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Vikings Need Veteran Backup QB

August 24, 2021 - (0) comments

 

After several weeks of training camp and two preseason games it looks like the Minnesota Vikings need a backup quarterback with NFL experience to be No. 2 on the depth chart behind starter Kirk Cousins. A former NFL executive, speaking anonymously, told Sports Headliners it’s “really important” to try and make such a move.

The backups on the roster currently have no experience in NFL regular season games. As things stand now, it appears if Cousins were injured this fall and unable to play his team could falter badly on offense.

Rookie Kellen Mond has played more in preseason games than any other Vikings quarterback and looks unprepared to step in for Cousins if the need arrives as soon as next month. Jake Browning has played about one quarter and been less impressive than Mond. Nate Stanley, the third of the young and inexperienced quarterbacks, has yet to play this month.

Mond’s statistics include completing 12 of 28 pass attempts (42.9 percent) for 114 yards and no touchdowns. He has been off target with throws and looked indecisive in the pocket. Although a gifted runner at 6-3, 211, he seems reluctant to scramble and gain yards from broken plays. He was a spread formation quarterback at Texas A&M and now must adapt to taking snaps under center. He is also learning the complex offense, and his overall learning curve was set back awhile ago when quarantined because of testing positive for COVID-19.

The 22-year-old Mond has been criticized by head coach Mike Zimmer for being too nonchalant on the field. “He’s going to have to move faster with everything he does,” Zimmer told the KFAN FM 100.3 radio audience following the first preseason game.  Later it was reported Mond was sensitive to the criticism.

Mond may some day become an NFL-ready first string option but for now he is a 3rd round draft choice looking at a steep learning curve.  In addition, with Cousins unvaccinated, the threat of COVID sidelining Cousins puts the Vikings in even more potential peril.

Zimmer was asked about bringing in a veteran quarterback after Saturday night’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts.  “We’ll talk about it this week,” he said. “You know, with the monetary situation we have to be careful of that as well.”

Zimmer is referring to the team’s salary cap. The source referenced above said after the Vikings settle on their 53-man roster and other personnel obligations they will have “$3 to 4 million” in salary cap room to spend on a veteran quarterback if they wish. Possibilities might include Nick Foles of the Chicago Bears, Brian Hoyer with the New England Patriots and Josh Rosen who was cut earlier this month by the San Francisco 49ers and has passed through waivers (although reports have the Atlanta Falcons signing him).

NFL teams must be down to 53-man rosters by August 31, including active and inactive players. The league trade deadline is November 2.

Judging by the play of their backup quarterbacks this month and Zimmer’s quote last Saturday, the Vikings will be shopping this week and likely beyond, watching the quarterback market with an acquisition possibly coming via trade. The ex-NFL executive, though, believes the Vikings could decide to stick with Mond, counting on major improvement in a short period and gambling Cousins, who has been a durable quarterback during his career, stays healthy.

Worth Noting

Everson Griffen, the veteran defensive lineman signed recently by the Vikings, likely is playing for the league minimum of $1 million, plus incentives, per the source.

The 0-2 Vikings try for a victory Friday night in Kansas City against the Chiefs and a loss means the first winless preseason for Minnesota since 1979.

Contrary to speculation, Vikings executive Lester Bagley won’t be heading up the Wilf family’s Orlando soccer franchise. Bagley has been assisting with the Orlando operation including the search for a CEO but he will remain with the Vikings.

It will be a surprise if impressive rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette, a fifth round draft choice from Iowa, doesn’t win the assignment of returning kickoffs for the Vikings, and perhaps punts, too. He has a 26.3 average on three kickoff returns and has returned one punt for 17 yards. His place on the roster also provides depth at wide receiver.

At 21 years old Smith-Marsette is the youngest player on the roster. Punter Britton Colquitt is the oldest at 36.

