Monday, May. 25, 2020


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Ex-Coach High on 2019 Vikings

 

The Vikings host an exhibition game tonight against the Seattle Seahawks. The outcome is meaningless but the opportunity to evaluate players as part of the preseason is valuable for general manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and others with the organization. The pressure on Spielman, Zimmer and the players is considerable after last season’s 8-7-1 season when Minnesota didn’t qualify for the playoffs.

The prevailing thought is the Vikings have the talent and coaching to rebound from last year and play closer to the level of 2017 when Minnesota was 13-3 during the regular season schedule, and then nearly earned its way to the Minneapolis Super Bowl. While there are skeptics about whether the 2019 edition can do better than eight wins again, you can count Dean Dalton among those with a rosy view about the coming season.

“I think they’re very, very poised to be a strong team,” said Dalton, who was an assistant coach with the Vikings from 1999-2005. “I think offensively we’re going to be excited. They’re going to be fun to watch because they’ll be explosive, yet consistent. Defensively, I think they’ll be able to rise up and keep people off the scoreboard. The variable is special teams, and if they get that group in the upper echelon of the NFL, this is a playoff team with no limitations.”

Kirk Cousins

The Vikings were frequently disappointing on offense last season, with new quarterback Kirk Cousins sometimes unable to make big fourth quarter plays and the running game often absent. Dalton, though, is enthusiastic about the changes in offensive coaches since a year ago, including the addition of Gary Kubiak, the new assistant head coach with a Super Bowl pedigree. Dalton, who lives in Eden Prairie and follows the team closely, told Sports Headliners the 2019 Vikings will have a newfound balance between the run and pass, and success will follow.

The Vikings lost some defensive mystique last year. Opponents scored 24 or more points seven times and there were fourth quarter struggles to make big plays. Yet Minnesota ranked fourth best in the NFL in total yards given up per game at 309.7. Dalton believes the unit this season will be “excellent,” and worthy of top five status when compared with the NFL’s 32 other teams.

Dalton said it was “not a good decision” cutting 12-year veteran defensive end Brian Robison last year. It was an emotional move for many with the organization. The defense missed Robison’s leadership and wisdom, Dalton said. This year, Dalton believes, other members of the defense are ready to fill the leadership void.

What Dalton hopes for and believes is realistic for the Vikings is to become a top 10 or 15 offense, top five defense and rank among the best 15 special teams. The latter is the team’s biggest unknown of the three units, with Zimmer working with new special teams coaches and players. It’s not known who will return punts and kickoffs, who will be the place kicker and who will punt. Even the holder status is TBD, and the preseason will be used, too, to sort out the impact guys covering punts and kickoffs.

Zimmer is shaking things up on special teams. The club has a revolving door history with placekickers but Spielman keeps trying with the latest move making a trade with the Baltimore Ravens to acquire kicker-punter Kaare Vedvik. With new faces instructing and likely newcomers playing key roles, maybe the Vikings can achieve at least middling status among NFL special teams and help the club live up to Dalton’s optimism.

Worth Noting

Dean Lombardi, the former executive with NHL teams including the North Stars, is living in Sonoma, California, and I am told he isn’t interested in the Wild’s GM vacancy.

Bill Guerin, the Penguins assistant general manager, could be the choice for the job and a source said he has the experience and people skills that might attract Wild owner Craig Leipold.

New St. Thomas athletic director Phil Esten told Sports Headliners it’s likely his school will have a decision by the first part of next year regarding where the Tommies will compete after leaving the MIAC following the 2020-2021 school year. Esten is spending “about 75 percent” of his time sorting through options for a new conference home and determining whether the Tommies remain a Division III sports program, or target another level.

It’s an unusual partnership for a Division III program, but St. Thomas football games will be heard for a ninth consecutive year on WCCO—also the radio home of the Twins and Timberwolves. Dave Lee, the station’s early morning show host, again will provide play-by-play on Tommies broadcasts. Eric Nelson also returns as the analyst working in the booth with Lee.

Pete Fiutak, writing on the Internet last Tuesday for College Football News, included the Gophers in a story about five promising teams from the Power Five conferences drawing minimal attention. Fiutak wrote “that while Nebraska is considered the Big Ten West’s hot thing, it might just be the Gophers who steal the show.”

Fiutak’s other choices in a story headlined “Five Dangerous Teams No One is Talking about” were Washington State (Tracy Claeys defensive coordinator), Missouri, TCU and Virginia Tech.

Badgerofhonor.com offered predictions about Wisconsin’s 12-game football schedule last Tuesday, with writer Christian Borman forecasting the Badgers will reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe from Minnesota. “This is the game I think the Badgers are looking most forward to,” he wrote.

Former Golden Gophers basketball coach Jim Dutcher talking about the quality of high school basketball in the state: “Proportionally (by population in the U.S.), Minnesota turns out more Division I players than any place in the country.”

Gary “Cookie” Holmes, a contributor to Dutcher’s 1982 Big Ten championship team, oversees charters for Delta Airlines in Minneapolis including Twins flights.

Although Twins prime talents Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff are not hitting up to expectations this season, Bleacher Report placed the shortstop and outfielder at No. 11 and 13 respectively on its top 50 MLB prospects list posted last Thursday. The other Twins prospect on the list is right-hand pitcher Brusdar Graterol, ranked No. 32.

Retired manager Tom Kelly, who led the Minnesota Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, turned 69 last week. He was 36 when he became the club’s manager in 1986.

Condolences to former Gophers basketball captain Al Nuness on the passing of his 98-year-old mom, Fannie Nuness, who lived in Hopkins after being a longtime resident of Maywood, Illinois.

The Capital Club will hear from Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle August 28 and Minnesota Timberwolves CEO Ethan Casson October 4 at Town & Country Club in St. Paul. More information about the club is available from Patrick Klinger, patrickklinger@klingercompany.com.

Sun Country Airlines is partnering with Minnesota United for a fan charter to the U.S. Open Cup Final in Atlanta August 27, offering $325 round-trip tickets. The price includes bus transportation to and from the stadium, but not a game ticket to watch the Loons.

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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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