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.
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.
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.
A Tuesday notes column including a look ahead to the Timberwolves game Wednesday evening against Golden State:
Tom Thibodeau told Sports Headliners yesterday his team’s game in Oakland tomorrow night against the defending champion NBA champions will be a “test,” but win or lose he won’t make too much out of the early season result.
The Wolves, 7-3, are on a five-game win streak—a franchise best since 2009. Optimism about making the playoffs for the first time since 2004 is growing with new starters Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson. They join two of the NBA’s better younger starters in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins—and Thibodeau, in his joint role as the franchise’s president of basketball operations and coach, has strengthened the bench this season.
Butler is a top 10 to 15 NBA player who at 6-7, 231 pounds, can guard all five positions. Some NBA authorities might include Towns in a top 15 listing of league players, and Wiggins could potentially be a top 25 player soon.
The Warriors, though, have two players who could be included among the NBA’s five best. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are in the conversation when the elite players are talked about, and two more Warriors starters, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, are stars, too.
The two teams split a pair of exhibition games in China in September. Thibodeau said those games will help preparations for Wednesday night in California against a Warriors team that is 8-3 so far, and has won four consecutive games.
Fans are dazzled with the playmaking and shooting of the Warriors, but they excel on defense, too. They have won two of the last three NBA titles and are so young and so good that even an NBA All-Star team might not win in a seven-game series against them.
No wonder Thibodeau sees Wednesday night’s game as a test. The two teams play twice more this season—again in Oakland on January 25 and March 11 in Minneapolis.
Rochester John Marshall power forward Mathew Hurt watched Sunday’s Minnesota-Green Bay game at Maturi Pavilion. Hurt is ranked by recruiting authorities in the top five nationally among high school players in the class of 2019.
Minnesota writer and recruiting authority Ryan James told Sports Headliners Hurt could end his prep career as the highest ranked Minnesota boys high school basketball player ever. Hurt’s brother Michael is a sophomore reserve for the Gophers, and James believes that if the older Hurt’s experience continues to be positive it will help Minnesota’s chances in landing Matthew.
A winning season in the Big Ten and success in the NCAA Tournament will be factors too in the race to influence the younger Hurt. James said Hurt is far from a decision on his college choice, with the Gophers in the mix with some of college basketball’s blue bloods.
Power programs Duke, Kansas and North Carolina have extended scholarship offers. “I think they’re right there (the Gophers) having the same chance as everybody else,” James said.
Ryan said Hurt and his family haven’t announced a timeline for choosing a school. “He can take his time with his decision because every one of those schools is going to wait for him because he is that level of player.”
Ticket proceeds and a portion of the concessions and merchandise revenues from the Green Bay game are to be donated to the American Red Cross for hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. The Gophers provided hotel rooms for the Green Bay staff and players on Saturday night but the Phoenix didn’t receive a fee for participating in the exhibition game.
The NCAA has allowed teams two exhibition games in the past but added a third this fall because of the disaster in Puerto Rico. Gophers coach Richard Pitino thinks it’s a “no- brainer” for future years regarding a third exhibition game with proceeds dedicated to a good cause.
The Gophers were impressive in a 115-86 win over the Phoenix but defense on both sides was sometimes lackadaisical. Gophers sophomore forward Amir Coffey showed his versatility, including scoring 26 points. He could be Minnesota’s best player in 2017-2018.
Freshman guard Isaiah Washington scored 24, and had a game-high six assists. His flashy style gave notice he could become the most electrifying playmaker ever at Minnesota.
Senior center Reggie Lynch picked up his third personal foul with 19:06 to play in the second half. Lynch, who fouled out eight times in 33 games last season, ranks near the top of the program’s best shot blockers ever but he has to avoid so many fouls in 2017-2018.
Pitino said Lynch understands he has to use better judgment. “We’re working on it,” Pitino said.
Former Apple Valley star Gary Trent Jr. is a freshman at Duke and Sports Illustrated’s basketball issue that came out last week predicts the shooting guard will average 10.8 points per game and 5.4 rebounds.
