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Pressure on Vikings in 2019 Draft

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January 11, 2019

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Enjoy a Friday notes column.

Expectations couldn’t be more intense among Vikings observers to see if the club uses its No. 18 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to select an offensive lineman. There is anticipation, too, about the franchise prioritizing offensive linemen in the subsequent rounds of the draft which will be held in Nashville, April 25-27.

The disappointing performance last year of the offensive line was a major factor in the club compiling an 8-7-1 record and missing the playoffs after preseason hype established the Vikings among Super Bowl favorites. Absence from the 2020 postseason is not an acceptable scenario to much of the club’s fanbase, and likely it’s not for the franchise’s owners who in the next 12 months have to decide about the futures of head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman.

Not surprisingly, Cbssports.com projected on Wednesday that the Vikings will choose Oklahoma tackle Cody Ford with their first round pick. This might be just an okay year for offensive line talent, with the CBS website forecasting four linemen being chosen among the 32 first round picks.

Offensive guard, tackle and center are very demanding positions to learn as NFL rookies. Former Vikings center Matt Birk reaffirmed that to Sports Headliners, but there are rookie exceptions. “It definitely can happen,” he said.

Birk referenced Colts rookie guard Quenton Nelson who has been part of a unit that for five games gave up no sacks. Nelson is the first Colts offensive lineman since 1983 to be named to the Pro Bowl.

Mike Zimmer

Zimmer has had the Vikings more focused on choosing defensive playmakers in recent drafts, however that seems all but certain to change in 2019. The Vikings did have success with rookie tackle Brian O’Neill who they drafted in the second round in 2018.

Birk has been doing live comedy performances for about a year to generate funds for charity. He said working in front of a live audience was somewhat intimidating at first but he enjoys the performances which now total about 10. His next gig is January 19 at Union 32 Craft House in Eagan. More at Eventbrite.com.

Birk will be among the speakers at the annual Minnesota Football Coaches Association Clinic March 28-30 at the DoubleTree in St. Louis Park.

This year is the 150th anniversary of college football and it will be interesting to see what Big Ten marketers, including the Gophers, do to celebrate the milestone. Minnesota had a glorious football history between 1900 and 1970 including seven national championships, with that total still among the best in the country.

The Gophers want to sell more tickets for their high profile sports and yet over the years there are too many scheduling conflicts with Minnesota’s pro teams. Last Sunday the women’s basketball team tipped off at Williams Arena about 30 minutes after the Timberwolves-Lakers game began at Target Center. On the final Sunday in December the men’s team was playing at home the same afternoon as the Vikings and Bears were at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The MLS Draft starts at noon (today) in Chicago and Minnesota United CEO Chris Wright told Sports Headliners his club expects to be active during the league’s four rounds. That could mean a trade for better positioning including during the first round where the United currently has the No. 7 pick.

The United opens its first season at Allianz Field on April 13 in a match against New York. Wright said the club has capped its season ticket sales at 14,500 and has a waiting list of about 5,000 to purchase season tickets. Dates and details for purchase of single game tickets, stadium ribbon cutting and opportunity for the general public to see the new facility will be announced soon.

Wright, the former Timberwolves and Lynx president, grew up in England and has a passion for soccer as a former player, coach and front office executive in the sport. He has been involved with professional sports front office work for about 40 years, mostly with the Timberwolves. He said Minnesota’s MLS franchise is “the right place” for him now. He joined the franchise in October of 2017 but this will be the first draft and offseason where he has been fully positioned to make a greater impact on the club’s future success.

The Wild are home tomorrow night (Saturday) against the Red Wings, a team Minnesota is 6-3-3 against in the last 12 games. Seven of those games have been decided by one goal.

It will be interesting to see if the Rochester John Marshall basketball team can be a surprise entry in the state tournament and showcase its senior front court superstar Matthew Hurt. The Rockets haven’t qualified for the tourney during the Hurt era so most hoops fans have never seen the five-star recruit who ranks among the best basketball preps ever to play in Minnesota.

The Gophers’ lone men’s basketball commit so far for their class of 2019 is Marvin “Tre'” Williams III. The 6-5 guard from Dallas is currently enrolled at Wasatch Academy in Utah in 2019. Minnesota coach Richard Pitino is likely to expect immediate help from Williams, whose mother Kelly is from St. Paul and played basketball at Harding High School.

Between now and the home opener March 28, the Twins front office will probably focus on finding pitching help, rather than position players where the club appears pretty well set.

Anyone want to forecast the 2019 final stats for Twins cornerstones and comeback candidates Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano?

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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