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Ex-GM Predicts 10-7, Playoffs for Vikings

July 31, 2022 - (0) comments


Jeff Diamond, the former Vikings general manager who was the 1998 NFL Executive of the Year, is upbeat about the 2022 team and predicts a 10-7 record, possibly better.

“I think that gets you a Wild Card,” Diamond told Sports Headliners earlier this month. “And they could do better than that (10-7 record). I think once you get the momentum, then things can start rolling.”

The Vikings’ record last season was 8-9 and that wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs. Most of the key personnel is back under a new coaching staff that will use new schemes on offense and defense. The Vikings have 10 starters returning on offense, seven on defense.

Jeff Diamond

There have been significant changes with the defensive roster including linebacker Za’Darius Smith and high draft choices Lewis Cine (safety) and Andrew Booth Jr. (cornerback). The defense was a liability last year (No. 25 in points allowed) but Diamond expects the unit to be improved.

The schedule is another reason Diamond is optimistic about his old team. “I think the schedule is favorable because they’ve got the extra home game this year. Compared to last year they had only eight home games, this year they have nine home games. Then they have the neutral site game with the Saints in London so there’s really only seven true road games so I think that’s an advantage schedule wise.”

To Minnesota’s benefit, too, is that the quality of opponents doesn’t appear to be daunting. The strength of schedule for 2022 ranks No. 20 in the 32-team NFL.

There is a wagering trend that the Vikings will earn around eight wins in the coming season. Forecasts for a bad year such as 6-11 will be difficult to find, and at the other extreme national talk show host Colin Cowherd is forecasting a 13-4 record and a NFC North Division title.

Worth Noting

Consistent with recent NFL concerns about protecting the health of its players, don’t expect to see a lot of Vikings starters in the team’s preseason games. “I think you’ll see them (starters) probably play a total of three-quarters in the three games, would be my guess,” Diamond said. “…I just think they’re very cautious and some of them like (running back) Dalvin Cook probably won’t play at all, or maybe one series.”

Vikings’ Ring of Honor members Carl Eller, 80, and Chuck Foreman, 71, signed autographs for fans yesterday at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.

Gophers fans can watch the football team practice starting at 2 p.m. Saturday, August 6 at Huntington Bank Stadium. Enter Gate E for the free event that includes a Fan Zone in the West Plaza with inflatables, yard games and photo stations.

Former Gophers head coach Tim Brewster is an assistant on head coach Deion Sanders’ staff at Jackson State. Brewster’s former defensive coordinator Ted Roof has that same title at Oklahoma, while his ex-offensive coordinator Jeff Fisch is starting his second season as Arizona’s head coach.

Stoltz & Oliva

Spire Credit Union is airing TV commercials with Olympic gold medalist wrestler and Minnesota native Gable Steveson. Spire prez and CEO Dan Stoltz told Sports Headliners Steveson, Twins Hall of Famer Tony Oliva and Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins will appear on billboards this fall for his company. A sports enthusiast, Stoltz was named 2020 Most Admired CEO by Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.

World Golf Hall of Famers Amy Alcott, Juli Inkster, Nancy Lopez, Hollis Stacy and Jan Stephenson are scheduled to compete in the Land O’Lakes Legends Classic presented by The Meadows at Mystic Lake on August 13-14 in Prior Lake. Inkster, the defending champion from last year’s inaugural event, is also a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame as are Alcott and Lopez. http://LegendsClassicMN.com

The Twins will play 20 home games at Target Field in August, the most in 45 years dating back to when the club was based at Met Stadium. In addition to Central Division rivals the Royals and Tigers, there are games against the Blue Jays, Rangers and Red Sox—with those clubs making their only 2022 Minneapolis appearances. In an interleague series, the NL Giants come to Target Field (opened in 2010) for the first time ever. The Twins’ home record is 27-22 and on the road 26-25.

Outfielder Matt Wallner, the powerful hitting Forest Lake, Minnesota native, draws speculation he could be part of a Twins’ trade deadline transaction to acquire pitching. But the 6-5, 220-pound Wallner has struggled at the plate in July hitting .118 since being promoted from Double-A Wichita to the Triple-A Saints.

Jim Kaat, now a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, spent the early part of his long career with the Twins but ended his MLB days with the Cardinals who won the 1982 World Series. In a July 23 New York Times story he told writer Tyler Kepner “no athlete in any professional sport has played 24 seasons before getting a championship ring.”

Terrin Vavra, the former Gophers shortstop (2016-2018), is hitless in three at bats with the Orioles since being promoted from Triple-A Norfolk last week.

Cameron Christie, the Rolling Meadows, Illinois shooting guard who has verbally committed to the Gophers for the class of 2023, is the second best player in his state per 247Sports but in its composite rankings lists him as a three-star recruit, not a four or five.

The first ever volleyball Big Ten Media Days will be Monday and Tuesday. The Big Ten Network will have coverage from 7 to 8:30 p.m. (CDT) Monday and 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.


P.J. Fleck Praises Team Commitment

July 26, 2022 - (0) comments


P.J. Fleck believes his 2022 Gophers football team is “probably the most committed” he has coached in six years at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers head coach spoke at Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis this morning and talked about how his players show a commitment to going beyond what’s required.

