Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021


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Vikings Positioned for Future Rebuild

 

The Vikings, 3-5 after yesterday’s loss to the Ravens, are a long shot to make the playoffs and have missed the postseason in two of the last three seasons. The Vikings, although playing with effort, are a flawed team whose faults include not being able to capitalize on opponents’ mistakes and not finishing off games with a victory.

Embattled head coach Mike Zimmer probably not only needs to lead the Vikings to the playoffs but also win a couple of games to save his job. GM Rick Spielman, also the target of a highly critical fan base, has even a longer tenure in his position than Zimmer who he hired before the 2014 season.

The Wilf family could decide in January it’s time for new leadership on and off the field. Part of Mark and Zygi Wilf’s thinking might be prompted after reviewing a roster with several aging players among Minnesota’s impact performers.

Kirk Cousins

Quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive end Everson Griffen are both 33, safety Harrison Smith 32, cornerback Patrick Peterson and wide receiver Adam Thielen are 31, linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks and defensive tackle Michael Pierce are all 29.

There are longevity questions also about two of the team’s best performers, defensive end Danielle Hunter, 27, and running back Dalvin Cook, 26. Injuries have sidelined Hunter in both 2020 and 2021. Cook missed most of his rookie season in 2017 and injuries, including this season, have forced him out of the lineup numerous times in the last five years. NFL running backs have among the shortest of careers in the NFL.

None of this is to suggest the Vikings have to implode their roster next offseason. But except for 22-year-old wide receiver Justin Jefferson the Vikings don’t have any young stars on the roster, and whoever is managing the personnel will need to make decisions about aging players who have been major contributors in the past. In 2022 the club certainly could begin to transition its roster with aggressiveness while retaining the most valued players including Cook and probably Hunter.

The Wilfs might do a postseason audit, including review of the player roster and salary cap, and decide a new regime gets the opportunity to rebuild the Vikings during the next couple of years. The Wilfs are fans, too, and they have to be frustrated with mediocrity.

Worth Noting

The Twins announced this morning they have hired Jayce Tingler, 40, as bench coach and David Popkins, 31, as hitting coach. As manager of the Padres, Tingler led the team to the National League Division Series in 2020 and finished second in NL Manager of the Year voting. Popkins was hitting coach for the Great Lakes Loons, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ High-A affiliate. The Loons led the High-A Central Division in home runs (187), slugging percentage (.456) and OPS (.800) last season.

Yesterday Jefferson played in his 24th career game and increased his career receiving yards to 2,032 yards. He is the second-fastest player in the Super Bowl era to reach 2,000 career receiving yards (Odell Beckham Jr., 21 games).

Presuming the Vikings draft somewhere between 16 and 32 in the first round of next year’s NFL Draft, they might select a quarterback like Nevada’s Carson Strong or Pitt’s Kenny Pickett. It’s believed Spielman is evaluating both of them.

Among deer hunters planning to be out for the opener last weekend were Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant and his legendary dad Bud, 94 years old. Mike is chasing a 12th state football championship.

The Golden Gophers, 6-3, expectedly lost their opening game to Ohio State but their other two defeats, against lowly Bowling Green and mediocre Illinois, were major upsets. Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck said early last week that in nine years as a head coach his personal worst effort was for Bowling Green.

Gophers’ kicker Matthew Trickett, the Ken State transfer who was the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year in 2019 after making 82.5 percent of 57 attempts, is 10 of 17 for 58.2 percent through eight games at Minnesota. He is three of five from 40-49 yards, and one of four from 50 or more. He has also missed two extra points including one in Saturday’s 14-6 loss to Illinois.

One Stadium Village lot about three blocks from Huntington Bank Stadium is charging $30 for parking at Gophers football games. Any place asking more?

Congratulations to retired Gopher trainer Jim Marshall and wife Mary Lee who celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary November 16.

Minnesota native and Wild forward Nick Bjugstad, who scored the winning shootout goal Saturday night against the Penguins, made this promise to the fans before the season started: “I’ll do my best every day to bring the Stanley Cup to St. Paul.”

Jack LaFontaine, chosen last season as college hockey’s best goalie, had a season high 34 saves for the 6-4 Gophers in their 4-1 win over the Badgers Saturday night. Minnesota is 11-4-1 in its last 16 games against border rival Wisconsin.

The latest issue of Sports Illustrated includes a photo and Faces in the Crowd story on Hopkins senior basketball star Maya Nnaji who will play next year for Arizona, becoming the highest ranked Wildcat in women’s program history, per the magazine.

Twins radio voice Cory Provus will do Big Ten Network men’s basketball play-by-play this season.

The Twins have two free agents in pitcher Michael Pineda and shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Wager on a Pineda return, but not Simmons.

Wonder if the Twins have interest in a short term contract for former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander? He will be 39 by Opening Day and has missed almost the last two seasons because of an injured elbow but maybe there is something “left in the tank” of the free agent right hander.

Skyline Division leader Bethel hosts Northwoods Division leader Saint John’s on Saturday for the MIAC football championship. The winner receives the MIAC’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division III playoffs. The Johnnies won the regular-season game between the two traditional powers, 31-25.

Football rosters for the annual Minnesota High School All-Star Game (December 4, U.S. Bank Stadium) will be announced Friday on Randy Shaver’s Prep Sports Extra show on KARE 11.

The November 11 CORES luncheon and program at the Bloomington Event Center is cancelled. The next CORES program will be January 13.

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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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