Enjoy a Tuesday notes column.
Faces change in the Vikings’ secondary from season to season except for one. Safety Harrison Smith, 34 and with 11 past seasons of NFL experience, provides continuity and leadership to a unit in flux.
As safeties and cornerbacks compete in training camp and beyond for playing time, they know Smith sets an example with his performance and leadership. It didn’t take long for new cornerback Joejuan Williams, a 2023 free agent signing, to seek out Smith who wears jersey No. 22. Williams is in competition to be one of the team’s two new starting cornerbacks.
“Even though there’s a huge age difference, at the end of the day, that’s a leader right there,” the 25-year-old Williams told Sports Headliners. “I’ve picked his brain first time I went over to his crib. Everybody sittin’ (and) chillin’ having fun and I am asking him 20 questions. I felt like I was annoying him. Just asking him (about) his leadership skills, how he’s done it for so long. I love to pick people’s brains like that and so, yeah, he’s been a great help.”
Here’s what Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell said stands out about Williams, a second round pick of the Patriots in 2019 who stayed with New England through 2019: “First and foremost, his size (6-3, 212 pounds). I’ve always known as an offensive guy, you know those bigger corners, just because they’re long, they can play physical.
“I think he’s done a really…great job since he’s gotten here, physically preparing himself as a bigger corner. He’s a very strong player. He’ll cause a lot of problems for us around the line of scrimmage with reroutes and rhythm and timing of passing games. He’s savvy, a smart player, very instinctive. …”
Williams, the tallest of the Vikings’ safeties and corners, is part of a group that includes Andrew Booth Jr., the 2022 second round pick who has often been injured during his career. This could be a pivotal season for Booth.
Williams is taking a willing attitude to help with the 22-year-old Booth. “I know he’s coming out with a chip on his shoulder, and so I am going to help him every step of the way,” Williams said.
Who become the starters and first players off the bench in the secondary will be determined the way coaches always decide these things and regardless of the position they play, per Nick Mullens. The Vikings’ backup quarterback said it’s all about dependability and trust, disciplined play, who works hard and is a good teammate.
Mullens joined the Vikings via trade in late August of last year “Coming into year two is big,” he said regarding more knowledge and comfort with the offensive system.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said yesterday the competition to determine the starters on the offensive line at right tackle and left guard will be “the battle of camp.” Redshirt junior Martes Lewis and redshirt senior JJ Guedet are competing at right tackle, while hoping to start at left guard are sixth-year senior Karter Shaw and redshirt senior Tyler Cooper.
Minneapolis native and cornerback Craig McDonald is awaiting a waiver ruling from the NCAA to be eligible for the Gophers this season. The waiver approval is necessary because McDonald has transferred twice in his college career, having been first at Iowa State and later Auburn. McDonald would have three years of eligibility with the Gophers and Fleck is upbeat about his potential contribution.
The Gophers have started practice for their season opener against Nebraska at home Thursday, August 31. Two free open practices are available to fans, starting with this Saturday’s 7 p.m. event at Huntington Bank Stadium. The Tuesday, August 15 practice is also open to the public and starts at 3:30 p.m. at the team’s practice facility at the Athletes Village.
Saturday’s gathering is the annual Family Day Practice and will feature a fan fest on the West Plaza. Fans are encouraged to bring diapers and donate them to the Diaper Bank of Minnesota. Also, as in the past, fans can bring decorated oars to adorn the stadium hallway the Gophers travel from their locker room to the field on game days.
Former Gophers head football coach Jerry Kill turns 62 on August 24 and is healthy as he prepares his New Mexico State team for a second season under his leadership. The Aggies are picked for fifth in their new league home, Conference USA, but Kill teams have a way of surprising. Public season tickets to see the Aggies start at $70.
When Dawn Plitzuweit was considering becoming the women’s basketball coach for the Gophers earlier this year, she spoke with Richard Pitino about what it is like to work under Minnesota AD Mark Coyle. “I am not exactly sure how they got connected but I was surprised and also excited that she did talk to Richard because I knew she was interested (in Minnesota), and I knew Richard—how he felt about this place—that it would be a good conversation.”
Pitino, who left his job as Minnesota’s men’s coach in March of 2021 to take over at New Mexico, has long had a solid relationship with Coyle. “…We just have a really good friendship and really thankful for that friendship,” Coyle said.
The Twins, who face the MLB trade deadline later today at 5 p.m., have lost five consecutive games including three straight over the weekend to the lowly Royals (.299 winning percentage). The two teams don’t play again until next season when they open the regular season March 28-31 in Kansas City. The Twins were 6-1 in Minneapolis against the Royals but only 3-3 in Kansas City.
Former Twin Luiz Arraez enters August hitting a gaudy .381 through 107 games for the Marlins. MLB.com points out today that after 107 games in 1941 and 82 fewer at bats Ted Williams was hitting .411 for the Red Sox. Williams, who once played for the Minneapolis Millers, was the last MLB hitter to average .400 for a season (he hit .406 in 1941).
Minnesota hockey icon Lou Nanne is spending a lot of time at his lake place near Balsam Lake, Wisconsin and not playing much golf. He just had a pickle ball court installed in his barn.
Jonathan Mekonnen, the Eastview class of 2024 basketball wing, verbally committed to Colorado State last week where the program is led by native Minnesotan Niko Medved.
The 2023-2024 season will be the first for a 35-second shot clock in Minnesota boys and girls high school basketball games.
Billy Robertson, the former WCHA and USHL commissioner, discussed his over four-decades career in sports on the latest episode of “Behind the Game.” He talked about his many memorable experiences including characters he has known over the years. You can see the show at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfPHTGHLF_Y&t=4s
The fifth annual Taste Fore The Tour presented by Tradition Capital Bank at Interlachen Country Club last week was a sold-out fundraiser for Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People (VEAP), the Twin Cities’ largest food pantry. VEAP provides food, social services, and financial assistance to people in south Hennepin County. While dollars are still being counted from the event, donations are expected to allow VEAP to offer 800,000 new meals. To date, Taste Fore The Tour reports donating the equivalent of 3.2 million meals for local people.
Special hosts for the event July 24 included Michele Tafoya, Matt Birk and Ben Leber. Celebrities also included Rachel Banham, Bobby Bell, Matt Boldy, Devan Dubnyk, P.J. Fleck, Justin Gaard, Andre Hollins, Kent Hrbek, Ben Johnson, Glen Mason, Randall McDaniel, Zach Parise, Mark Parrish, John Randle, Laura Schara, Ron Schara, Drew Stafford, Scott Studwell, Darrell Thompson, Carrie Tollefson, and Jason Zucker.