Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He previously covered the Minnesota Vikings for four years, starting in 2008. In addition, he covered college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
MANKATO -- I spent the past two days at Vikings training camp after returning from vacation. Every NFL team talks with optimism in camp before actual games are played, and the Vikings are no different.
Here are my observations after watching practice and talking with players, coaches and team officials the past few days.
-- The No. 1 takeaway I got from offensive players and coaches is that Norv Turner's offense will be more versatile and less predictable than what we've seen from the Vikings in years. Adrian Peterson made headlines earlier this week when he admitted that the Vikings have been too predictable on offense in his career. Some of that stems from shaky quarterback play. But a handful of players told me that Turner's offense should keep defenses off-balance if they execute it properly.
-- I've thought all along that Matt Cassel was a slam dunk to start the season and that the Vikings didn't need to rush Teddy Bridgewater. Now, I won't be surprised if Bridgewater is the starter in Week 1. I don't know if it's 50-50 odds but this coaching staff clearly has confidence in Bridgewater and they don't sound opposed to starting him right away if he wins the job in camp and preseason games.
Bridgewater threw two interceptions in practice Thursday, but I like the fact that he's not hesitant when he drops back. He gets the ball out quickly and has good arm strength. He doesn't look overwhelmed running the first-team offense when he gets the opportunity.
The preseason games will be critical for both quarterbacks. Cassel won't just be handed the job. He has to win it and play well to keep it. This competition will be fun to watch unfold.
-- The coaching staff and front office love rookie linebacker Anthony Barr. The first thing that jumps out about Barr is his size. He is massive for a linebacker. Coach Mike Zimmer is moving Barr around in different spots, including using him as a defensive end in some packages. Barr's versatility gives the staff some flexibility in how they use him.
-- I have no idea how the linebacker position will shake out. Chad Greenway is one starter and Barr presumably will win another spot. After that, who knows? Audie Cole made a nice play to intercept Bridgewater in a team period today. It's jumbled right now with Jasper Brinkley, Cole, Michael Mauti and Brandon Watts in the mix.
-- The secondary also has some uncertainty at safety beyond Harrison Smith. Robert Blanton had a nice start to camp but now he's hurt. Andrew Sendejo remains on the PUP. Mistral Raymond is getting his chance because of injuries, but he's struggled in the past. Jamarca Sanford is working with the backups. That second safety spot remains a big unknown right now.
-- Rookie running back Jerick McKinnon will find a role in Turner's offense. He is very fast and looks fluid as a receiver out of the backfield. He's a guy you just notice when he's on the field. I'm interested to see how Turner uses him as a complement to Adrian Peterson.
-- Everyone I talked to -- players, coaches and personnel officials -- believe Cordarrelle Patterson is ready to take a huge step as a receiver this season. Greg Jennings gushed about Patterson's potential and improvement from his rookie season.
That's it for now. I'll be at the Gophers first practice Friday and then back to Mankato on Monday.
The sad news of Bob McNamara's death Sunday night caused me to reflect on times I spent around Bob and what a genuinely nice and caring man he was to everyone in his presence. I didn't know him well, but he always treated me like a friend.
I started covering Gophers football in 2003 but actually met Bob a year early at a "Save Gopher Sports" fundraiser that he helped put together. Three non-revenue sports were in danger of being eliminated until Bob, and others, stepped forward to raise enough money to save them.
That was Bob McNamara in a nutshell.
You won't find a more passionate and loyal Gopher fan than McNamara. I'm guessing most big-time college programs have their own version of Bob McNamara, but I was always impressed by how deeply McNamara cared about the Gophers. It came through in every conversation I ever had with him.
Usually a few times a year, my editor Dennis Brackin and I would have lunch with Bob. Sometimes he'd invite a few of his friends. I got a kick out of hearing stories about their playing days and what Gophers football meant in this town back then.
A few years ago after Nebraska had joined the Big Ten, I interviewed Bob about the fact that he went 3-0 against Nebraska as a player. He joked that he liked to use that personal trivia on occasion.
