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November 30, 2016


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Vikings notes on the eve of tomorrow night’s nationally televised game with the Cowboys from U.S. Bank Stadium.

It will be interesting to see how the Vikings defense does against the Cowboys offense. Those are two acclaimed units, and part of the story tomorrow evening could be how much pass rush the Vikings can put on the Dallas offensive line and rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

Vikings second-year pro Danielle Hunter leads the team in sacks even though he isn’t a starter. The 22-year-old Hunter, a third round draft choice in 2015, has 7.5 sacks and is tied for 15th best in the NFL. Hunter had six sacks last season in 14 games (he started one).

Hunter seems likely to one day replace 33-year-old Brian Robison who praised the former LSU player while talking with Sports Headliners. “I think the sky’s the limit for the kid. I think he really does have a bright future in this league. I see him being a perennially Pro Bowler—probably having maybe two, three, four paydays (contract adjustments).”

The Cowboys rank fourth in the NFL in total offense, averaging 407.6 yards per game. The Vikings are third in total defense, allowing 307 yards per outing.

Minnesota rates with the league’s best defending the pass, but has been more vulnerable against teams running the ball. The Vikings also haven’t seen an offensive line like the Cowboys, a unit considered among the NFL’s best.

Mike Zimmer

Mike Zimmer

“They’re really, really good. They’re the best line I’ve seen in a long time in the NFL—physical, athletic, (and) big,” said Mike Zimmer who was an assistant in the league for 20 years before coming to Minnesota as head coach in 2014.

Prescott, a surprise star and starter on the 10-1 Cowboys, has only been sacked 15 times. He has 18 touchdown passes and only two interceptions— figures that highlight the Vikings’ mission to put pressure on the 23-year-old.

Prescott has not only benefitted from a great offensive line but the team’s running game ranks second in the NFL at 157.3 yards per game. Ezekiel Elliott, another rookie, is the leading rusher in the league with 1,199 yards and has drawn praise from numerous sources including Zimmer.

“Well, he’s one of the better backs I’ve seen in quite awhile,” Zimmer said. “He’s really an all-purpose guy that catches the ball very well out of the backfield. He’s quick into the hole. Looks like he’s got great vision. …He’s good in pass protection, better than rookie backs for sure.

“One of the things, he’s an impact player on contact. He’s built…225 pounds. He’s physical. He’s a hurdler, if you try to cut him (off). He’s special.”

The Cowboys offense has a Vikings connection with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson. Linehan was a Vikings assistant from 2002-2004. Wilson played quarterback for the Vikings from 1981-1991.

In the October 17 issue of Sports Illustrated Wilson told writer Pete Thamel that Prescott had learned the Cowboys offense faster than any Dallas rookie in the last 10 years. “He has an aura and confidence about him,” Wilson said in S.I.

While the Cowboys have the NFL’s best record, the defending NFC North champion Vikings are 6-5 and have only one win in their last six games. “We need a win bad,” Vikings defensive back Captain Munnerlyn told Sports Headliners Monday. “We need a big win bad.”

What if the Vikings lose and fall further behind 7-4 division leader Detroit? “I don’t know,” Munnerlyn said. “I am not thinking like that. We need it—so I am not thinking like that at all.”

Internet reports Monday speculated the NFL will consider ending its weekly Thursday night games sometime in the future. “It would be great (if that happens),” Munnerlyn said. “You get more rest. You get more time to study your opponent. You play a little faster.”

Worth Noting

The Twins have signed catcher Jason Castro to a three-year contract worth $24.5 million. Castro will earn $8.5 million in 2017, $8 million in 2018 and $8 million in 2019.

Castro, 29, has played six seasons in the major leagues, all with the Houston Astros. In 617 games he hit .232 with 114 doubles, 62 home runs and 212 RBI.

Castro was named to the American League All-Star team in 2013. That season he hit .276 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI.

Brian Dozier, the Twins best player, said on WCCO Radio’s Sports Huddle on Sunday that the new baseball bosses for the club haven’t contacted him. There is ongoing speculation Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will trade the 29-year-old Dozier for pitching help. Dozier hit a career high 42 home runs last season.

Don’t be surprised if the Gophers pursue either a junior college quarterback, or a graduate transfer to replace Mitch Leidner. The departure of Leidner and redshirt junior Conor Rhoda leaves the Gophers with no quarterback experience on the roster.

Philip Nelson, who competed with Leidner for the Gophers starting job before leaving Minnesota three years ago, ended his 2016 season at East Carolina by throwing 16 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Nelson threw for 2,621 yards in 10 games for his 3-9 team. Leidner had seven touchdown throws and 12 interceptions. He threw for 2,040 yards in 11 games for the 8-4 Gophers.

The Gophers will learn their bowl destination Sunday night. Minnesota won its bowl game last year against Central Michigan but is 6-12 overall in bowl games.

Rice Lake, Wisconsin native Henry Ellenson, who turned down the Gophers and many other schools to play one season at Marquette, is now in the NBA Development League. The NBA Pistons, who drafted him in the first round last June, sent him to their Grand Rapids affiliate team.

The Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game has a rich history dating back to 1945. The Minnesota Football Coaches Association is inviting all former players and coaches who participated in the game—and also all members of the MFCA Hall of Fame—to attend a 2 p.m. reception Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium. About 80 All-Star alums and Hall of Famers have already committed. A game ticket for $16 needs to be purchased in advance, with more information available by visiting

Now known as the Minnesota Football Showcase, players representing the North and South will play the all-star game starting at 3 p.m. Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Totino-Grace’s Jeff Ferguson will coach the North and Eden Prairie’s Mike Grant the South.

The Showcase event is billed as a football celebration with attractions to include youth football clinics, marching band performances and autograph sessions with Minnesota Vikings alumni. Tickets are available in advance, with proceeds going to the MFCA and Tackle Cancer campaign. More at

The defending Division III national champion St. Thomas men’s basketball team toured Microsoft earlier this month as part of multiple off-court activities while in the Seattle-Tacoma area to play two basketball games. Jon Strausburg, a St. Thomas alum and Microsoft executive, led the tour.

Seattle Seahawks general manager and St. Thomas alum John Schneider spoke to the team for an hour. The Tommies also met Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and watched practice. St. Thomas alum and Amazon executive Dan Jedda also spoke to the Tommies during the trip to Washington.

John Tauer

John Tauer

Tommies coach John Tauer said via email “it was an incredible weekend” to hear from the three St. Thomas alums. He said all three emphasized the lessons they learned from academics and athletics at St. Thomas.

The 3-1 Tommies are without three starters from last season’s national championship team but will likely make a strong run at the program’s 12th consecutive MIAC title. Forward Ryan Boll and point guard Grant Shaeffer are the returning starters.

Shaeffer quarterbacked the Eden Prairie High School football team to two state titles and has been a basketball starter on championship teams for the Tommies since his sophomore year. Tauer has his point guard playing a Lumosity game to help him make both fast and correction decisions. “I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the country,” Tauer said.

The Tommies Nathan Stenger, a 6-3 freshman guard from Iowa City, has a 39½ inch vertical jump. The other day at practice he stood underneath a basket, jumped straight up and dunked the ball.

Condolences to friends and family of Dick Dougherty who died recently. Dougherty played hockey for the Gophers from 1951-1954 and ranks high in both career and per game scoring. A member of the M Club Hall of Fame, Dougherty played on a line with John Mayasich and Gene Campbell that coach John Mariucci once called “the greatest line ever seen in college hockey.”

Legendary singer Neil Diamond will perform at Xcel Energy Center May 24 as part of his 50th anniversary tour.

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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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