Tuesday, Sep. 25, 2018


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Vikings Kicker Carlson on Spot Thursday

 

Enjoy a Tuesday notes column on the Vikings, Gophers and Twins.

No Viking will probably be more closely watched in the team’s Thursday night final preseason game than placekicker Daniel Carlson. The rookie fifth round draft choice missed two field goal attempts in last week’s win against the Seahawks and he prompted the displeasure of coach Mike Zimmer.

Zimmer was upset enough to call for a two-point conversion attempt after a touchdown rather than have Carlson kick the extra point. Carlson’s rough evening against the Seahawks came days after the Vikings released veteran Kai Forbath.

While Zimmer apparently is playing head games with his promising 23-year-old kicker, this might be a moment for a slice (no pun intended) of levity. If the Vikings want to consider options other than Carlson before their September 9 regular season opener against the 49ers, they need look no further than a couple of Purple alums.

Last time we checked, Forbath—the man who struggled to make extra points with Minnesota—was available on the NFL labor market. Blair Walsh, who missed the infamous playoff field goal attempt against the Seahawks in January of 2016, was replaced by Forbath later that year and is also now a free agent.

Retired kicker Ryan Longwell, the third leading scorer in Vikings history, just turned 44 years old this month. The Seahawks employ 40-year-old Sebastian Janikowski, and 45-year-old Adam Vinatieri is still kicking for the Colts. Why not a Longwell comeback even if the Packers, another of his former NFL teams, just inducted him into their Hall of Fame?

Mike Zimmer

Okay, back to reality. Zimmer, burned by kicking failures in past seasons, will turn up the “heat” again on Carlson to determine whether he has a specialist with a long future in Minnesota. Perhaps as soon as Thursday night in Nashville against the Titans.

Kirk Cousins posted on Twitter last Saturday that trying to find parking at the State Fair was such a challenge he had to take a “rain check.” The Vikings quarterback wrote he is still hoping to try a “fried Twinkie.”

The Vikings’ new headquarters and practice facility in Eagan has opened this year with raves from not only the organization and media but also fans of Minnesota’s NFL team who attended training camp. Since the franchise’s inception in 1961, the organization has done business, including its training camps, in various places in the Twin Cities and state.

Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick, writing an August 7 article on Hometownsource.com, recalled the Vikings once looked at a site in Golden Valley before choosing Eden Prairie and developing Winter Park where the team made its football headquarters for more than three decades before moving to Eagan.

“In the late 1970s, the Vikings were looking for a new consolidated business operations and practice site,” Tanick wrote. “By then, it had outgrown its meager corporate facility on France Avenue in Edina and sought to build its own indoor field in order to shed its nomadic ways of practicing at different venues around the Twin Cities with no dedicated practice facility.

“The campus of what was then Golden Valley High School, immediately east of Highway 100 to the north of Glenwood Avenue, became available. The school district had closed due to declining enrollment, merging in 1981 with the Hopkins District. The Vikings closely eyed the facility for its business offices, along with its already existing adjacent football field, which could be converted easily into a covered site.”

The Vikings, though, couldn’t close a deal with Golden Valley authorities. Instead, they moved on to Eden Prairie and left behind their practice facility at Midway Stadium in St. Paul. As for the Golden Valley site, it became and still remains the home of Breck High School.

The New Mexico State team the Gophers open against at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday night looked awful offensively in its August 25 game with Wyoming. The Aggies had one first down in the first half on their way to a 29-7 loss to Wyoming, a team with an outstanding defense.

Although the Aggies were coming off their first bowl game last season since 1960, there were lots of empty seats for their home game in Las Cruces. Yet some tickets were priced as low as $3 each.

The Minnesota Athletic Department has been selling tickets starting at $1 for Lindsay Whalen’s first game as Gopher women’s basketball coach on November 9 against New Hampshire.

The Gophers have 113 players on their roster and 60 of them—or 53.1 percent—are true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Those are the highest numbers in the country among major college football programs.

Minnesota’s roster of four quarterbacks consists of one true freshman and three redshirt freshmen. The Gophers are the least experienced team in the country at quarterback.

Zack Annexstad wil start Thursday night, the first time the Gophers have begun the season with a true freshman quarterback since Tim Salem in 1980. Salem completed 13 of 16 passes and threw one touchdown pass in Minnesota’s 38-14 over Ohio.

It looks like Gophers special team headliners will include kickoff returner Rodney Smith, punt returner Antoine Winfield Jr., placekicker Emmitt Carpenter and punter Jacob Herbers.

Punting could be a concern for Minnesota. The now departed Ryan Santoso punted 66 times last season, while Herbers punted once. Head coach P.J. Fleck said SMU transfer Alex Melvin will also have opportunities in games.

The Gophers were No. 1 nationally in both fewest total penalties and yards penalized last season. The year before Minnesota ranked 91st in fewest penalty yards and 86th in yards penalized.

Barry Mayer, who is a former running back for the Gophers and three-year letter winner from 1968-70, is a certified paid trainer with the Positive Coaching Alliance in Minnesota. The organization provides various resources, including workshops, to help youth and high school athletes enjoy positive experiences in athletics. PCA’s motto is “Making Better Athletes Better People.”

Mayer’s son Adam was a wide receiver for the Gophers in 2015 and 2016. After lettering in 2016, he gave up football because of chronic hamstring injuries but is still in school and plans to graduate from Minnesota next spring with a degree in business.

“…When Adam told me he was thinking about stepping away from football, he knew it was going to disappoint me,” Barry said in an email. “I told him that sports are a means to an end, never the end in itself. My goal for him participating was to gain and understand the many life lessons sports offers and carry those on into one’s adult life. I truly believed he had done that, and apparently it was time to move on to his life’s next chapter. I couldn’t be more proud of the young man he is becoming.”

The Twins were a Wild Card team last year and expectations this spring were they could qualify for the postseason in 2018. Instead, the Twins are a good bet to finish under .500 and not even come close to earning a Central Division title, or Wild Card entry.

Twins president Dave St. Peter, who often talks about playing “meaningful games” late in the season, was asked if expectations were too high for his club. “I think we had realistic expectations based on what took place last season. Second half of last season we were the best team offensively in the American League, one of the better teams offensively in baseball. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t play out that way. We never really had our entire lineup on the field. …”

The suspension for about three months of shortstop Jorge Polanco and serious injuries to other frontline players impacted the club. Players have also underperformed. St. Peter, though, likes the “young core” of players on the roster and is optimistic about the talent in the club’s farm system.

The great Ted Williams, who played for the minor league Minneapolis Millers before his MLB career with the Red Sox, would be 100 years old tomorrow if still alive.

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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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