Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017

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JC Quarterback Could Be U Prize

November 14, 2017 - (0) comments


Recruiting authority Ryan Burns from Gopher Illustrated doesn’t see Shelby, Ohio senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong signing a National Letter of Intent with the Golden Gophers next month. Armstrong re-opened the recruiting process in October after being a solid verbal commit to Minnesota for most of the year.

Burns predicted the highly regarded dual-threat quarterback will be on Virginia’s roster next season. Armstrong may have developed second thoughts about Minnesota because of competition at the quarterback position including the emergence of redshirt sophomore Demry Croft as the team starter this fall, and the enrollment next year of freshman preferred walk-on Zack Annexstad who is originally from Mankato, Minnesota but has played this fall for IMG Academy in Florida.

Ryan Burns

Armstrong’s status concerns Gophers followers but Burns believes head coach P.J. Fleck will have a promising quarterback in his 2018 recruiting class. Brevin White, a California prep quarterback who has verbally committed to Princeton and turned down offers from Washington, Washington State and Tennessee, is considering the Gophers. Minnesota is also after Utah high school quarterback Zach Wilson who has verbally committed to Boise State and California junior college QB Victor Viramontes.

Burns said Minnesota’s “best chance” among the three is probably Viramontes, a dual threat quarterback. He was a prominent high school player from Norco, California when he enrolled as a freshman at the University of California in 2016. There was a coaching change at Cal after the 2016 season and late last spring Viramontes left the Golden Bears. A four-star recruit by 247Sports coming out of Norco High School, he would have three seasons of eligibility at Minnesota.

At about 6-2, 240-pounds, Viramontes has been compared with former Heisman Trophy winner and Florida legend Tim Tebow. When Sonny Dykes was California’s head coach this is how he described Viramontes to Calbears.com:

“Victor is an unusual athlete at his size as a 240-pound quarterback that is a great runner and a good passer. He’s pretty raw but he’s got a lot of upside and really can develop into a good player. He has an unusual skill set with his size and strength. He plays with great passion. I really like the way that he plays the game and the toughness that he brings. I’m really excited about him.”

Fleck has 23 verbal commits and wants to have all the players signed to National Letters of Intent in the early signing period that starts December 20. Burns estimates only 16 or so scholarships are currently available but anticipates seven or so players leaving the Gophers will make up the difference.

Most or all of the verbal commits are expected to make official visits to Minnesota December 8. The early signing period for high school players is December 20-22, while junior college players can sign December 20-January 15, 2018.

Worth Noting

With a 5-5 overall record, the Gophers will definitely be invited to a bowl game with one more win in their last two games. A 5-7 final record could even earn an invite as it did two years ago.

Not surprisingly, there were no press box seats assigned to bowl representatives at last Saturday’s home game against Nebraska (4-6).

Last Saturday’s announced attendance of 39,933 was the second smallest in TCF Bank Stadium history. Minnesota drew 38,162 for the Northwestern game last season.

At 6-foot-10, Gophers tight end Nate Wozniak is the tallest skill player in major college football. His 34 career starts lead all offensive players on the Gophers. The senior from Greenwood, Indiana has his under graduate degree in agricultural and food business management.

Tre Jones

It will be interesting for state basketball fans to watch tonight’s ESPN matchup of No. 1 ranked Duke and No. 2 Michigan State. Apple Valley’s Tre Jones has signed his National Letter of Intent to play for Duke next season and he will likely have to compete for playing time next fall with current Blue Devils freshman point guard Trevon Duval. Both are five-star recruits.

The game is also an opportunity to see former Apple Valley five-star shooting guard Gary Trent, Jr., who is a freshman at Duke, and also compare Michigan State with the Gophers. The two teams are  favorites to win the Big Ten title.

The Gophers justified their A.P. No. 14 ranking last night in an impressive road win at Providence against a Friars team Athlon Sports magazine described as “the most experienced in the Big East.”

It seems like a “duh” by now, but Adam Thielen’s speed still seems to be news—perhaps even to NFL defensive backs. The 27-year-old Thielen—now in his fifth pro season and ranking third in NFL receiving yards (793) during a breakout season—told Sports Headliners his best time in the 40-yard dash is 4.45.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer after being asked Monday whether anything still surprises him about Thielen: “The one ball he kind of dropped there at the end (in Sunday’s game), that surprised me. He usually makes all those catches.

“The guy is a gamer. When he gets the opportunities, he makes the most of them. Adam does a lot of dirty work. He blocks defensive ends. He blocks linebackers in the run game. He’s just a competitive guy. ….”

Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber has been retired from the NFL since 2011. His weekends this fall are busy while working for FS1 on Saturdays and as a sideline reporter on the Vikings radio network. He has provided color commentary on college games for FS1, mostly Pac 12 and Big-12 games, but he also did analysis on last Saturday’s Golden Gophers-Nebraska game.

Leber has been earning more prominent TV college football assignments during his four full time seasons. Does he want to make a career out of the broadcast work? “I do,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a challenge that I’ve readily accepted, and now I am just kind of rolling with the punches and seeing where it goes.”

Twins fans can watch the MLB Network tonight at 5 p.m. when the Baseball Writers Association of America announces its American League Manager of the Year winner. The Twins’ Paul Molitor is a finalist along with the Astros’ A.J. Hinch and Indians’ Terry Francona.

Francona, who directed the Indians to a 22-game winning streak last season, was named The Sporting News AL Manager of the Year last month. Hinch managed the Astros to the franchise’s first World Series championship.

Molitor, who was a finalist for the writers’ honor in 2015, had less talent to work with than Francona and Hinch but got his team in the playoffs after a 59-102 record in 2016. The Twins became the first MLB franchise to make the postseason after losing 100 games the year before.

Karl-Anthony Towns had another double-double last night in the Timberwolves’ win over the Jazz, scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He has 10 double-doubles in 13 games this season. The 21-year-old center is the seventh player in NBA history to total 3,000-plus career points and rebounds prior to age 22. Towns turns 22 tomorrow.

The Wild try to make it consecutive shutouts over the Flyers tonight at Xcel Energy Center. Last Saturday Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk stopped all 32 shots he faced and Jason Zucker had the team’s lone goal. St. Paul native Paul Holmgren is in his fourth season as Flyers president.

After a loss to Purdue last week, the nationally ranked Gophers volleyball team has dropped from No. 5 to No. 7 in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.


Final Four to Shutout U Baseball Games

November 12, 2017 - 1 Comment


A Sunday notes column leading off with news about Gophers baseball.

John Anderson thought he had 14 home indoor baseball games scheduled for his Gophers in 2019 at U.S. Bank Stadium, but his team will be shutout. Anderson, in his 37th year at Minnesota, is scrambling now to schedule away games in warm places in February and March of 2019 after recently being told preparations for the NCAA Final Four basketball games will take over the downtown stadium.

Anderson worked with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to set up his 2019 schedule, but the NCAA has now decided it is necessary to start staging U.S. Bank Stadium for basketball several weeks in advance of the Final Four dates of April 6-8. The change will mean no amateur baseball, not just for the Gophers but other college and high school teams, in the winter of 2019. “It’s really disappointing,” Anderson told Sports Headliners.

Anderson understands the importance and magnitude of the Final Four but wishes he would have known long ago the Gophers couldn’t use the indoor stadium in 2019. He won’t be able to reschedule all 14 games for his Gophers, and also empathizes with the teams that thought they were coming to Minneapolis but now must find other places to play on relatively short notice.

John Anderson

Anderson, long respected in the community for his coaching and integrity, feels bad that he recruited players with the sales pitch that they would be playing indoor baseball in 2019. This past winter the Gophers played for the first time in U.S. Bank Stadium and have 10 games scheduled in the impressive facility in 2018 from February 27-March 11.

A schedule highlight next year at U.S. Bank Stadium is the DQ Classic Tournament with Arizona, Washington, UCLA and the Gophers March 2-4.

For passionate Golden Gophers football fans with long ago and painful memories, yesterday’s 54-21 drubbing of the Cornhuskers was a sweet afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium. Although Minnesota has now won three of the last five games against Nebraska, the Gophers’ other two wins were by a total of 15 points. Yesterday was Gopher revenge for a string of 16 losses from 1963-1990, nearly all of them lop-sided scores favoring Big Red.

As recently as 1989 and 1990 the Cornhuskers beat Minnesota 48-0 in Minneapolis and 56-0 in Lincoln. If you’re counting, that is 104-0 in two games.

Following yesterday’s win those Gopher fans with nightmare memories might have read and enjoyed the words of Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel who described the outcome “as perhaps the lowest point in the last 65 years of Nebraska football.”

Fall rumors have swirled about the possible dismissal of Nebraska head coach Mike Riley. His players looked dispirited yesterday and speculation is Riley, one of football’s nicest coaches, could unfortunately lose his job this week—perhaps even today. Bo Pelini, Riley’s predecessor, was terminated soon after Minnesota defeated Nebraska in late November of 2014.

