This will be Ryan Longwell's 15th season kicking in the NFL. He spent nine with the Packers and is set to begin his sixth with the Vikings.
He is a very intelligent person and is in the best position of any of the 53 players on the Vikings roster to judge the team's talent.
He also is in a much better position to predict how the team will do than most of the so-called experts who have selected them to finish last in the NFC North.
"I think it's a great group of guys," said Longwell, who turned 37 last month. "There's just been a quiet calm around the team this year, which we haven't had in the past couple of years."
He seemed to be referring to the coming and going of Brett Favre, his friend and teammate with both the Packers and Vikings.
"We have had a great work environment," Longwell said. "Guys are working hard, coming together. We got a lot done in a short period of time from July 31st when we got here to opening week. Our target has always been September 11th and the San Diego Chargers, and we're going to go out there and give it our best shot."
Longwell noted the big turnover of the Vikings roster this season, with only 34 players back from 2010, and the challenges all the new faces can pose to a team with an abbreviated offseason because of the lockout.
But he sees a lot of improvement in the squad.
"I think you have a hungry group and guys that are willing to work hard," he said. "Talent on paper only gets you so far in this league, but really when you have good guys in the locker room, it gets you a long way. I think we have that mix of talented guys in the field and really good guys in the locker room."
Longwell added that the biggest challenge any team will face will be the ups and downs to every NFL season, and that it's the guys in the locker room who get a team through that.
"We have that group," he said. "So we're excited to see how it goes."
Longwell knows that team discipline will not be a problem under new coach Leslie Frazier.
"I have no doubt about that," Longwell said. "The type of team that Coach Frazier has built and the type of guy he is, he just won't stand for that. Guys are working hard and want to work hard for him and with him. I think [NFL prognosticators are] going to make their picks before the season, but they don't hand out any trophies at the beginning of the season. We're excited to give it a go."
Longwell, who was teammates with Favre for nine years in all, describes new quarterback Donovan McNabb as "being great, a great leader, picked up the offense really quick, and just being calm in the huddle and on the field."
"That's what you need from that position," Longwell said. "It's a marquee position. When you have a guy like Donovan under center, it definitely calms the guys around him. He's been there and done that and we all still have things to prove, him included. That's why I like our chances this year."
I agree with Longwell that this team is much more hungry than the 2009 team that was one victory from the Super Bowl. The veterans on the current team are embarrassed by last year's 6-10 record, and if they can stay healthy -- and if their pass defense improves -- they might just surprise everybody.Gophers' Kill is stable
The result of Saturday's Gophers game with New Mexico State, a 28-21 loss, is not important.
What is important is that Jerry Kill, who suffered his third seizure as a coach with 20 seconds to play, was reportedly stable at the hospital that evening.
Getting back to the loss, I'm convinced that Kill was surprised when the Gophers outscored and outplayed Souther California in the second half last week and also stopped the great passing combination of Matt Barkley to Robert Woods.
Why? Because the Gophers' traveling squad in Los Angeles had 24 freshmen, and 17 of them played. USC didn't look particularly impressive Saturday night, either, beating Utah 23-14 at the L.A. Coliseum.
The squad that Tim Brewster left to Kill has some talent, but there is little depth among the 105 players, including only 16 seniors. And half of those seniors don't contribute.
The fact that New Mexico State lost 44-24 at home to Ohio University last week didn't stop Aggies athletic director McKinley Boston from saying that if the NMSU offensive line could protect Andrew Manley, the coaches believed he would pass the Gophers dizzy. And Manley did find receivers open all day, passing for 288 yards. There was little pressure applied by the Gophers defense.
After the game, Boston predicted that it would be a rough year for a Gophers team that lacked a pass defense.
On offense, the Gophers wound up with 181 yards rushing, 110 of which belonged to MarQueis Gray, and 238 yards passing, of which Da'Jon McKnight had nine catches for 146 yards and one touchdown, for a total of 419 yards to 421 by the winners. The stats were about even, but one team could make the big plays and the other couldn't.
Like I've said before, Kill has preached the fact that it's going to take time for the Gophers to put a consistent winner on the field. Saturday's performance proved he knew what he was talking about.
• Twins President Dave St. Peter believes the size of a team’s payroll doesn’t have any correlation with the success of a major league team. And the Twins have shown that in the past. So you might see a payroll in 2012 as much as $20 million less than the $113 million this year.
• Look for Joe Nathan to take less money to stay here after he refused to drop his no-trade clause last month. The Twins have a $12 million option or a $2 million buyout for 2012 on their longtime closer.
• Friends of Joel Maturi believe the Gophers athletic director likes his job so much that he will want to continue after his contract runs out in June, provided that new university President Eric Kaler wants him to remain.
• About $400,000 more has been raised to build a new Gophers baseball stadium, but that amount is far from the $7.5 million needed to start work on the current site of Siebert Field.
• The Gophers football team had some 35 recruits as guests at Saturday’s game with New Mexico State.
• Jeff Anderson has been promoted within the Vikings public relations department to director of corporate communications, and he is very much involved in the franchise’s stadium bid.
• Mets manager Terry Collins said Saturday that the team won’t try to pitch Johan Santana in the majors this season. The former Twins ace is recovering from shoulder surgery, and he had a setback in August. Friday night, the two-time Cy Young Award winner gave up an unearned run on two hits and one walk in three innings for Class A Savannah, his second rehab start.
• Grand Rapids native and former Minnesota State Mankato hockey player Steve Wagner signed with Adler Mannheim in Germany. The defenseman, 27, played in 48 NHL games with St. Louis, the last in February 2009.