than 80 percent of the rookies and the young guys out there.”
Leber, the retired Vikings’ linebacker who provides analysis during team radio broadcasts, played with Newman at Kansas State where the former Wildcat was also a track star. Leber estimates his former teammate still has “90 percent” of his top football speed.
Newman’s 15 years of experience allows him to mentor other defensive backs, and to use his knowledge most effectively for his own benefit. “His mind is invaluable as far as leadership…(he also) puts himself in the right position,” Leber said. “You watch the way he plays the game now. He’s so precise with his angles. He knows exactly where the receivers are going to end up.”
Newman is returning for his fourth season with Minnesota. He has the most career interceptions (42) among active NFL players and is the oldest active defensive player in the league. He has participated in 47 games with the Vikings, making 33 starts.
It wouldn’t surprise Leber if the Vikings and Newman agree on another contract a year from now. He describes Newman as “a machine,” while acknowledging people may kid the veteran about playing at such an advanced age.
“If you’re 39 going on 40 and you still have sweet hips like he does, no, you’re not old,” Leber said. “It’s fun to rib him about it because it just doesn’t happen in our league. But he’s definitely put himself in position to earn that, keep doing it and to keep collecting checks—and to keep chasing that (first Super Bowl) championship.”
Sounds like Edina’s Quinn Carroll will announce Notre Dame as his college choice tonight on KARE 11. The offensive tackle is among the most sought after prep players in the country for the class of 2019 and he has shown considerable interest in the Golden Gophers, but I will be surprised if Carroll doesn’t verbally commit to the Fighting Irish during the 10 p.m. newscast of the Minneapolis NBC affiliate.
“I would be absolutely flabbergasted if it’s not the Notre Dame Fighting Irish,” said Ryan Burns of GopherIllustrated.com. “They’ve been the consensus favorite here for many months.”
Burns believes Notre Dame’s football prestige and the Catholic focus of the school favors an ultimate commitment for the Irish. “It also doesn’t hurt that Notre Dame just had two offensive linemen go in the top nine picks of the NFL Draft, while Minnesota hasn’t had an offensive lineman drafted since 2006,” Burns said.
Carroll’s dad, Jay, was a tight end for the Gophers and named the team’s Outstanding Offensive Player in 1983. Burns estimates the younger Carroll has visited the Minnesota campus more than 10 times since Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck was hired in January of 2017. “It’s not every day you see a guy keep coming back to campus…and not end up choosing the University of Minnesota,” Burns said about so many unofficial visits.
Burns predicts the Gophers will finish as Carroll’s No. 2 choice. As of late the Gophers have been “bridesmaids” on high profile recruits including Council Bluffs, Iowa quarterback Max Duggan who chose TCU.
Fleck received good news recently when the NCAA granted medical redshirts to two of his more promising young players. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and wide receiver Demetrius Douglas, both 19, have been given additional eligibility following injuries last season. Winfield will be a redshirt sophomore next season, and Douglas a redshirt freshman.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said at Sunday’s Minnesota Football Honors Awards that coach Mike Zimmer wanted to use the team’s first round draft choice on an offensive tackle but Spielman and the scouting department opted for cornerback Mike Hughes.
Jake Wieneke, the free agent wide receiver from Maple Grove signed after the NFL Draft by the Vikings, prompts comparisons with Adam Thielen but Wieneke had a much more impressive college career. Wieneke was named to All-America teams all four seasons at South Dakota State and is the Missouri Valley Conference’s all-time leader in career receptions and receiving yards. Detroit Lakes native Thielen, who was signed as a free agent by the Vikings in 2013, has become one of the NFL’s better wide receivers but in college at Minnesota State his highest honor was being named All-Northern Sun Conference South Division as a senior.
A source close to the Wild told Sports Headliners there probably isn’t anyone within the organization that will fit the candidate pool to possibly become owner Craig Leipold’s next general manager.
Former North Star and ex-Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton is interested in the position. He said on WCCO Radio’s “Sports Huddle” on Sunday that he has spoken with Leipold.
Former Sharks and Kings executive Dean Lombardi, with ties to the old North Stars, might be another name to follow.
While Wild GM Chuck Fletcher was let go last week, it appears head coach Bruce Boudreau will return for a third season. No NHL coaches were fired during the regular season for the first time since the 1960s.
Kevin Gorg, the Fox Sports North reporter on Wild and Twins games, will be sharing his wagering expertise again this year at Canterbury Park which opens for live racing Friday. He’s sold a $2 tip sheet at the Shakopee racetrack for years.
Not a good start for new Twins pitching coach Garvin Alston whose staff has an American League second worst ERA of 5.29. Dating back to last Friday’s first game of the homestand, the Twins have given up 30 runs in four games.
The inaugural Cretin-Derham Hall Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet will be May 17 at the University of St. Thomas. Matt Birk, Joe Mauer and Chris Weinke are among those who will be inducted.
Early birthday wishes: Lynx point guard and Gopher women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen turns 36 on May 9.
