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Continued: Sid Hartman: Hutchinson has faith in his new linemates

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 11, 2009 - 7:29 AM

The Vikings equipment room table where guard Steve Hutchinson, center Matt Birk and quarterback Gus Frerotte played cribbage almost every day last season will have some new members this year. A lot of football was talked over at these sessions, conversations that might have helped the team win some games.

Hutchinson, the Vikings' leader on the offensive line, said that Birk, who left the Vikings for Baltimore as a free agent, will be missed. But from the limited amount of time Hutchinson has played with John Sullivan, the left guard said he believes the 2008 sixth-round draft pick from Notre Dame will step in and do well.

"Right now, he's playing with the first unit," Hutchinson said. "He's being doing a good job. He's only been around here for a year, but you wouldn't think so the way he's continuing to learn and getting the offense down pat."

At right tackle, 2009 second-round pick Phil Loadholt appears to be in line for the starting job.

"For a young guy coming in here, I admire how much hard work he has been putting in and studying," Hutchinson said of Loadholt. "He's got his nose to the playbook."

The Vikings appear to be taking a chance this year in playing a rookie at one spot on the offensive line (Loadholt) while replacing a perennial Pro Bowl player (Birk) at another with a second-year player who spent his rookie season on special teams (Sullivan). The jury is out on whether or not they will have any success as NFL starters, though Vikings offensive line coaches Pat Morris and Jim Hueber are very enthused about some of the newcomers.

And the Vikings still have Hutchinson, regarded by many to be the top left guard in the league. And he lines up next to solid left tackle Bryant McKinnie, the former first-round draft pick. Of McKinnie, Hutchinson said, "I know he's been working hard in the offseason, and he's been in the weight room."

Right guard Anthony Herrera has been injured this offseason but is expected to be healthy this fall and have another good season. And Ryan Cook, the 2006 second-round pick who played at right tackle last year, is being used at guard, tackle and center and appears to have improved over last year.

Asked if he thinks this year's offensive line will be pretty good, Hutchinson said: "I hope so. That's the key to our offense's success, the line."

Getting back to the cribbage games, Hutchinson has problems. "We haven't had to much time to play cribbage," Hutchinson said. "I have to teach some of these young guys how to play cribbage, so I can play back in the equipment room and on the plane."

Likes McHale

Boston President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge was a Celtic teammate with, and remains a close friend, of Kevin McHale. Ainge is convinced that McHale is interested in coaching the Timberwolves next season but wants to be sure that he is wanted and can work with David Kahn, the Wolves' new president of basketball operations.

Ainge spent four days here last week at the workout camp for potential selections in the upcoming NBA draft. He said: "I was talking to Al Jefferson [who came to the Wolves from Boston in the Kevin Garnett trade], and he said he's learned more from Kevin [McHale] in just this short time he's been here in Minnesota than he's learned in his whole life. He thinks Kevin is one of the great teachers of the game, and is really hoping that Kevin takes the coaching job and stays here. Because he's never had so much fun playing than when Kevin was coaching."

I don't believe Kahn would keep meeting with McHale unless Kahn was interested in having McHale coach.

The Celtics, playing without the injured Garnett throughout the postseason, lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Orlando Magic, which is now playing the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

"We missed Kevin Garnett's leadership on the court,'' Ainge said. ''I don't think [his knee] is real serious. I think it was painful, but I don't think it's real serious. There's nothing structurally wrong. He just had a pretty-good sized bone chip removed from the back of his knee. He's already feeling better, and we expect him to be back to 100 percent within the next couple of months. He's got so much energy. He's got the energy of a 12-year-old. We really missed him on the court, and he really missed playing. I think he's got a lot of basketball left in him."

Jottings

John Nance, the former Cretin-Derham Hall quarterback who was redshirted this past season as a Gophers football freshman, is definitely going to leave the team. The word is that Nance plans to play basketball at St. Thomas. Otherwise, all of the players expected to report June 8 for the 6 a.m. workouts with Gophers strength and conditioning coach Mark Hill were on hand. ... According to GoldenSports.net, DeLaSalle's A.J. Barker, a 6-1, 180-pound receiver, has decided to walk on with the Gophers.

One of the top-recruited running backs in Florida, Ethan Grant of North Broward Prep School, is on the University of Minnesota campus. Grant was the state champion in the 110-meter hurdles. ... Not only is Cretin-Derham Hall's Seantrel Henderson ranked as the top high school football recruit in the country in the Rivals.com prospect ratings, but Jimmy Gjere, a 6-7, 285-pound tackle from Irondale who has committed to the Gophers, ranks 49th in the country. ... Bloomington Jefferson's Marcus Alipate, brother of incoming Gophers quarterback Moses Alipate, attended the elite Stanford basketball camp last week, where only 25 players in the entire country were brought in.

Former Gophers and Twins catcher Terry Steinbach's son Lucas is going to play baseball at Minnesota Duluth. Lucas Steinbach just graduated from Wayzata High School. Terry and Mary Steinbach's daughter, Jill, is a member of the Gophers track and field team, while youngest child Jake plays for the Wayzata baseball team that Terry coaches. Jake is rated as an outstanding prospect.

Wild Vice President Billy Robertson reports that the Tuesday's Stanley Cup Finals Game 6 had a 4.7 overnight rating and an 8 share for Ch. 11 in the Twin Cities, compared to 4.2 and 7 for the NBA Finals Game 3 on Ch. 5.

According to the Fischler Report, former Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough, Assistant Wild GM Tom Lynn and former North Stars official Les Jackson are on the list of potential candidates for the Florida Panthers general manager position. The position might not be filled until the Panthers are sold.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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