"I'll see if I can make a bet, see if anyone will believe me," he said.
Another memory came during Tim Brewster's first season as football coach. I was still the beat writer, and Brewster allowed me to shadow him the week of the season opener.
One morning, I was in a meeting room with Brewster and his staff when an assistant knocked on the door at 7:30 a.m. He told Brewster that Bob McNamara was in his office.
McNamara had stopped by to discuss a fundraising idea for TCF Bank Stadium with Brewster and to wish him luck in his first game as Gophers coach.
That was Bob McNamara.
I picked against the Wild in Game 4 of this Western Conference semifinal and proved to be wrong.
I thought the Chicago Blackhawks would crank their game up a notch and put the Wild in a deep hole. That obviously didn't happen because the Wild responded with perhaps its best game of the postseason.
Tonight, the Wild faces its third elimination game of the playoffs in Game 6. The guess here is that the Wild remains perfect at home and forces a Game 7 in Chicago on Thursday night.
This has been a weird series in terms of its ebbs and flows. We really haven't seen the usual hatred and rough stuff normally found in a long, close series. These two teams have simply taken turns as the dominant team.
The Blackhawks assumed that role in Game 5 after a poor first period. The defending champions were booed off the ice and then took control in the second and third period to take a 3-2 series lead.
I'll pick the Wild tonight because they've been such a different team at home and they seem to thrive in these desperation situations.
The raucous crowd at Xcel Energy Center will likely play a meaningful role, too. The atmosphere inside the arena has been loud and intense throughout these playoffs and there's no question that has helped the Wild, which has outscored its opponents 16-5 in home games.
Neither team has lost at home in the playoffs and I think that trend continues tonight,
I wrote a column for Friday's paper to advance Game 4 in which I wondered how the Wild would respond after winning Game 3. I viewed this as an opportunity for the Wild to show that it is serious about winning this series and truly ready to challenge the defending champions.
I guess we got the answer.
The Wild outplayed the Blackhawks to even the series and got important contributions throughout the lineup. I wrote my column on Ilya Bryzgalov, who gave up a soft goal with 38 seconds left in the first period but made a huge save on Patrick Sharp's breakaway later to preserve a one-goal lead.
I know Bryz makes people nervous, but he had a couple of critical saves tonight and the Wild has to hope that he can hold up as the pressure builds in this series.
Matt Cooke made his presence felt in his return from suspension. His line was terrific tonight.
I continue to be incredibly impressed with the development of Erik Haula in particular among the young guys. Haula's speed is so disruptive and he plays with a ton of confidence for a rookie.
Finally, Yeo and a number of Wild players credited and/or thanked the fans tonight. The noise inside Xcel Energy Center was as loud as I've ever experienced here. Great atmosphere for sure.
The Wild completed its morning skate and media session before Game 3 a little while ago. I checked with the league and Elias Sports Bureau to find out the all-time playoff record for a home team in Game 3 when trailing 2-0 in a best-of-seven series.
According to Elias, the home team has a 122-131 record in that scenario. I found that a little surprising. I thought the home team would have a better record because of the home-ice advantage and desperation factor.
In any event, I think the Wild will win tonight. Maybe something like 2-1 or 3-2. They should be desperate and rested and get some extra energy from a lively crowd.
One quote from Mike Yeo jumped out at me during his morning news conference. Yeo was asked a question about the difference from his perspective in the Avs series and what it will take to win this series against a Blackhawks team that has now won 6 of 7 playoff games against the Wild the past two years.
"For us, it's the mental hurdle," he said. "The first two games, I don't think we were completely on top of our game. We did a lot of good things and were right there with them. Scoring chances coming through two games were very even, we had a small edge in shots for. We had a pretty small edge in shot attempts for, which is a big difference from last year.
"As far as I'm concerned, we've leveled the playing field here, but we have to take the next step. We have to push past being close or even to them. We have to make sure that we get ahead of them. I believe that we can. It's a great test. It's a great team, but we've got a pretty darn good team ourselves. We just have to prove it now.”