Bad omen? Cheatsheetwarroom.com points out the Vikings are 1-4 in the last five years coming out of their bye weeks. The Vikings haven’t played a game since October 29 and are in Landover, Maryland today to face the Redskins. Coming out of their bye last year, the Vikings lost to the Eagles and went on a four-game losing streak.

The Cheat Sheet website also reports the Vikings are 3-1 in their last four games versus teams coming off their byes. Included is a 26-20 loss last year to the Redskins in Landover.

Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber predicted to Sports Headliners it won’t be easy today against the Redskins, but Minnesota will win 24-17.

After the first eight games of the 16-game schedule, the 6-2 Vikings rank fourth in the NFL in yards given up per game, 282.1. How does head coach Mike Zimmer assess the defense so far and what can the unit do better in the second half?

“I’ve already made assessments from last bye week,” Zimmer said. “We’re just trying to get better each week. We’re not going to talk about first half of the season. We’re just going to start moving forward here.”

The Vikings have three quarterbacks who are free agents next year, and the 2018 NFL college draft will likely feature at least four quarterbacks taken in the first round—Josh Allen, Wyoming; Sam Darnold, USC; Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma; and Josh Rosen, UCLA.

It was almost exactly 30 years ago that Darrell Thompson made his famous 98-yard touchdown run in the Metrodome against Michigan. Thompson’s run on November 7, 1987 still is the longest run ever from scrimmage by a Golden Gopher.

Here’s a note from the “we already knew that” department. The November 23 issue of Sports Illustrated includes a feature on Badger football that says, “No program is better at mining and developing the talent in its state.”

Newspaper columnist and radio talk show host Patrick Reusse will be roasted by the Minnesota Minutemen at a January 26 luncheon at Mancini’s in St. Paul. Known for his encyclopedic knowledge of Minnesota sports, Reusse is a 1963 graduate of Fulda High School. Local funnyman Dick Jonckowski will emcee the roast.

Falvey & Levine

Twins baseball bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were hired about a year ago. After assessing the organization for 12 months it wouldn’t be surprising if they were active this offseason in player acquisition moves.

Selection committee members for the prep Mr. Football Award met Saturday to narrow the field of finalists to 11 seniors from Minnesota high schools. The breakfast announcing the 2017 winner will be held December 10 at the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park.

The annual state high school all-star football game, known now as the Minnesota Football Showcase, will start at 3 p.m. December 9 at U.S. Bank Stadium. Only seniors are selected for the game, and more information is available at Vikings.com/showcase.

The Mr. Football Award and all-star game are among the ongoing events and activities of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association, an organization of dedicated supporters and promoters of amateur football in the state.


Vikings Dodged ‘Bullet’ on Bradford Deal

November 09, 2017 - (0) comments


A Thursday notes column…

The Vikings made the right decision in not signing quarterback Sam Bradford to a new and expensive contract earlier this year that would have committed the franchise to him starting in 2018. It could have been that general manager Rick Spielman hesitated on a new deal based on Bradford’s age and history of knee issues, despite setting a NFL completion record of 71.6 percent of his passes in 2016.

Bradford, who turned 30 yesterday, has only started two games and finished one this season because of pain and lack of mobility in his left knee. His week to week status has been somewhat of a mystery but he reportedly had arthroscopic surgery on the knee recently and yesterday the Vikings placed him on their injured reserve list.

Sam Bradford (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Spielman acquired Bradford just prior to the 2016 season to replace Teddy Bridgewater who badly hurt his knee, and was just activated to play again this week. Despite playing behind a bad offensive line last year, Bradford avoided injury and gave the team its best quarterbacking since Brett Favre in 2010.

Spielman could have let his ego dictate a new contract for Bradford during the offseason but he didn’t.  A new deal would now be problematic with the quarterback’s future health uncertain. Bradford has had two ACL surgeries on the left knee and it’s uncertain when—or perhaps if—he will continue his NFL career. A big contract would have left a negative impact on the Vikings’ salary structure in 2018.

The Eagles traded Bradford to the Vikings for draft choices, willing to take a gamble on then rookie quarterback Carson Wentz from North Dakota State. Part of their strategy may also have been based on Bradford’s age and history of knee issues. The Eagles didn’t know how healthy Bradford would remain but they may have been cautious, just as it appears the Vikings were last winter.

