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NFL Insider: Kendricks Vital to Vikings

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December 10, 2020

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Vikings veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks didn’t play last Sunday because of a calf injury.  Former NFL executive Jeff Diamond thinks it’s all-important for the Vikings to have him available against the Tampa Bay Bucs next Sunday in a vital game to the playoff chances for both teams.  Kendricks didn’t participate in practice yesterday.

“They’ve gotta have Eric Kendricks this week,” Diamond told Sports Headliners. “They got by without him last week, barely. I know (sub) Todd Davis played pretty well, but you’re talking about one of your best defensive players, if not your best defensive player, in Eric Kendricks.”

Diamond was Vikings general manager in the late 1990s and after the team’s 15-1 season in 1998 was named NFL Executive of the Year.  He later was president of the Tennessee Titans.  While living in the Minneapolis area now, he is involved with varied work assignments including senior consultant with the Institute for Athletes sports management firm that represents NFL players such as Adam Thielen of the Vikings.

Diamond offered a prediction on the outcome between the 6-6 Vikings and 7-5 Bucs. “I think it’s going to be a close game, but if I had to make a pick, I would pick Tampa by three. …I think the key (for the Vikings) is they’ve gotta get some pressure on (quarterback Tom) Brady.  The pass rush has been just so-so, and in order to get pressure they’ve had to blitz. Brady is not exactly the guy you want to blitz because he sees things so fast.”

Not only is the (arguably) GOAT a challenge Sunday, but so, too, are his outstanding receivers.  Diamond predicted the inexperienced Vikings cornerbacks are going to be “severely” tested.  Rookie corner Jeff Gladney sustained a reported calf injury in last Sunday’s close win over the 1-11 Jaguars, and Diamond said the Vikings need him in Tampa.  Otherwise, he believes the team is reaching too deep into its cornerback pool and that will send reserve corners on the field who he describes as “shaky.”  Gladney was limited in what he did in practice yesterday.

Diamond likes the improvement of Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, another rookie corner showing development.  They are part of the reason why Diamond is bullish on the club’s future.

Diamond said: “A team that I think is going to be better next year when you get Danielle Hunter back.  You have these young players, the rookie class, that is looking like it could be outstanding with (Justin) Jefferson, (Ezra) Cleveland, Gladney and Dantzler already starting. (Rookie reserve) D.J. Wonnum making big contributions as a pass rusher.

“This (2020 draft) could wind up being one of the great Viking drafts of all-time.  You get all those players in their second year (2021) where they are going to continue to improve and have a full off-season. …  You get back Michael Pierce (who) sat out this year for COVID, as a run-stopper inside.  And Anthony Barr (injured vet not playing this season), we will see what happens there.  I think they may free up some cap space with him, and I am not sure he is going to be here next year.  I think the future is very bright for this team, so I am excited for the future.”

The opinion of fans on head coach Mike Zimmer is varied but Diamond credits ownership for being smart in giving Zimmer a contract extension earlier in the year.  Zimmer has been the team’s head coach since 2014 with highlights that include two NFC North Division titles and a 13-3 regular season that saw the Vikings advance to the NFC championship game.  His record is 63-44-1, with total wins and winning percentage ranking third in franchise history behind Bud Grant and Dennis Green.

Diamond said the more successful NFL franchises have stability and continuity. The Pittsburgh Steelers have employed three head coaches in the last 50 years.  The Vikings have had five head coaches in the last 25 years, including Zimmer.

This season no team has a better record than the 11-1 Steelers.  The Steelers head coach is Mike Tomlin, the former Vikings defensive coordinator, who took over in Pittsburgh in 2007.  He has won a Super Bowl and might win another in 2021.

There have been ups and downs for Tomlin in Pittsburgh but Diamond said the African-American coach can lead his team without fear of losing his job. The organization has a culture prioritizing stability and valuing longevity. The Steelers have been owned for generations by the Rooney family. Diamond knew the late Dan Rooney and present boss Art Rooney II.  “They’re just sold guys that are going to give their coaches a chance, and they select the right coaches in the first place,” Diamond said.

Worth Noting

Jeff Diamond

Diamond’s varied activities include assignments for WCCO Radio, and speaking to college and business audiences about his NFL career and other subjects such as leadership, negotiation and sports management.  He is working with Richfield native Michael Clements who is commissioner of the startup Minneapolis-based National Rugby Football League expected to be operational in two years.

Eric Kendricks is the Vikings’ nominee for the 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. The award recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field. Each of the league’s 32 nominees were announced today.

In the last three weeks Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins ranks second in the NFL with nine touchdown passes. He ranks third with 926 passing yards. In each of his last three games, Cousins has produced at least 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes. ​

With at least 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes next Sunday against the Bucs, Cousins will tie Patrick Mahomes (four consecutive games in 2018) and Peyton Manning (four straight games in 2012) for the second-longest streak of games with those numbers in a single NFL season.  Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young (five consecutive games in 1998) has a longer streak.

Rumors persist that Twins DH extraordinaire Nelson Cruz might use his free agent status to join the White Sox who could emerge from the off-season as the favorite to win the AL Central.  MLB.com named Cruz second team All-MLB today at DH.  Twins pitcher Kenta Maeda also is on the second team.

As mentioned in this space recently, it could be multi-positional Kiké Hernández of the Dodgers remains a potential free agent signing by the Twins.

Hopkins is No. 1 in ESPN’s top 25 national rankings of girls high school basketball teams. ESPN has Royals junior forward Maya Nnaji as the No. 7 prep prospect in the class of 2022.

The Vikings and Minnesota Football Coaches Association sponsor the Mr. Football Award and the ten 2020 finalists are: Shea Albrecht, Orono; Joe Alt, Totino-Grace; Cameron Anderson, Blue Earth Area; Trey Feeney, Moorhead; Nick Flaskamp, Minneapolis Southwest; Marcus Hansen, Waseca; Eli Mau, Chanhassen; Jake Ratzlaff, Rosemount, Garrison Solliday, St. Thomas Academy; Adam Tonsfeldt, Barnesville.  An announcement date disclosing the winner has yet to be made public.

Charley Walters, the newsy Pioneer Press columnist with thousands of sports world contacts, is the latest “Behind the Game” guest with co-hosts Patrick Klinger and Bill Robertson.  The program is available for viewing on the “Behind the Game”  YouTube Channel and via cable access throughout the state.

Klinger is organizer of the membership-only Capital Club that will hear from Vikings chief operating officer Andrew Miller via Zoom next Wednesday.

Sign of the times: the New Mexico Bowl is relocating for one year from Albuquerque to Frisco, Texas.

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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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