University of Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck said yesterday injured WR Chris Autman-Bell is day-to-day and that he’s “excited about his progress.” Talking about the quarterback group, Fleck said No. 2 Zack Annexstad has been too self-critical but is improving in that area.

John Anderson

Coach John Anderson, who this year finished his 40th season leading the historic University of Minnesota baseball program, is the latest “Behind the Game” guest of 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.

The charm and competitiveness of the State Town Ball baseball tournament that started earlier this month continues through the next two weekends. Fans will see a variety of skill levels and players including former professionals. Total attendance goal is 25,000, per Dale Welter.

The Minnesota Twins, in New York last week to play the Yankees, didn’t have to face Luis Gill, their former minor league pitcher. The 23-year-old right-hander made his MLB debut earlier this month and has yet to give up an earned run in 15.2 innings. Gill, who has 18 strikeouts, was traded to the Yankees in March of 2018 for outfielder Jake Cave.

Jerry Kill, the former Gopher football coach who remains popular and friends with so many Minnesotans, is 60 today. Kill is starting his second season as an assistant in charge of the offense at TCU.

The Big Ten football season begins Saturday with Nebraska at Illinois. FOX will televise with kickoff expected shortly after noon Minneapolis time.

Hockey authority Michael Russo tweeted yesterday that CSKA  Moscow says Kirill Kaprizov won’t be playing for the team next season, indicating the gifted forward will settle on a contract with the Minnesota Wild.

The local section of the United States Tennis Association is hosting a US Open viewing party from 5 to 11 p.m. August 30 at the Vikings’ TCO Stadium. Fans will need free tickets to watch on the stadium Jumbotron.  Contact the USTA Northern Section for more information.

Scott Davis, from Yahoo.com, points out the NBA New York Knicks “have not re-signed their past 18 first-round picks to a second, multi-year contract.” In his first season with the Knicks, former Minnesota Timberwolves boss Tom Thibodeau was named NBA Coach of the Year for 2020-21.

 

Fleck Gives High Praise to Frosh Class

August 22, 2021 - (0) comments

 

A Sunday notes column with a focus on University of Minnesota football.

Coach P.J. Fleck and staff had an early look at some freshmen in the 2021 recruiting class when they enrolled in school last winter. With preseason practice underway, Fleck has now seen all his freshmen. His verdict:

“They’re really good. This class is really (a) special class.”

Justin Walley was among early enrollees and although a true freshman the cornerback seems likely to play in 2021 games. The 5-11, 185 pound Walley was the Class 6A Mr. Mississippi Football and he figures to be a key contributor in the secondary during his U career.

Help on the back end is also likely to come (sooner or later) from freshman Steven Ortiz Jr. from Arizona. The 6-foot, 180 pound Ortiz was a four-star recruit, while Walley was a three-star. Both came from winning prep programs.

Frosh quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, from Antioch, Illinois, threw some of the best spirals of any passers at a practice last week. The four-star prospect was ranked the No. 16 quarterback in the country by Rivals. He is all but certain to be redshirted on a deep QB roster.

There are freshmen showing poise despite their inexperience on the college level. Wide receiver Brady Boyd from Southlake, Texas looks the part early in his Minnesota Career. With Fleck taking a by-committee approach to the receiving game, August practice indicates Boyd could be making some Saturday receptions for the Gophers.

P.J. Fleck

Four-star running back Mar’Keise Irving, from Country Club Hills, Illinois, is a name Fleck mentions when talking kick off returners. Fleck predicts improvement in the return game and wants more explosive runs. While Irving is in the mix for returning kickoffs this season, he is unlikely to break into the rotation of veteran running backs ahead of him.

Fleck initially started talking about his freshmen class last week when asked about two specific players, defensive lineman Austin Booker and tight end Jameson Geers. He raved about both.

“Austin Booker is going to play a ton of football here. I hate throwing out the word ‘freak,’ because people use it all the time, but he is a young freak. He’s very talented. He’s incredibly explosive.

