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Smith Era Helped Rebuild Twins

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August 30, 2017

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A Wednesday notes column leading off with the Twins who could qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Bill Smith is often criticized for his tenure as general manager from 2007-2011 but it was during that time the Twins signed right fielder Max Kepler, left fielder Eddie Rosario, shortstop Jorge Polanco and third baseman Miguel Sano. Those four represent half of the usual starting lineup in the field, and along with center fielder Byron Buxton form the nucleus of the franchise’s future among position players.

The Twins acquired Kepler, Polanco and Sano as undrafted amateur free agents in 2009, committing millions to sign them. Rosario was acquired as an amateur in the fourth round of the 2010 First Year Player Draft. That’s impressive results from Smith and his staff to find, evaluate and sign these four players who are all from outside the United States.

Max Kepler (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins).

Kepler, Polanco and Sano are all 24 years old, while Rosario is 25. This season the young group has accounted for 82 percent of the team’s home runs, and 68 percent of the runs batted in.

Smith was fired after the 2011 season when the Twins lost 99 games and won 63. His era, though, had its highlights including a Central Division title in 2010, and key player signings as referenced above.

It will be interesting to see who the Vikings cut from their roster after Thursday night’s final preseason game. A guess is that among the surprise cuts by Saturday’s NFL deadline to downsize the roster to 53 players could be third-year offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings. A starter last season in 14 games at tackle, Clemmings didn’t enter last Sunday’s game with the 49ers until late in the second half. He hasn’t been in the mix this summer among top contenders for playing time in the line.

Another surprise cut might be defensive lineman Datone Jones, who the Vikings signed as a free agent last spring following three seasons with the Packers. He was a No. 1 draft choice by the Packers in 2013 and played mostly as a reserve with Green Bay.

The Vikings could have rookie starters with Dalvin Cook at running back, Pat Elflein at center and Ben Gedeon at linebacker. Cook, Elflein and Gedeon were second, third and fourth round draft choices. Eric Wilson, an undrafted free agent from Cincinnati, has impressed the Vikings in preseason practices and could make the final roster of 53 players.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told NBC TV’s Michele Tafoya during Sunday night’s 49ers exhibition game he has decided who his starting center will be, but didn’t provide a name. Elflein, though, has impressed with his mobility and seems a good fit for the offense’s zone-blocking scheme requiring linemen to move quickly and block linebackers.

Marshall Koehn did the field goal and extra point work in Sunday’s game. He had a 58-yard field goal, was three-for-three on extra points and kicked off. The 25-year-old free agent from Iowa could replace Kai Forbath who joined the Vikings last season after the team cut Blair Walsh. Forbath has been used minimally in preseason and didn’t play against the 49ers.

The Vikings will play their first four regular season games without suspended wide receiver Michael Floyd, the 27-year-old Minnesota native who the team acquired as a free agent during the offseason. Floyd has played in all three preseason games, catching five passes for 46 yards. None of his receptions have been for more than 12 yards.

But later this season Floyd could become the team’s best wide receiver, according to former Viking Ben Leber. He said Floyd could be that good while providing commentary on the Vikings Radio Network during Sunday night’s game. In three of Floyd’s six seasons with the Cardinals he averaged more than 16 yards per reception and might provide the Vikings with the deep threat they need.

The Vikings first team offense has yet to score a touchdown in the preseason—raising concerns about effectiveness this fall—but the defense could repeat its performance of last season when the unit was at times among the best in the NFL. “The defense can be as good as we want to be,” defensive tackle Linval Joseph told Sports Headliners. “We just have to eliminate mistakes, run to the football and make tackles.”

Brian Robison, who is about to start his 11th season with the Vikings, has yet to play in the preseason and it’s looking more like he will give up his starting job to Danielle Hunter. “I think mentally he’s becoming more in tune with the game,” Robison said about Hunter who has only one career regular season start and is beginning his third pro season. “Physically, he’s got all the attributes you would want out of a defensive end. I think sky’s the limit for him. I just think he’s gotta take another step forward and just keep going in the right direction.”

Robison, 34, has been sidelined with a leg injury. Although he has played 10 NFL seasons, Robison told Sports Headliners he sees no decline in his skills.

The regular season starts September 11, with the Vikings playing five of their first seven games in Minneapolis—almost mandating a winning start to the schedule if the team is to qualify for the playoffs. Four of the last seven are on the road.

Matt Birk, the former Vikings center and now an advisor to the NFL, speaks to the CORES lunch group September 15 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bloomington, 1114 American Blvd. More information is available by contacting Jim Dotseth, dotsethj@comcast.net.

P.J. Fleck

P.J. Fleck coaches his first Gophers game Thursday night against Buffalo at TCF Bank Stadium and it will be interesting to watch his energy on the field. Fleck moves at warp speed in practices. “I mean if he turns it up a little bit more for a game…that’s crazy to even think it could go a little bit higher,” Steven Richardson said.

Richardson, a senior tackle, is among the more proven and talented Gophers going into the season. A surprise contributor on the defensive line, though, might be junior redshirt tack Gary Moore who only played in four games and had two tackles last season.

“I’ve seen him grow so much in this past fall camp,” Richardson said about Moore. “I am excited to see what he is going to do.”

The Big Ten Network celebrates its 10th anniversary today. Revenues from the network given to Big Ten Conference athletic departments have benefitted all but particularly lower tier programs in need of financial assistance.

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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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