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Vikings Spielman Shows the Skeptics

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December 5, 2017


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It looks like Rick Spielman’s critics will have to rethink their second-guessing of the Vikings general manager. Skeptics said this summer the 2017 Vikings might struggle to make the playoffs, but with a 10-2 record the club is one of the NFL’s elite teams and headed toward a postseason run that could end in the Minneapolis Super Bowl.

The Vikings rank third in the NFL in yards given up per game at 289.1 and have made a statement offensively ranking fifth and averaging 370.4 yards. Mike Zimmer, in his fourth season leading the Vikings, is an advanced defensive teacher and strategist. In his first full season as offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur has impressed with varied schemes, play calls and tempos. But without gifted players the Vikings wouldn’t be on an eight-game win streak and in the company of the NFC’s best teams.

Before the season there was speculation Spielman’s job could be on the line this fall. General managers, like coaches, are subject to constant scrutiny—especially those who have been making personnel decisions with the same organization for a long time. Spielman has been out front on Viking scouting, drafting and trading since 2006. During that time the Vikings have won three division titles and advanced to the playoffs four times.

The Vikings have one playoff win in the Spielman era and from season-to-season often struggled to maintain success. The 2015 team’s record was 11-5 and the club won the NFC North title. Last season was a disappointment with an 8-8 record and no playoff appearance. A major source of misery was the offensive line and the Spielman critics faulted him for not drafting an o-lineman in the first round for five years, 2013-2017.

The line is part of the success story this fall, though. During the offseason Spielman signed free agent tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. He drafted center Pat Elflien who as a rookie moved into the starting lineup joining Reiff and Remmers. As of late Remmers has been injured but Rashod Hill has been an effective sub. The Vikings added Hill to their practice squad about a year ago when the Jaguars let him go.

It was a great 2017 offseason for Spielman who also signed Case Keenum as a backup quarterback to Sam Bradford. Keenum has emerged as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, with both observation and analytics testifying to his high level of play. Bradford, acquired by Spielman before the 2016 season after future franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sidelined for the year, turned in a career season for the Vikings despite the awful performance of the offensive line. Bradford, though, has a history of knee injuries, and has only played in two games this season. Keenum was a journeyman quarterback until this season but Speilman looks prophetic in acquiring the five-year veteran who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November.

Keenum is one of several players on the roster worthy of NFL postseason honors, including Pro Bowl consideration. Spielman and his staff found wide receiver Adam Thielen as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and the Minnesota native heads any list of offensive players along with Keenum. Other names include these Spielman draft choices: linebacker Anthony Barr, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, defensive end Everson Griffen, safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. There is also defensive tackle Linval Joseph who Spielman acquired as a free agent in 2014.

The presence of Keenum, 29, is particularly significant for Spielman and the Vikings. Criticism has been targeted at the general manger for years regarding the quarterback position. Brett Favre was a short-term fix in 2009 and Spielman hoped he had a long-term solution with 2011 No. 1 draft choice Christian Ponder. The Ponder experiment didn’t succeed and the Vikings started over with the drafting of Bridgewater in 2014, only to see him sustain a career threatening knee injury last year.

During the Spielman era there have admittedly been personnel moves that didn’t work out. The Leslie Frazier hire as head coach in 2011 didn’t succeed either but it’s difficult to know how much authority Vikings ownership played in that decision—and perhaps even the hiring of Zimmer.

What is known is that without assembling a talented roster and winning on the field, general managers can’t maintain job security. It looks like Spielman will be around for awhile.

Worth Noting

Bob Lurtsema

Bobbleheads of Vikings legends Jerry Burns and Bob Lurtsema, costing $40 each, will be on sale this weekend at Southtown Shopping Center as part of Triple Crown’s Sports Card & Bobble Show. Lurtsema will be at the show from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, while Burns is there from 1 to 4 p.m. Show hours Saturday are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. More information is available from Joe Florenzano,

Mary Hardin-Baylor, the school that defeated St. Thomas 24-10 last Saturday in a Division III quarterfinal playoff game, started its football program in 1998. Until playing the Tommies, the Crusaders had never been held under 150 yards of total offense, or less than 10 yards rushing. St. Thomas limited MHB to 143 yards on 55 plays, including minus 16 rushing yards on 30 carries.

St. Thomas graduated four defensive All-Americans from the 2016 team but this season still achieved historic statistics. The Tommie defense allowed only 21.6 rushing yards per game—something no NCAA team in Division I, II and III has done in the last 16 seasons. St. Thomas gave up 0.7 yards per rushing attempt, ranking with the best seasons by an NCAA defense. Eight of 13 opponents were held under 15 net rushing yards (six gained one or less total yards).

Darrell Thompson, the Gophers all-time career leading rusher and now head of the Bolder Options nonprofit, hosted a thank you event for his youth mentoring organization last night at Cambria Gallery in downtown Minneapolis. Bolder Options celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018.

The No. 14 ranked Gophers basketball team will be 2-0 in the Big Ten Conference for the first time since 2013 with a win tonight in Lincoln against the Cornhuskers. Minnesota is 8-1 overall and 1-0 in league games, while Nebraska is 6-3 and 0-1.

Statistics as of yesterday showed Gophers forward Jordan Murphy leading the conference in scoring at 21 points per game and rebounding at 12.9. Center Reggie Lynch led the nation in blocks per game with 4.8.

Sunday’s home attendance of 11,097 for the Rutgers game was disappointing after last week’s sellout crowd of 14,625 for nationally ranked Miami. The Scarlet Knights aren’t a strong draw, plus the Vikings and Timberwolves had games on Sunday.

Jim Bruton, who has authored books with Jerry Kill, Lou Nanne and Fran Tarkenton, is working on a book coming out next year about Dick Jonckowski, the former public address announcer for Gophers basketball and funny man storyteller who has made a career of emceeing and speaking at events.

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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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