Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said that as the team works out in Mankato during their first training camp under new head coach Mike Zimmer, perhaps the most interesting position battle will be at quarterback.
“There’s a specific way that the coaches are handling the reps and the snaps and [offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner], you know, and Zim, are both putting those reps together on what they want to see and what they want the quarterbacks to do,” said Spielman, in his third season as GM. “So they’ll get that all straight, but [Christian] Ponder had a very good offseason and we’re expecting him to compete with [Matt] Cassel and [Teddy] Bridgewater.”
Does Spielman still have hope for Ponder?
“Oh yeah, and you can see the progress,” he said. “Norv has a history of doing well with quarterbacks, but you see the progress in all three of those guys. … It will be a great competition and, you know, the coaches will handle that and see how it all turns out.”
Spielman, who traded back into the first round to draft Bridgewater out of Louisville, was asked if the young quarterback has met his expectations so far.
“He was probably farther along than we thought he would be at this time,” Spielman said. “He’s a very intelligent kid, works extremely hard. Everybody talked about he’s kind of got a quiet demeanor, but when he’s between the white lines and in that huddle, he has the confidence and that command to him. You know that’s why, when a lot of people ripped him off of his pro day, you just don’t go by that. You go by what you’ve seen on tape, and everything we’ve seen in our private workouts with him, you’re seeing out there on the field right now.”
Spielman was asked about what to expect from some of the team’s second-year players.
“A lot of those guys … make the jump from their first year to their second year,” Spielman said. “[Linebacker] Mike Mauti has had an excellent offseason … as well as [linebacker] Gerald Hodges. [Punter] Jeff Locke was solid as a rookie but he has looked really good this year. You can tell his confidence level is up and he worked extremely hard in the offseason. All of our first-[round] picks last year, [defensive tackle] Sharrif Floyd and [wide receiver] Cordarrelle Patterson and [cornerback] Xavier Rhodes, all have had excellent camps and you can see the difference in them already. Still have a lot of work ahead of us at training camp, but hopefully we can continue to make the progress we’ve been making.”
Speaking about this year’s rookie class, Spielman said he’s been impressed with some of the early athleticism the picks have displayed.
“We’re excited to see [linebacker] Anthony Barr in pads, and you know there’s no question about what he can do athletically on the field,” Spielman said. “[Defensive end Scott] Crichton, when he was able to get in, and [guard David] Yankey, all those guys missed a lot of time. We’re excited to get those guys going because they’re going to have some catching up to do. But they did a great job while they had to be away when they came in for that final minicamp.”
Is the defense the biggest concern for this team?
“We have a lot of new pieces,” Spielman said. “That’s where we spent our money in free agency, getting [cornerback] Captain Munnerlyn and [nose tackle] Linval Joseph and [defensive end] Corey Wootton, and we drafted some guys over there with Anthony Barr and Crichton. … There’s going to be a lot of new faces over on that side, but it’s going to be a very young team. But [I’m] very excited of how those guys are going to progress.”
Jerry Bell, who will officially retire from the Twins on Friday after a tremendous 27-year run, was without question one of the most instrumental people in getting the funding for Target Field passed through the Legislature after a decade-long process. Bell was also instrumental in getting the stadium built.
When the stadium bill finally passed on May 21, 2006, in the early hours of the morning after a night of long deliberations, Bell recalled at the time that legislators kept assuring him it would get done, but he wasn’t sure until the bill actually passed: “It’s like somebody telling you, ‘Trust me,’ ” Bell said at the time. “Sure. How many times have I heard that before?”
Bell’s final role with the team was as chairman of the executive board, but before that he was the Twins’ third president and CEO for 16 years.
• Leo Lewis is leaving the Gophers athletic department staff after nine years as associate athletic director and is expected to be named athletic director at Minneapolis North High School.
… Through July 30 a year ago, the Gophers had 27,981 general season football tickets sold, with a student sale of 2,138. Now they are up in sales to 28,152 general season tickets and 3,611 student tickets.
… There is little chance former Minneapolis Washburn running back Jeff Jones will play for the Gophers this season. If he is academically eligible, he probably will be redshirted; if he is not eligible, he will be playing for Iowa Western Community College.
• NFL.com recently released the strength of schedules for all 32 teams for the 2014 season, based on opponents’ winning percentage from last season, and the Vikings ranked 21st overall with a .477 opponents’ winning percentage. The Vikings’ NFC North rivals were all ranked slightly higher, with the Packers coming in at 13th (.504), the Bears at 15th (.496) and the Lions at 16th (.492).
• Former Gophers defensive back Tramaine Brock has been getting high praise out of the San Francisco 49ers camp. ESPN reporter Bill Williamson wrote this week that Brock “is clearly the 49ers’ best cornerback and he has been a major standout in the early going of camp.”
• Don Lucia will get to take on his son, Mario, again when the Gophers hockey team faces Notre Dame on Nov. 7 and 9. Mario had two goals and an assist against the Gophers last Nov. 9 in a 5-4 Minnesota victory in South Bend, Ind.
• After playing last season in Rome, former Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe will be playing this season with the Brose Baskets in Germany.
• A few great stats for the Twins and the city of Minneapolis from the recent All-Star Game at Target Field: 11.34 million viewers watched the game, the largest audience since 2010. … An amount of $8.5 million was donated by MLB and the Twins to the All-Star legacy projects to help local charities, the largest contribution ever made by the league and the host club. … A total of 121,169 people attended events over three days at Target Field. … At the Minneapolis Convention Center, 114,878 fans attended the All-Star FanFest.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org