Ric Flair, the legendary professional wrestler who spent part of his youth in Edina, is the subject of ESPN’s documentary “Nature Boy” airing tonight as part of the network’s highly regarded “30-for-30” series. The program begins at 9 p.m.
In the prior hour, ESPN will air a show announcing MLB’s Gold Glove winners with Twins center fielder Byron Buxton expected to be among those honored.
The Gophers won Big Ten baseball championships in 1968, 1969 and 1970. Players and others associated with the program back then will hold a reunion next May. During that era Stew Thornley was a batboy with the Gophers, while Gregg Wong was an official scorer and public address announcer. Both are now Twins official scorers.
Sellout crowds are likely in the coming months for Gophers men’s basketball at 14,625-seat Williams Arena. Based on figures provided to Sports Headliners by the University of Minnesota athletic department, public and student season ticket sales have increased significantly.
Public season tickets, including 965 new tickets, totaled 7,102 as of late October, according to an email from the University. Those totals compared to figures of 208 and 6,192 on October 25, 2016. The renewal rate for the coming season was 97.7 percent compared with 82.7 twelve months prior.
Student season ticket sales were 2,182 as of October 25, after totaling 1,181 on the same date in 2016. The 2,182 figure represents the total inventory made available to University students.
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. Home attendance has been mediocre for years and annual averages contrast sharply with decades ago when Minnesota was a Big Ten and national leader.
With 9,284 season ticket holders (and more could be added in the weeks ahead), the Gophers will have about 5,300 tickets available to single game buyers for each home game. Minnesota opens its nonconference schedule at Williams Arena on Friday against USC Update, and most November and December games are unlikely to sell out because of unattractive opponents.
However, capacity home games before January 1 could include the November 29 Big Ten/ACC Challenge game against Miami and the December 3 Big Ten opener with Rutgers. Home conference games after January 1 could all sell out with the most likely to be Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern and Purdue. (The Gophers are playing their Ohio State home game January 20 in New York’s Madison Square Garden.)
In recent seasons sellout crowds have been the exception at Williams Arena but the Gophers are returning all but one of their key players from the 2017 NCAA Tournament team and have received more offseason hype than any Minnesota team this century. The Gophers have been ranked as high as No. 10 in the country, and last week the Associated Press poll had Minnesota at No. 15 (second among Big Ten teams only to No. 2 Michigan State). S.I.com, though, is more cautious ranking Minnesota No. 26 last week.
The University of Minnesota athletic department reported a decline in women’s basketball public season tickets as of October 25. The total of 1,344 compared to 1,492 a year prior, according to an email from the University. There were 43 new public season tickets sold for the 2017-2018 season, versus 61 sold as of October 25, 2016.
Students are admitted free to women’s basketball games, so there are no student season ticket sales to report.
As of yesterday, tickets ($10 each) were still available for today’s exhibition game between the Gopher men’s team and Green Bay at Maturi Pavilion. All seats are general admission and tickets will be sold at the pavilion starting at 11 a.m.
The nationally ranked Gophers men’s hockey team swept Michigan State over the weekend and Minnesota is a contender to win the 2018 Frozen Four. No Big Ten program has won the NCAA Division I men’s title since 2007 when the Spartans were champions. Minnesota’s last title was 2003.
It may not be Sam Bradford’s best birthday because of knee issues, but the injured Vikings starting quarterback will be 30 on Wednesday.
Former Viking Matt Blair will sign items for a fee next Saturday at the Triple Crown Sports Card Show at Southtown Shopping Center in Bloomington. At the free admission show attendees can purchase a Blair bobblehead. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Blair’s appearance will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. More information about Triple Crown shows is available by emailing email@example.com.
MLB hasn’t announced the money the World Series champion Astros will earn per player but last year the full share was reportedly $368,871 for the Cubs. The October 30 issue of Sports Illustrated listed the per player haul for champions in various sports including the Minnesota Lynx at a modest $11,025.
The Capital Club will have Anytime Fitness founders Dave Mortensen and Chuck Runyon as speakers Thursday morning at Town & Country Club in St. Paul. The two have authored a book (Love Work) regarding positive performance in the workplace. More information about the Capital Club is available from Patrick Klinger, firstname.lastname@example.org.