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.

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Gophers tidbits: Leidner status, another no-huddle offense

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: September 9, 2014 - 5:07 PM

Mitch Leidner has a knee injury. That much we know. His status for Saturday’s game at TCU remains an unknown.

Everyone from Jerry Kill to teammates praised Leidner’s toughness Tuesday. Many expressed confidence that he’ll be on the field Saturday.

That said, I’m guessing we won’t know Leidner’s status until just before kickoff.

The Gophers have no incentive to disclose whether Leidner will play this early in the week. Heck, they might not even know that answer until watching him move around in practice the next few days.

I’ve covered enough of these situations that I won’t believe anything until kickoff Saturday.

Different look

Those familiar with TCU probably won’t recognize the Horned Frogs offense. Coach Gary Patterson changed his offensive philosophy this offseason and installed a no-huddle, spread attack.

In their only game this season, the Horned Frogs ran 96 plays against Samford.

TCU will be the third consecutive no-huddle team the Gophers have faced this season.

"You're going to get Baylor speed of no‑huddle," Kill said. "So they are going to snap it about every 15, 16 seconds."

TCU is a member of the Big 12 Conference now so Patterson adjusted his offensive philosophy to keep pace with the other fast-break offenses in that league.

TCU does a lot of three-step drops, which means the ball comes out of the quarterback’s hand fast. That makes it difficult for defenses to generate a pass rush.

I asked defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli about the keys to rushing a quarterback who gets rid of the ball so quickly.

"It’s being disruptive, it’s punishing the o-linemen," he said. "You’re still going to run up and hit them, and they don’t like that necessarily. If you can collapse that pocket and make him feel a little pressure, it might not make an impact on every play, but your effort and energy level has to be on its top level every play."

The good and bad

The Gophers have created six takeaways already, including four interceptions by four different players. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys gave an interesting answer when I asked about turnovers.

"You always try to get turnovers, but I don't want to be a bad defensive team that relies on turnovers to get us out of situations," he said. "We have to play better on defense."

Youngsters on the field

The Gophers have played eight true freshmen this season, seven on defense. Kill said he typically only plays 3-4 true freshmen in a season, but injuries and unbalanced class sizes have forced his hand a little bit. (By comparison, the Tennessee Vols played 21 true freshmen in their season opener.)

Four true freshmen are now in the Gophers defensive line rotation. At one point vs. Middle Tennessee, Claeys played three of those freshmen – Gaelin Elmore, Gary Moore and Andrew Stelter – on the line at the same time.

"The good thing is, as I say again, they all have athletic ability and they're all capable of playing," Claeys said. "I'd rather have that than three guys out there who can't play at all, because injuries. At least they can play."

Goodell failed miserably in Rice case

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: September 9, 2014 - 8:40 AM

As NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell has delivered harsh punishment in response to player arrests and misconduct that embarrasses teams, the league or his precious “Shield.”

Today, the commissioner should take a real hard look in the mirror because he fell woefully short at a critical hour with his horrendous handling of this Ray Rice situation.

Goodell’s light punishment initially was only made worse by release of the elevator tape that shows Rice knocking unconscious his then-fiancee with a violent punch. And now TMZ, which obtained the tape, reported Tuesday morning that the NFL didn’t try very hard to review the tape during its investigation.

TMZ reports that the league didn’t even ask the Atlantic City casino for a copy of their tape. In response, the league released a statement to PFT saying that it asked for the tape from law enforcement but was denied because it was an ongoing criminal investigation.

How convenient.

You mean, an entity with the power of the NFL, with its own investigative expertise and reach, didn’t bother to ask the casino for the tape? Rice’s lawyer reportedly had a copy, too. Why not ask him?

Why not use the weight of its power to get to the very bottom of what happened?

Because they apparently didn't try hard enough, that’s why. The league thought it would hand Rice a two-game suspension and everyone would move on because it’s the NFL, after all.

This, of course, assumes that the NFL is telling the truth when it says nobody connected with the league reviewed that tape, which still seems hard to believe.

Here’s a question that bothers me: Why did Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens even need to see Rice punching his girlfriend before they decided that a harsher punishment was necessary? Until Monday, the only video available was the one that showed Rice dragging the woman out of the elevator, unconscious.