Coach P.J. Fleck’s 2019 recruiting class has several verbal commits so far with one of the most recent being St. Charles, Illinois cornerback Tyler Nubin who announced earlier this month he wants to play for the Golden Gophers.
Ryan Burns, the recruiting authority from GopherIllustrated.com, told Sports Headliners he’s intrigued by the defensive back who has also been pursued by Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State. “If you were to kind of scope a defensive back from clay, this is how you would want him to look,” Burns said about Nubin who is reportedly over 6-feet and 180-pounds.
“That’s why so many schools have come after him. He was an absolute ballhawk as a sophomore and that’s how he got on the radar of so many teams. Then as a junior nobody threw at him, but he has a lot of physical attributes that Minnesota really needs in their defensive secondary.”
Among other verbal recruits for 2018 is Eden Prairie quarterback Cole Kramer, the grandson of former Gopher football player and athletic director Tom Moe. Kramer might be an undervalued recruit, and Burns said he is “higher than most of our fan base” on the QB who helped the Eagles to the Class 6A state title last fall. Burns added, “I am excited to see what he is going to do at (development) camps here in the next few weeks. …”
Burns said Kramer could be the only QB recruit for 2019 now that nationally hyped Council Bluffs, Iowa quarterback Max Duggan said no to Minnesota. Burns referenced that Fleck and the Gophers spent “over a year” pursuing Duggan who earlier this month verbally committed to TCU. Burns heard Duggan prefers the smaller campus of TCU and warmer weather of Texas.
“That (Duggan’s decision) was something that I don’t think anybody was really expecting,” Burns said. “Minnesota, from all indications, was the favorite going into that final (recruiting) visit,” said Burns who also noted TCU head coach Gary Patterson never came north to see Duggan.
It looks like even without a second quarterback in the class of 2019, Minnesota will have a young roster at that position a year from now. The Gophers have no returning quarterbacks from 2017 with game experience.
Asked about expectations for 2018, Burns said, “I don’t think it could be any worse than what they saw last year because Demry Croft graded out as the second worst quarterback in Division I football per Pro Football Focus. Conor Rhoda left a lot to be desired in the running game, and with his decision-making, which ultimately got him benched.”
After the April 12 Spring Game Gopher fans came away disappointed by the performance of Victor Viramontes who completed one of three passes for one yard, and fumbled twice. Viramontes came to Minnesota rated by 247/Sports this winter as the No. 1 ranked dual-threat QB coming out of junior college. After watching Viramontes several times in spring practices, Burns is keeping an open mind about who will be announced as the starter for the first game next August.
“I don’t think this is a race that is close to being shut because I think Vic is going to have a strong summer,” Burns said. “I think he has a bad taste in his mouth…with how hard of a worker (he is) that should be good news for Gophers fans.”
Tanner Morgan, who will be a redshirt freshman next season, and incoming true freshman Zack Annexstad were impressive in the Spring Game. The way Burns sees it, Morgan is the “front runner” coming out of spring practices but Annexstad, who impressed with his poise, is part of the three-man competition. He completed 11 of 18 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown in the Spring Game. Morgan was 18 of 28 for 272 yards and no touchdowns.
Louis Riddick, talking on ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage Thursday night, said the Redskins upgraded at quarterback when acquiring Alex Smith while seeing Kirk Cousins depart for the Vikings where he will be the NFL’s top paid quarterback.
Quoting GM Rick Spielman last night on his confidence whether the Vikings’ biggest needs were met in the three-day NFL Draft: “I think we had a lot of needs. I think we wanted to go out and just sign the best football players we can and create as much competition at each position as we can create. …We’re very excited not only with what we were able to accomplish in free agency but also the addition of this draft class.”
Among the team’s draft choices are former basketball players. Spielman joked, “We’re going to have a hell of an intramural team coming up, so we’re taking on the media after the season. …”
News media speculation is ongoing Mike Tice, 59, will retire from a coaching career that included leading the Vikings from 2002-2005. Tice, with various assistant jobs in his background, was the Raiders’ offensive line coach last year.
The Twins finish a home series against the Reds today, and 34-year-old Joey Votto who has a lifetime on-base percentage of .427, much higher than any other active MLB player including Minnesota’s 35-year-old Joe Mauer who is at .392.
Canterbury Park’s 70-day live racing schedule begins Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Saturday will also be the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby from Churchill Downs. The Derby traditionally attracts more wagering dollars at the Shakopee racetrack than any other. Advance wagering is available beginning May 3.
In a letter to season ticket holders last week, Wild owner Craig Leipold praised fired general manager Chuck Fletcher and then said. ..”I feel that it is going to take a new set of eyes, and some new thinking about our roster, to assess things and take the steps necessary to get us to the next level.”
Leipold ended the letter with this: “The fans in the State of Hockey are the most passionate in the NHL. You and other members of the season ticket community have given incredible support to our organization, which we don’t take for granted. And for that we are so grateful.”
While Leipold may come up with a surprise successor to Fletcher, the name that won’t catch anyone off-guard is Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton.
Offseason optimism about the Vikings ranks with the highest in franchise history and tonight’s NFL Draft will only add to the hype. After last season’s 13-3 season and near Super Bowl, the Vikings can add a first round draft choice tonight at No. 30 and eight total selections over the next two days of the draft.