It will be an interesting next few months and early offseason in 2018 when Spileman will have to sort out the Vikings quarterback roster. If Bradford doesn’t retire, not only will he be a free agent but so too will Bridgewater and Case Keenum who has been the team’s starter for most of this season.

After this week’s quarterback shuffling with Bradford being taken off the playing roster and Bridgewater put back on, promising rookie Kyle Sloter remains at No. 3 on the depth chart. Although he has yet to play in an NFL game, Sloter tries to stay ready on the sidelines. “I feel like mentally I am going through each and every play,” he told Sports Headliners. “I try to be part of the huddle when they call timeouts and all that kind of stuff.

“I try to stay loose over there (on the sidelines) as much as I can. You get a little tight…if you’re not moving around, or throwing the ball…around a little bit.”

Adam Thielen is sixth in total yards (627) among NFL receivers. The four-year pro wide receiver is having a breakout season with the Vikings but told Sports Headliners he can improve.

“I think there’s just little things in my game I could get better at,” Thielen said. “Whether it be the run after the catch, catching and keeping on my feet, and things like that.”

The Gophers football team has lost five of its last six games and coach P.J. Fleck hears criticism from fans. How does he handle it?

“It doesn’t bother me, it doesn’t take me off my course,” Fleck said.
“It doesn’t frustrate me but I think that as people go (over time), they’ll start to see the big picture. They’ll start to see the reason why we took the job. They’ll start to see the winning and recruiting. They’ll start to feel the difference in how this program develops, but when you don’t have a result right away, it’s hard for people that are result-oriented to jump right in and say, ‘I’m in.’ …”

Fleck respects “everybody’s opinion,” and when he was head coach Western Michigan he kept letters, both positive and negative. He is doing the same at Minnesota and predicted when success comes to the Gophers he will write and say, “Told you. ”

The Gophers, 4-5 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten, play a Nebraska team Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium that has lost three of its last four games. With 4-5 and 3-3 records, the Cornhuskers’ bowl hopes are about as precarious as Minnesota’s. Mediocrity is not the Nebraska way, with the Cornhuskers the winningest major college football program in America the last 60, 50 and 40 years.

Redshirt freshman J.D. Spielman from Eden Prairie has emerged as a playmaker for the Cornhuskers in his first season. As a wide receiver and kick returner he has 1,154 all-purpose yards. He is 105 yards from equaling the Nebraska freshman all-purpose yards record of 1,259 yards set by Ahman Green in 1995.

Gopher redshirt senior Ryan Santoso leads the Big Ten in punting average at 44.5 yards per kick. He averaged 48.5 yards on eight punts at rainy Michigan last Saturday.

FS1 telecasts Saturday’s Gophers-Huskers game with former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber providing analysis while working with play-by-play man Brian Custer.

Prior to last night’s Timberwolves game at Golden State, the Fox Sports North TV ratings for Minnesota’s NBA team were up 62 percent over a year ago. It was the franchise’s best ratings start in the last four years, according to Fox.

Tre Jones

It will be a who’s who of prep basketball at the Boys’ Tip Off Classic at Hopkins Lindbergh Center Saturday, December 9. There will be 17 games with the first at 9 a.m. and the last starting at 9 p.m. Duke-bound guard Tre Jones will lead Apple Valley against Minneapolis North in one “circle it game.” Fans can also watch Gopher 2018 commits Daniel Oturu from Cretin-Derham Hall and Jarvis Omersa (formerly Thomas) of Orono go against each other in another game that begins at 7:30 p.m.

Byron Buxton, voted this week as the 2017 American League Gold Glove winner for center field, is known as baseball’s fastest player. Older brother Felton, though, might be faster. Byron said during an interview on ESPN’s Gold Glove awards show Tuesday night he might settle the matter in a foot race this fall.

Two former Gophers pitchers, D.J. Snelten and Ben Meyer, are impressing in the Arizona Fall League, according to Minnesota assistant coach Rob Fornasiere. Snelten is with the Giants organization and Fornasiere predicted he could be part of the San Francisco bullpen next season. Meyer, with the Marlins organization, had a 2.02 ERA as a starter last season pitching for two Class A teams.

Fornasiere recalled a funny story from several years ago when Gophers players, including Snelten, were preparing to lay sod at Siebert Field. Snelten was too well dressed for such a dirty job and confessed to Fornasiere he had no experience with laying grass. “The green side goes up,” Fornasiere said.

Packy Casey, the grandson of legendary Twins public address announcer Bob Casey, is in his fifth season as a Gophers assistant baseball coach.


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