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Defensive end Jared Allen has spent the past five seasons in pursuit of quarterback Jay Cutler whenever the Vikings faced the Bears. Now the two NFL stars will be Chicago teammates, after each one received a hefty contract this offseason.

File by JEFF WHEELER • jwheeler@startribune.com,

Hartman: Vikings' rivals get stronger with defensive stars

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN
  • Star Tribune
  • March 29, 2014 - 6:22 PM

Over the past four seasons, the Packers have won seven of nine meetings against the Vikings, including a playoff contest, while the Bears are 6-2 against the Vikings over the same stretch, as those two teams have dominated the NFC North.

Now with the Packers signing former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers to a three-year, $30 million contract, and the Bears signing former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen to a four-year deal worth $32 million, it certainly looks like those two teams will remain the Vikings’ main challenge in 2014.

The Packers and Bears also have the luxury of having two of the best quarterbacks in the NFC with Super Bowl winner Aaron Rodgers on the Packers, and Jay Cutler, who signed a seven-year, $126.7 million extension in January after a strong 2013 under first-year coach Marc Trestman with the Bears.

Still the Vikings should be able to compete this year and received good reports from the media, such as Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks, who ranked Tampa Bay first and the Vikings second for improving their team through free agency, among non-playoff teams from last season.

Banks wrote: “I give Minnesota high marks for systematically addressing a series of needs that should allow it to approach the draft in a much more advantageous position. General Manager Rick Spielman has done good work and shouldn’t have to reach to fill any glaring void in the draft.”

Will change team defense

According to Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin, the Packers plan to use Peppers as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker with the three-time first-team All-Pro filling in at a number of different spots.

Meanwhile, Trestman told the Chicago Tribune he believes Allen’s presence on the defensive line will alter entire teams’ game plans when facing the Bears.

“We certainly hope he can be a game wrecker, and so we have to know where he is one every play,” Trestman said of Allen. “I would say in most cases he’s a difference-maker, and you have to neutralize the difference-makers each and every week before you do anything.”

Allen hasn’t yet formally spoken to the Chicago media, with a news conference scheduled for Monday.

Two of the best ever

Peppers, 34, has been in the league two years longer than Allen, playing from 2002 to ’09 with the Carolina Panthers before joining the Bears. He has averaged nearly 10 sacks per season and has 118½ for his career, including seven last year.

Allen, who turns 32 on Thursday, has been perhaps the league’s best pass rusher since joining the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004. In his 10 seasons in the NFL, he has 128½ sacks, and in his six years with the Vikings he was one of the best defensive players in the NFL, posting a career-high 22 sacks in 2011 and averaging over 14 sacks per season.

Allen and Peppers rank second and third for active sack leaders in the NFL. They trail only John Abraham, the 35-year-old Arizona Cardinals linebacker with 133½.

So the jury might still be out on how much harder the addition of Peppers for the Packers and Allen for the Bears will make it for the Vikings to compete in the division, but both have a great track record of success.

Excited by Sherels hire

One of the great pieces of news for the Gophers was Jerry Kill’s decision to hire Mike Sherels as his linebackers coach, and Kill is excited at his prospects.

“Mike has been in the system, that’s how the coaching staff we’ve got is bringing people along,” Kill said of Sherels, who played linebacker for the Gophers under Glen Mason and Tim Brewster from 2003 to ’07. “He’s been here, he understands our system, he’s tremendously intelligent. He can sell the University of Minnesota better than anybody, including us, because he’s been here, he’s been a part of playing, a captain. He’s just like his brother [Marcus] is there with the Vikings, the bloodline is very good.

“I do have a lot of confidence in Mike. I think the people that are associated with the program, outside of it, the lettermen, I think it excited everybody. It’s a good fit for us. We’re excited with what he’s doing. He’s done a good job, I’ve been able to watch him coach by himself and he’s done a great job.

“Plus we have a graduate assistant who has been with me about five years now, he played with me, Cory Hanson, he played at DeLaSalle High School, he’s also working with Mike. We have some good things in that area and I know our players are excited about Mike and there’s a good relationship there already.”

Sid's Jottings

Now that the Gophers have offensive lineman Connor Mayes signed to the football team, they have two pairs of brothers on the offensive line with Connor and Alex Mayes of Van Alstyne, Texas, and Kyle and Luke McAvoy of Bloomington, Ill. With the graduation of Ed Olson, Tommy is now the sole Olson brother on the roster.

One of the bigger decisions in college basketball is whether Kansas center Joel Embiid will declare for the NBA draft after his freshman season. He has been projected as a potential No. 1 pick. His mentor is Timberwolves forward Luc Mbah a Moute, a fellow native of Cameroon who is helping guide Embiid’s decision.

JP Macura, the Lake­ville North standout, was one of the big basketball recruits out of this state for the Class of 2014, signing with Xavier. But word is that Musketeers coach Chris Mack is being targeted by Wake Forest for its coaching position, and perhaps that could reopen Macura’s recruiting. Richard Pitino and Co. came in late on recruiting Macura, who might rank with the top recruits in the state. So now the Gophers might get another chance to recruit him, and he would really help the Gophers next season if they could somehow get him.

While the Gophers beat St. Mary’s 63-55 to reach the NIT quarterfinals, the Gaels will have a big upgrade in store next year when former Gophers guard Joe Coleman is able to play after sitting out as a transfer this season.

Former Gophers forward Nick Bjugstad continues to have a great second NHL season with the Florida Panthers. Going into Saturday, Bjugstad had 33 points on 14 goals and 19 assists in 68 games. He was tied for the second-highest point total on the team. Another Gopher, Kyle Rau, was drafted by Florida in the third round of the 2011 draft, and the junior might join the squad next season.

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