Count 16-year Vikings radio play-by-play man Paul Allen among those passionate about the 2018 team. He believes this is a franchise that can play with and defeat the NFL’s best. “Given that they upgraded at the quarterback spot and they’re going to get the return of Dalvin Cook, yeah, I believe it’s a better team already, and I really like some things I think they’re going to do in the draft,” he told Sports Headliners.
Allen agrees with the prevailing prediction the Vikings are likely to focus on offensive line prospects in the draft but adds that because general manager Rick Spielman has such a talented team he doesn’t have to be “desperate” and can select the best player available regardless of position. There certainly is no road map for NFL teams drafting over the next three days and that’s why general managers may have 50 scenarios of what can play out on their selection boards.
“…I’ve hammered so many different scenarios over the last three days,” Spielman said on Tuesday. “I can’t tell you all weekend how much film we watched and how many scenarios we have put ourselves in. Not only at 30, but if we trade back (later rounds) these players are available. Are we just as happy getting one of these players and another pick?
“We went through scenarios through to the bottom of the second and bottom of the third round right now. That’s the exciting part because you don’t know what you’re going to experience because it seems like you experience something new every year.”
Spielman made Kirk Cousins the NFL’s highest paid quarterback during the offseason, replacing Case Keenum who went to Denver. Cousins has never played on successful playoff teams but aspirations are for that to change in Minneapolis. What’s it like to be on a team with such high expectations?
“It is what it is,” Cousins said. “I don’t want to be on a team with low expectations, do I? I think that it’s part of being in this league. There is pressure on everybody. It would be immature for us to focus on the expectations.
“I am just focused on being the best quarterback I can be today. …The rest will take care of itself, and if we do our job each and every day, and having the best OTAs we can have, then the results that everyone is looking to see and care about in the fall, those will take care of themselves.”
Cousins and his teammates and coaches have been getting acquainted at the Vikings’ practice facility. What are first impressions about them and the organization? “It’s the real deal,” he said. “I wasn’t fooled on the free agency visit; what I saw then has been the truth. There’s no aloof personalities in the locker room, everybody has been very down to earth, there’s humility there.
“There’s a formula here for success. I sit in the team meetings and I see the organization. I see the attention to detail. I see the professionalism and it’s no surprise why they were successful last year, and it’s no surprise why I wanted to be here. I’m very, very impressed with what I’ve seen, but at the same time was expecting all along.”
The Vikings had an NFL Rookie of the Year candidate last season in running back Dalvin Cook but he tore his ACL in week four. In a smart move in last year’s draft, Spielman moved up in the second round selection process to secure Cook who veteran pro football writer Peter King predicted would be one of the NFL’s five best running backs by late October.
Cook is expected to make a full recovery from surgery, participate in summer training camp and be ready for the opening game in September against the 49ers. Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman has been working with Cook through the rehab process, just as he did several years ago with Adrian Peterson when he recovered from a torn ACL.
“Yes, we took some of that stuff that we did with Adrian and transferred it right to Dalvin who really has attacked his rehab with the same approach that Adrian did, and hopefully he will have the same success at the end of the day,” Sugarman told Sports Headliners.
Peterson wowed observers with his determination during rehab and Sugarman sees a similar attitude with Cook. “He (Cook) does have unbelievable spark. The thing to me is that ACL rehab is tough because it’s nine months. It gets boring. It’s tedious.
“There’s not a day that he didn’t walk in this building, or Winter Park, with a without a smile on his face. Just a pleasure to work with. Been fun to watch him go from injury to rehab, to now on the field, and hopefully scoring touchdowns in the future.”
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said teammate and wide receiver Michael Floyd is still living with Rudolph and his family in Minnesota, but also spends time in Scottsdale, Arizona. “He’s back and forth,” Rudolph said.
High school football games will be played at the Vikings’ newly opened Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan. Would Eden Prairie, the defending Class 6A champions and coached by Mike Grant, be a target for the first game there ever? Grant, son of legendary Vikings head coach Bud Grant, said he hasn’t been contacted.
Because the Eagles play only four home games, Grant said it’s difficult to give one up. The games are important, he explained, to “so many people” at the school and in the community. The home games also impact revenues through the booster club and ticket sales.
Condolences to the family and friends of Twin Cities native Mark Merrill who died earlier this month. The former Kellogg High School athlete was a second team All-Big Ten tackle for the Gophers in 1977.
Twins president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners tickets remain for all Twins’ home games including the anticipated series with the Angels June 8, 9 and 10 when rookie sensation Shohei Ohtani may pitch.
Media reports are that a signed Ohtani rookie collector card is valued at over $6,000. The Japanese phenom has impressed this spring as both a pitcher and designated hitter.
St. Peter said among similar size cities, only Mobile, Alabama will have more National Baseball Hall of Famers than St. Paul when Jack Morris is inducted this summer. Morris joins St. Paulites Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield in the hall. Mobile has five enshrined in Cooperstown including all-time home run leader Hank Aaron.