Mo Ibrahim

Part of that culture is led by four players in their sixth year with the Gophers. Wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, running back Mo Ibrahim, quarterback Tanner Morgan and center John Michael Schmitz make up an “encore four” who provide maturity to the program and share wisdom with other players.

Fleck singled out Ibrahim as a player who returned to the Gophers not only to help himself but others. Ibrahim, who missed most of last season after being injured in the opening game against Ohio State, could have opted out for pro football after being the Big Ten Running Back of the Year in 2020. “He did it for the team,” Fleck said about the decision to stay in school.

Ibrahim, who is coming off surgery for a torn Achilles, is at “full strength,” Feck said.
Ibrahim was a third team Associated Press All-American in 2020 after rushing for 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Schmitz was named to the Outland Trophy Watch List today. The award recognizes the best interior lineman in college football. He was named to the Rimington Award Watch List last week. That award is presented to the best center in college football.

Schmitz has been chosen as a preseason All-American by numerous outlets entering the season. He was named All-Big Ten Second Team last season by the coaches and All-Big Ten Third Team by the media.

Fleck referred to the Gophers as a developmental program not only in football but other areas including academics. He said the team’s most recent GPA is 3.3, and for 11 consecutive semesters the GPA has been at 3.0 or better.

The Gophers are picked to finish third in the West Division by Cleveland.com, now in its 12th year producing preseason Big Ten football polls. Cleveland.com’s predictions are highly anticipated because the 36 voters in the poll include the expertise of Big Ten media beat writers.

The Gophers received two first place votes in the poll that resulted in this predicted order of finish: Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, Nebraska, Illinois and Northwestern. Ohio State is projected to win the East Division and the Big Ten championship game.

Worth Noting

Kevin Warren, the former chief operating officer of the Minnesota Vikings and now Big Ten commissioner, spoke this morning in advance of the conference coaches. He favors Name, Image and Likeness opportunities for college athletes but said more uniformity is needed in regulation and wants federal legislation enacted. He expressed concern, too, about NIL being misused in recruiting.

Warren favors college football playoff expansion but is also aware of the need to maintain relationships with bowl game partners. He also said USC and UCLA, who join the Big Ten for the 2024-2025 school year, will have full shares of revenues from the conference’s media rights deals.

New Mexico State coach Jerry Kill will speak to the Twin Cities Dunkers group the morning of his September 1 game against the Gophers at Huntington Bank Stadium. Ex-Gophers AD Joel Maturi will introduce Minnesota’s former head coach, while Dave Mona moderates the program. Maturi and Mona led the hiring of Kill when he joined the Gophers in December of 2010.

The Gophers have single game tickets on sale for their seven home games. Prices start at $30 for the New Mexico State game. While the Aggies are Minnesota’s opening game, not so for Kill’s team which begins its schedule August 27 and then has to play Minnesota five days later.

Twins radio broadcaster Cory Provus will be part of the Big Ten Network’s roster of play-by-play talent for games in 2022. Former Gopher Brock Vereen will travel to Big Ten campuses to do interviews and provide analysis.

The Vikings, who started their fifth training camp this week in Eagan, have 10 starters returning on offense and seven on defense. Their strength of schedule for 2022 ranks No. 20 in the 32-team NFL. Three Minnesota natives are on the roster: linebacker Ryan Connelly, running back C.J. Ham and wide receiver Adam Thielen.

Brian Cosgriff

Brian Cosgriff is rightfully excited about the coaching staff he has put in place since being named girls basketball head coach at Minnetonka last spring. Here’s a look at the staff working with Cosgriff who won seven state titles in 21 years as Hopkins head coach:

Associate head coach Andy Berkvam was head coach at Lakeville North for 23 years and won three state titles there. Assistant coach Brock Tesdahl has worked for Hopkins boys’ coach Ken Novak and is the grandson of legendary Chisholm boys’ coach Bob McDonald. Jim Scheffler, with 58 years of coaching experience, is the shooting coach and the author of books on shooting.

Brian’s brother Barry, with 25 years of coaching experience, is the director of operations. Macy Hatlestad, who played at the University of St. Thomas and whose mom Julie is a long time assistant at Alexandria High School, is the junior varsity coach. John Roache, with two years of prior experience on the previous staff, is the 10th grade coach. Allie Rogers, who has been a student coach at Luther College and whose mom Julie is head girls’ coach at New Ulm, is the 9th grade coach.

“We have a great mix of young and old, as well as male and female coaches,” Cosgriff said in a text message. “We feel very fortunate to take over a great program that Leah Dasovitch created.”

The Twins are averaging 21,492 fans per home game, according to figures from ESPN.com. If that was the final average for the year it would be the second lowest since the club moved into Target Field in 2010. The Twins attracted a Target Field low of about 16,000 in 2021.

The Wild traded a 2022 All-Star goalie when sending Cam Talbot to the Senators earlier this summer. “I think they took a big gamble,” a hockey source told Sports Headliners. As of now, it looks like the Wild will rely on 37-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury as the primary goalie.

