With the Vikings entering the stretch drive of their schedule with hopes of attaining a playoff berth, it is good news for them that 2005 first-round draft choice Erasmus James is finally healthy.
Among the Vikings' needs in their remaining five games of the season is a better pass rush, and James, the former star sack man at Wisconsin, could contribute to that, starting with today's game against the Detroit Lions at the Metrodome.
James played in 15 games as a rookie and had four sacks. Last season, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee in Week 2 and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve.
Last week's game against the Giants was only James' fifth game of 2007, after the defensive end missed most of training camp because of his knee problems. He made his season debut Oct. 14 at Chicago, sat out the Vikings' next two games and now has played in the past four.
"It's pretty frustrating, you know," James said. "The one thing you've got to do is keep your head up. It's been going on for me since college, and it kind of worked itself out and it was right back to getting here, getting injured, and now it's my third year. So, I've got to just keep my head up and just keep going."
With the Badgers, James had to take a medical redshirt in 2003 because of a serious hip injury. He came back in 2004 and had eight sacks, giving him 18 for his career at Wisconsin.
"Like I said, you can't dwell on [injuries], you've just got to keep your head up and look forward," James said.
James saw his first real action against the Raiders and he did well, sacking former teammate Daunte Culpepper once and also getting credit for a quarterback hurry.
"Yeah definitely, I got in there, and got some things going. Now I just need to take that momentum and carry it over to the next game."
He said he doesn't get caught up in wondering if he is jinxed by injuries. "You can't worry about all of that negative stuff," said James, 25. "I'm a young guy. It's just it keeps coming but you've just got to roll with the punches.
"... I'm ready to be back, so I'm excited about that."
Vikings defensive line coach Karl Dunbar looks for some good things from James at the end of the season.
"He did great against the Giants," Dunbar said. "I think his knee is really back to where we need it to be. I think he is going to get more playing time as the year progresses."
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon had good things to say about new Twins outfielder Delmon Young even though the media reported that Young cursed out the manager in the last week of the season at Toronto.
"I think he was happy last year," Maddon told the Tampa Tribune. "I think a lot of the things about the discontent occurred in the past. Outside of the little thing we had at end of season, he was fine. I have no complaints about Delmon -- he showed up early every day, did extra work, played in every game. People are going to look for all these different reasons, but he's fine and he's going to do fine in Minnesota."
In the Twins' favor, manager Ron Gardenhire has shown his ability to keep clubhouse problems from escalating out of control. And playing for a team that will win more than Tampa Bay did should be a plus for Young.
Mark Dienhart, the former Gophers athletic director and now a St. Thomas University vice president, said the $60 million donated recently to St. Thomas by Lee and Penny Anderson will be used toward a project combining the building of a student center as well as some on-campus facilities. The total cost is expected to be around $100 million.
"We're going to put in a brand-new student center, and then we're going to replace all of the athletic and recreational facilities on campus. So, it's kind of a big deal," Dienhart said.
Could this project result in the Tommies going Division I?
"Nope," he said, "the trustees took a look at that a couple of years back when we were talking about it and they said, in the short term, what they want us to do is put better facilities in and be even stronger at the Division III level."
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is determined to have no blackouts of home games. There are two left, against Chicago and Washington. Rest assured, there won't be any blackouts.
Twins President Dave St. Peter said the team will make every effort to sign Johan Santana before they trade him. "We have a plan to put a contending team on the field," St. Peter said.
No doubt the great success of Wayzata High School product James Laurinaitis had a great influence on the decision of Eden Prairie's Willie Mobley to select Ohio State rather than the Gophers. One NFL GM recently told me that Laurinaitis will be selected within the first five picks of the 2008 draft if he decides to come out rather than return to the Buckeyes next year.
A Rivals.com study of current Gophers football commitments said the team has four four-star commitments for the upcoming year, equal to what they had from 2003 to '07 combined. Wide receiver Paris Hamilton and running back Laurence Maroney were four-star recruits in 2003, linebacker Alex Daniels in 2005 and defensive end Anthony Jacobs this year. At present, the Gophers have lined up for 2008 these four-star recruits: receivers Brandon Green of Chicago Robeson High School and Vincent Hill of New Berlin (N.Y.) Milford Academy, linebacker Sam Maresh of Champlin Park and cornerback Traye Simmons of the College of the Sequoias in Visalia (Calif.). True, you never know how the recruits will perform, as exemplified by Hamilton and Daniels. But on the other hand, when you can land top-ranked recruits, you are doing a good job.
Former Gophers offensive lineman Ben Hamilton, who is on injured reserve for the Broncos because of a concussion, is back in Denver hoping to get ready for 2008 after spending a long time back here in Minnesota. ... Greg Eslinger, another former Gophers center, had hoped to play for the Browns when they signed him off the Broncos practice squad Nov. 14, but he wasn't active for either of Cleveland's past two games.
George O'Leary, who was on the Vikings coaching staff under Mike Tice, coached Central Florida to a victory over Tulsa and the Conference USA championship Saturday. And the offensive coordinator for Leary's team is Tim Salem, the former Gophers quarterback and son of ex-Gophers coach Joe.
Some 200 people celebrated the fact that great sports fan Dr. John Najarian had an endowed chair named for him by the University of Minnesota. Incidentally, former Gophers linebacker Pete Najarian is a financial expert for CNBC in New York.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. firstname.lastname@example.org