Was that not enough shock and disgust to warrant more than a two-game suspension? Maybe Rice fooled Goodell and his employer with his version of events. But he acknowledged striking his fiancée and we saw him dragging her body. And yet the Ravens and Goodell only found that worthy of a two-game suspension.

Shame on them.

The only reason they were moved to action Monday – Ravens released Rice and the league suspended him indefinitely – is because of public outrage over the tape. That’s the only reason.

The worst kind of leadership is reactionary. Goodell failed miserably on the front end and then reacted with a harsher punishment because of the anger and embarrassment he brought to the league.

Goodell works on behalf of the owners and there’s a debate now about whether he should be removed from that office. That’s a valid conversation.

Goodell’s integrity looks gone right now. He had a chance to make a real statement about the league’s view on domestic violence. Instead, he blew it and made the NFL look horrible. And now everyone is engaged in full damage control.

What a pathetic bunch. Rice, Goodell, the Ravens. All of them.     

Opener reveals Zimmer/Turner blueprint

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: September 7, 2014 - 3:04 PM

The Mike Zimmer Era started in fine fashion as the Vikings hammered a woeful St. Louis Rams team 34-6.

Lots of positive signs for the Vikings in the opener, including the game plan by this new coaching staff.

Zimmer's defense created pressure and got big plays from the secondary in keeping the Rams out of the end zone. The Vikings got five sacks and forced two turnovers.

Maligned cornerback Josh Robinson made a terrific interception in the first half and safety Harrison Smith returned an interception for a touchdown late in the game.

I liked the way Zimmer used Smith, bringing him on blitzes and moving him around to maximize his play-making ability. Smith blitzed at least three times off the edge. He forced a quick throw on the first series and later collected a sack.

Here is my column on Smith from training camp in which he talked about being a playmaker in this defense.

Offensively, the Vikings took a while to get going and had too many penalties early. But Norv Turner showed a glimpse of how he intends to use Cordarrelle Patterson as a versatile playmaker.

Turner used Patterson on Jet sweeps, at receiver and lined him up in the backfield as a running back. Patterson had the play of the game for the offense on his long touchdown run.

Turner's creativity with Patterson will open things up for Adrian Peterson, Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph because defenses must gameplan for Patterson's big-play ability.

What to watch in Vikings opener

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: September 4, 2014 - 1:53 PM

The Vikings are only a few days from their season opener in St. Louis, thankfully, because we're tired of preseason football. Finally, it's time for real games.

Here are a few things that we're particularly interested to see as the Mike Zimmer era begins:

Zimmer's debut

This obvious, of course.

Zimmer went 4-0 in the preseason, but this will be his first official game as a head coach. We'll start to get a sense for how Zimmer will handle clock management and other in-game situations in those pressure situations.

Zimmer rehearsed his decision-making in simulated scenarios with General Manager Rick Spielman during training camp. Now he gets to do it for real.

Peterson's role

The Vikings wisely held Adrian Peterson out of preseason games to keep him fresh, so this will be our first glimpse of Peterson in Norv Turner's offense. I'm curious to see No. 1, how Peterson looks physically after dealing with a number of injuries last season and being a year older, and No. 2, how Turner uses him in the offense.

Peterson has averaged 19.7 carries per game in his career. Will his workload stay close to that average? Will Turner use him more as a receiver? Peterson caught a career-high 43 passes in 2009.

Peterson loves this offense and its potential. A passing game that includes Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph and Greg Jennings should take some of the pressure off him.

Pass protection

The Rams present a tough test right off the bat for left tackle Matt Kalil and right tackle Phil Loadholt. Kalil primarily will face All-Pro defensive end Robert Quinn, while Loadholt draws Chris Long on the other side.

Led by Quinn's 19 sacks last season, that pair combined for 27.5 sacks in 2013, the best mark by a tandem.

Kalil and Loadholt need to hold up in pass protection to allow Matt Cassel time to get the ball down field. Turner likely will give his tackles some help with tight ends or running backs. But the Vikings' tackles have to handle themselves one-on-one against Quinn and Long for the offense to function effectively.