The Wild probably won’t say much publicly but ownership and management has to be nervous about getting star forward Kirill Kaprizov back in the states from his native Russia with the unpredictable environment there. If Kaprizov isn’t in Minnesota within a few weeks, this will turn into a media soap opera.


NIL Puts Hit on U Football Recruiting

July 24, 2022 - (0) comments


The Name, Image & Likeness (NIL) phenomenon is allowing athletes to monetize their success on the field or the court with endorsements, personal appearances and other marketing. The policy was put in place by the NCAA about 12 months ago and its impact has been profound, particularly in football where outside entities, supposedly separate from athletic departments, are facilitating payouts to benefit athletes.

Companies are paying NIL money in large and small amounts to athletes. Compensation can range from receiving free products to endorse brands, to the reported $1 million-plus NIL deals Alabama quarterback Bryce Young receives.

Often monetization goes through NIL collectives that pool money from businesses and boosters, help facilitate deals and directly coordinate payouts to athletes for things like charity appearances. Many other places around the country have been out front on collectives but now Rob Gag and Derek Burns are starting up Dinkytown Athletes to assist University of Minnesota athletes. The announcement about Dinkytown Athletes came this month and puts Minnesota on the national collectives map.

Coaches aren’t allowed by NCAA rules to set up collectives or administer them. Nor are coaches supposed to offer the promise of money to an athlete in the recruiting process.

It’s difficult, though, to believe there isn’t a cozy relationship between many coaches and booster-run collectives. What coach would want NIL money to be offered by a collective to a prospect he doesn’t want in the program?

While it’s against NCAA rules to use potential NIL money as a recruiting inducement, it’s easy to be skeptical about what might be happening. For example, a video clip that surfaced in late June showed a person dressed in Texas A&M clothing pointing to the luxury suites inside Texas A&M’s stadium and allegedly telling recruits they would get “a lot of money” from suite occupants if they decided to play for the Aggies.

What does recruiting authority Ryan Burns from GopherIllustrated think about NIL and the college football world? “Everybody wishes they had NIL. I can assure you of that. …”

Burns tracks Gophers football recruiting all year. Minnesota’s 2023 football recruiting class has 18 verbal commits so far, per 247Sports. How should Gopher fans feel about the class that 247 ranks No. 31 in the country? “I think they should be content. I don’t think they should be happy and I don’t think they should be sad,” said Burns who isn’t related to Derek Burns.

Does Burns believe Gopher coaches are being impacted in recruiting by the NIL presence at some schools? “Constantly. …If all things are equal (for a recruit), but another school can offer you NIL in terms of $10,000, $25,000, maybe more, than the decision doesn’t even become a decision.”

The Gophers lost out on several players they were hoping to land for the class of 2023, Burns said. “I know there were (recruiting) fights Minnesota didn’t take because they knew that NIL was involved with the kid, and you can’t bring a knife to a gun fight.

“There were some other guys (recruits) they took the fight and it ended up being that those other schools found some NIL money.”

While using illegal NIL inducements in recruiting is all but certain some places, it’s not going to happen at Minnesota. “They have the strictest compliance (with NCAA rules) in all of college sports,” Burns said. “There is nobody looking the other way here at the University of Minnesota. You can say that’s good, you can say that’s bad. You can say that’s what it is. The head coach can’t facilitate deals. That’s not the way it’s going to work with this compliance department. …”

Ryan Burns

Where Burns can see NIL money being particularly helpful at Minnesota is after athletes are nearing the end of their playing careers. The athlete who is struggling with a decision whether to play another season of football, basketball or volleyball versus going into the job market could use NIL money to be more financially comfortable for a while. In football a player who might project as a late round NFL draft choice could stay another season because of NIL money, help the team and work to improve his draft position.

A new Big Ten media rights deal is expected to deliver up to $100 million to each school in the conference. That figure could roughly double Minnesota’s budget for athletics.

The way Burns sees it the athletic department won’t need donation money as in the past. “They’re going to have another $40, $50 million. They’ll be just fine, but how about you throw that donation into the NIL collective, and that’s going to go directly to the student athletes. And that’s going to probably help your favorite team win a couple more games.”

While it’s different than NIL, Gopher athletes can soon benefit from a new NCAA policy allowing schools to provide financial support to student-athletes for academic success. The Gophers plan to institute the policy in the fall and it goes beyond the scholarship benefits student-athletes have long received. Schools are allowed to pay up to $5,980 per year to an athlete. A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago has opened the door for schools to pay athletes.

Burns said coach P.J. Fleck and his staff would “love” to add another offensive and defensive lineman to the 2023 class. An additional receiver could be welcome, too. National Signing Day is December 21.

The Gophers are also likely to be adding to the class with college transfers. Burns predicted the total of newcomers (mostly high school recruits) could be 25 to 28.

Who excites him in the 2023 class already? Burns offered up two running backs, Darius Taylor and Marquese Williams. Both Taylor and Williams received more than 25 Power Five offers, per Burns. They are near four-star recruits in the 247Sports recruiting rankings of players.


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