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Vikes GM Downplays Pressure on Him, Zim

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July 21, 2019

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Perhaps longevity creates confidence and calm in the high expectations world of the National Football League. That was the impression Rick Spielman gave when asked about pressure on himself and Mike Zimmer for the 2019 season.

Spielman, the Vikings general manager, has been making personnel decisions for the Minnesota NFL franchise since 2007. Zimmer, the team’s coach since 2014, is now the longest tenured head coach in the NFC North Division. Spielman and Zimmer reportedly have contracts that extend only through 2020 so ownership appears to be scrutinizing its leaders.

Spielman was asked by Sports Headliners if there is more pressure going into this season on him and Zimmer than in the past? “Every year is pressure,” he said. “There is no difference than any other year.”

The Vikings open training camp this week coming off an 8-7-1 record last season and missing the playoffs. The record fit a pattern of the Zimmer era with alternate years of success including off and on participation in the postseason. Zimmer’s 2014 team finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs. His next team was 11-5 and lost its first postseason game. In 2016 the Vikings were 8-8 and again a playoff no-show. They had a memorable 2017 season at 13-3 and advanced to the NFC Championship game before losing to the Eagles.

The results of 2018 left the Vikings collectively and individually disappointed and angry, starting with their all business head coach. The attitude in spring practices was evident to Spielman and most everyone else. “Usually our team and coach Zim responds when there is a chip on his shoulder,” Spielman said.

Perhaps the Vikings can regain the NFC North Division title they lost last season but there is no consensus among pro football authorities they will do so. The prevailing thought is the Vikings, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers are bunched so close the NFC North eventual winner will not be a surprise unless it’s the Detroit Lions.

Kirk Cousins

The Vikings have a talented and veteran defense, with players who have been together for several seasons. The offense has two of the best receivers in football in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, and also a new found commitment to run the ball more because $84 million quarterback Kirk Cousins showed last season he can’t carry the team like the NFL’s elite passers.

A July 12 article by Patrick Daugherty on Yahoo sports pointed out that while Cousins had new career highs in completion percentage (70.1) and touchdowns (30), his performance declined in the second half of the season including in the last game of the season against the Bears when the Vikings needed a win to make the playoffs.

“Cousins also got worse as games (during the full  season) wore on, with his completion percentage declining each quarter, from 76.1 in the first to 67.3 in the fourth,” Daugherty wrote. “12 of Cousins’ 40 sacks came in the final period, as did four of his 10 picks. With the Vikings’ season on the line in Week 17, Cousins managed all of 132 yards against a Bears team that was basically already locked into the No. 3 seed, giving it little to play for.”

Worth Noting

Billy Beane, the former Twins player whose gift for analytics was depicted in the movie Moneyball, is still with the low-budget A’s where he is an executive vice president and minority owner of the resourceful franchise known for its savvy personnel moves.

The A’s have turned former Twins starter Liam Hendriks into a top closer who consistently throws near 100 miles per hour. The trade-hungry Twins need a right-handed late inning closer to balance impressive lefty Taylor Rogers.

As of Sunday morning Hendriks had pitched 20.2 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to June 6. During that 19 game period he struck out 34 and walked three.

Hendriks saved last night’s 5-4 A’s win in the ninth inning at Target Field. It was Minnesota’s first loss this season after going into the ninth with the lead. The record now is 53-1.

Possible realignment of the Big Ten’s East and West Divisions in football was asked about by media at Big Ten Media Days last week in Chicago. Nothing has been announced by the conference but the East is consistently the stronger division. Moving Michigan to the West would ensure the Golden Gophers and Wolverines played every season for the famous Little Brown Jug.

Not only does realignment seem a possibility but so too does expansion of league members from 14 to 16. That’s another topic Kevin Warren could be dealing with this fall and later. Warren, the Vikings chief operating officer, begins working with outgoing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany in September and then takes over as commissioner January 1.

Warren is a neighbor of Gophers coach P.J. Fleck in Edina.

Fleck talked about academics in Chicago, saying his players earned the highest GPA in the football program’s history last fall at 3.20.

Fleck on why talented wide receiver Tyler Johnson returned for his senior season rather than turning professional: “He thinks we’re going to be really good.”

A Cleveland.com poll of Big Ten reporters asked them who among the current head football coaches they would hire if they ran a Big Ten athletic department. In the results posted last Thursday Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald was the top choice with 14 of the 33 votes. Nebraska’s Scott Frost was second with nine votes. Purdue’s Jeff Brohm had four votes and finished third in the poll. Fleck didn’t receive a vote.

Another Cleveland.com media poll posted last Thursday forecast that Michigan will win the East and Nebraska the West. The Gophers are the choice to finish sixth in the seven-team division but did receive one first place vote.

Brad Salem, son of former Gophers head coach Joe Salem, is the new offensive coordinator at Michigan State.

Among ideas being considered by the NBA is allowing teams that don’t qualify for the present 16 playoff spots to play their way into the postseason. “We’ve looked at that for a couple of years,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told Sports Headliners. “I just think that there is always a team or two that’s been injured, and has the worst record but now (they) have a pretty good team, and it gives them a second chance for making up for their lost season.”

X Games returns to U.S. Bank Stadium for a third consecutive year August 1-4. The made for TV and ESPN covered event might draw a total of 25,000 to 30,000 spectators to the stadium over the four days. The X Games will return in 2020 in the final year of the agreement at the stadium.

Minneapolis Golf Club’s course is closed for renovation until June or July of next year. Members can play other private courses including Golden Valley Country Club.

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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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