“In summer conditioning, he won every single sprint. He was running the times of the skilled positions, the wideouts and the DBs. He can run.

“And he got thrown in there (at practice) probably a little bit before he’s ready. He’s pretty thin (6-6, 240) and not as strong as he needs to be. But the minute he starts filling out, he’s going to be a special player.

“Jameson Geers, he might play for us this year. He has an opportunity. He’s…tough, he can run routes, he can catch the ball.”

Among frosh players who will watch and learn while going the redshirt route are offensive linemen Jackson Hunter, Cameron James, Logan Purcell and Saia Mapakaitolo. Minnesota’s starting offensive line consists entirely of upper classmen and all could be playing their final season for the Gophers. That puts a priority on developing the four freshmen.

The hope was that by now the Gophers would have more than one o-line verbal commit in the class of 2022 (Tony Nelson from Tracy, Minnesota). If that doesn’t change, Fleck and his recruiters may target the transfer portal in the next offseason.

Ryan Burns, the 247Sports Gopher football authority, likes Nelson’s potential. “I think he’s got a chance to be the best offensive lineman in the state of Minnesota in this class. He’s certainly much more raw than a Deylin Hasert (from Marshall, Minnesota and verbally committed to Iowa State). He’s much more raw than the Hill-Murray kid as well (Lucas Heyer, with a verbal to Stanford).

“But (Nelson) he’s got athleticism and he’s got the ideal physical tools at 6-6, 265. He’s what a tackle in the Big Ten looks like. He’s what Iowa has thrown out at tackle, or Wisconsin has thrown out at tackle for so many years. Seeing him live at Minnesota’s camp…he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty a little bit too. I like him quite a bit.”

It will be interesting to see how much, if at all, the Gophers use the wildcat formation this season. It was productive as a power formation in past seasons when Minnesota called on 6-4, 240-pound tight end and former prep quarterback Seth Green. Despite his remaining eligibility at Minnesota, he transferred to the Houston Cougars.

With the deep quarterback roster, Minnesota coaches could use redshirt sophomore Cole Kramer in the wildcat. He was a heady competitor at Eden Prairie High School and is probably the best runner among the Gophers’ top five quarterbacks. At about 6-1, 205 he doesn’t have Green’s power but he offers a run-pass threat.

Former Gopher and MLB legend Paul Molitor is 65 today. Ex-Gopher women’s basketball coach Pam Borton is 56. Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen is 31.

Ron Stolski

Ron Stolski, a superb speaker and legendary state high school football coach before retiring with 389 wins, will talk to the CORES luncheon group Thursday, September 9 at the Bloomington Event Center. He has been the executive director of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association since the organization’s inception in 2006. For more information about the luncheon and program, contact Jim Dotseth, dotsethj@comcast.net. CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans.

 

Intriguing If WR Wright Subs for U

August 17, 2021 - (0) comments

 

Chris Autman-Bell, counted on this fall to be the Golden Gophers’ No. 1 receiver, is sidelined with an undisclosed injury, but possibly a high ankle sprain. The injury happened in practice last week and speculation has been Autman-Bell could miss the September 2 opening game against Ohio State. Head coach P.J. Fleck said after practice last night Autman-Bell’s injury is “week-to-week” and predicted a “legitimate chance” he could compete against the Buckeyes.

Autman-Bell, a senior, has played in 33 games during his Minnesota career, with 78 receptions for 1,250 yards and six touchdowns. That’s a lot of experience for the talented wide receiver who makes difficult catches and has the skills to be an NFL prospect.

If Autman-Bell can’t play against top five tanked Ohio State, who gets his assignment? It could be a group approach and several receivers had a lot of reps in practice yesterday. None seem more intriguing than Dylan Wright who showed his speed and pass catching skills Monday.

“He consistently makes huge plays,” Fleck said. “He’s just gotta be able to have the detailed part of the game continue to be ironed out.”