Kalil struggled at times last season after his fantastic rookie season. He also dealt with a knee injury. This matchup with Quinn will provide a good barometer to show where Kalil is at entering his third season.

Third-down defense

One of the biggest issues with the Vikings defense last season was third down. They finished 30th in third-down defense, allowing opposing offenses to convert 44 percent of the time.

They just couldn't get off the field, which sucked the life out of the entire team, not just the defense.

Offenses picked apart their secondary, but third-down defense has to be a collective effort.

Zimmer's defensive scheme is more aggressive than the Tampa 2, so maybe that will help the Vikings be more succesful in those situations. That's a major area that they must fix in order to become an improved defense.

By the way, the Rams were one of the league's worst teams in third-down offense last season.

Jumps, slides and other tidbits from Gophers opener

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: September 2, 2014 - 4:30 PM

Every Tuesday I’ll post notes and short takes as the Gophers begin preparation for their next opponent. Here are a few things that caught my eye in the Gophers season-opener against Eastern Illinois:

Everyone plays fast

Eastern Illinois came out in no-huddle and ran 96 plays on offense. Jerry Kill said Tuesday that the Gophers will face seven teams that utilize a no-huddle offense this season.

Hurry-up offense has become the latest trend in college football. Teams run no-huddle and attempt to snap the ball as fast as possible to wear down defenses and maximize the number of plays per game.

That tempo puts stress on defenses in terms of conditioning and being able to substitute.

Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said he’s never had his defense huddle after plays so that mitigates tempo offenses to some degree.

In terms of substitutions, Claeys said that becomes tricky if the offense keeps the same personnel on the field or if a ball carrier goes out of bounds.

“The biggest thing is when they don't change personnel and go right to the line, it's hard to substitute people in for situations,” he said. “Basically whatever you have out there, you have to play with, unless the ball goes out of bounds next to your boundary.

“I thought [defensive line coach Jeff Phelps] did a great job of that, making sure we didn't substitute D‑line when the ball went out of bounds on the other side. Last year we got caught with 12 people on the field a couple times. It's weird, you have to pay attention where the ball goes out of bounds and where it's at before you end up substituting people.”

Speedy LBs

I’ve written about the Gophers secondary and that position has received a lot of attention. To me, the secondary is the team’s strongest position group.

But I also came away from the opener particularly impressed with their top two linebackers, Damien Wilson and De’Vondre Campbell. Those two are fast and really run to the ball.

“Damien and De'Vondre can really run,” Jerry Kill said. “They're long. Damien was measured by the NFL scouts, measured by how long his arms are and they are longer than Ra’Shede’s arms.  When you have length, you can keep people from blocking you and you tackle better.”

Learn to slide

I admire Mitch Leidner’s toughness and his willingness to take on defenders physically when he’s carrying the ball. That said, Leidner has to be smarter about trying to run over defenders this season

.The Gophers can’t afford to lose Leidner to injury. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said he wants to limit designed runs for Leidner and the coaching staff constantly encourages him to recognize when it’s best to slide or get out of bounds.

“When you see a quarterback run, maybe slide before contact, run out of bounds, not get an extra yard or two, I think that's something that isn't in his DNA,” Limegrover said. “You've got to really work with him constantly on that, a bigger picture. No one is going to think less of you if you don't gain that extra yard, but you don't get hit by three defenders as well. Those extra three or four yards are minuscule in relation to him being out on the field for the next play, series, game.”

It’s not easy to change a player’s mentality. I asked Leidner what he will do if he’s in open field this Saturday with a safety running at him. Try and run over him, or slide?

“You can get injured just as bad sliding as you can taking a hit,” he said. “If you get your pad level down and take it on like you were taught all the way growing up, you should be fine.”

Leap of faith

Tight end Maxx Williams loved the picture of himself jumping over an Eastern Illinois defender on a catch and run. He’s not sure he will try that again though.

“I got lucky,” said Williams, who said he had a 33-inch vertical leap last time he was tested.

Williams said he’d never tried that move at any level. His instincts took over when he saw the defender go low for a tackle.

“It was either [going to be], ‘Wow that worked out good for me. Or wow, that really hurt and I shouldn’t do that anymore,” Williams said.


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