Dylan Wright

Wright, 6-3 and 215, is a redshirt sophomore and new to the roster after transferring from Texas A&M where he played in a total of eight games in 2019 and 2020.  Fleck didn’t offer more explanation on how Wright needs to continue improvement.

Ryan Burns, the 247Sports Gopher football authority, sees more “immediate upside” in Wright than other potential subs for Autman-Bell.

“He’s the most athletic receiver on the roster,” Burns told Sports Headliners in regard to Wright. “His straight line speed, he can take the top off the defense. He knows how to go up and get a football.”

247Sports ranked the Dallas native the No. 12 wide receiver prospect in the country coming out of high school after his 2018 senior season. Wright was also named an Under Armor All-American.

Worth Noting

Matthew Trickett, the Kent State transfer, made 11 of 14 field goal attempts late at Monday’s practice, according to Daniel House of Gophers Guru. Trickett could be a lock to win the kicking job. True freshman quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, from Antioch, Illinois, threw some of the best spirals at practice.

Burns tracks Gophers and Big Ten recruiting. In Minnesota’s 2021 recruiting class five of the 18 players are from Illinois but for 2022 none of the 13 verbal commits are from that state, per 247Sports. New University of Illinois coach Bret Bielema has vowed to make in-state talent a top priority.

Burns said restrictions caused by the pandemic limited Minnesota’s recruiting in Illinois for its 2022 class. The Gophers did hold a camp in the state but chose not to offer anyone a scholarship. “I don’t think Minnesota is scared of Bret Bielema when they recruit the state of Illinois,” Burns said.

The Gophers will again wear a helmet sticker honoring the late Sid Hartman. The legendary media figure died during the 2020 season and in late October the Gophers began wearing a remembrance sticker on the back of their helmets.

There was expectation Minnesota Wild forward Kevin Fiala, who last season led the team in game-winning goals (5), shots on goal (162), power-play points (14) and takeaways (41), might earn $6 million on his next contract but the NHL club announced a one-year $5.1 million deal yesterday. He also ranked second in scoring with 40 points, 20 goals and 20 assists.

No word from St. Thomas on what radio station will carry Tommies football and who the on-air talent will be in its first season of Division I FCS.

The Minnesota Twins’ 2022 season schedule has a quirk with the club starting play with a split doubleheader in Detroit after the MLB All-Star break. Other clubs will play Friday, July 22 but because of a concert at Comerica Park that week the Twins and Tigers will have two games Saturday, July 23.

Every year the Twins ask schedule makers to start them on the road and for 2022 they had extra incentive not to be at home and conflict with the women’s NCAA Final Four basketball games at Target Center, April 1 and 3. The Twins open the 2022 season March 31 in Chicago against the White Sox, then go to Cleveland before playing the home opener April 7 with Seattle.

All MLB teams must at least occasionally begin their seasons at home. “We think that an extra week of Mother Nature warming in April is to our benefit, to our fans benefit and our players benefit,” said Twins president Dave St. Peter.

St. Peter told Sports Headliners former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau is a hit providing color analysis on TV games and that his work draws comparisons to Tony Romo of CBS football. “We think he is a rising star,” St. Peter said.

Tommy Davis, a freshman guard on the Golden Gophers’ 1982 Big Ten championship team who finished his career as Minnesota’s fourth all-time leading scorer, will be inducted into the M Club Hall of Fame September 10. A long range shooter, Davis set a Big Ten record making 15 of 16 field goal attempts in a game at Indiana.

Davis, a Maryland native, was hotly recruited out of high school. Gophers coach Jim Dutcher was looking for an edge and asked Walter Mondale, a Minnesota native and then vice president of the United States, to help. Tommy’s dad received a surprise call one day at work, Dutcher told Sports Headliners. Someone in the office informed Mr. Davis that the vice president was on the line. “The vice president of what?” the unknowing Mr. Davis asked.

Giovanni Jenkins is the new athletic director at Washburn High School in Minneapolis.

 

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