Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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First impressions from the Vikings' first day of practices:
-Mike Zimmer is a no-nonsense guy. Get the sense he's going to be both very honest and very controlled about the information he gives out. I don't think he's going to try to mislead anybody, but he may not be all that forthcoming.
-Harrison Smith's flexibility might be a key to this defense. He moved around a lot during practice, sometimes lining up as a quasi-linebacker. Given Zimmer's varied defensive schemes, Smith could end up playing as a third safety or fourth linebacker in certain situations.
-Norv Turner has talked about throwing the ball more to Adrian Peterson. For what it's worth, Peterson had a lousy day trying to catch the ball. I'm guessing that at this stage of his career he's not too keen on training camp practices.
-Zimmer said defensive tackle Linval Joseph can bench-press 500 pounds.
-Wasn't as much cussing on the field as I expected, given Zimmer's outbursts during Hard Knocks, and Turner's verbosity during OTAs. Or maybe they were cussing more quietly.
-Adam Thielen of Minnesota State-Mankato made a diving catch and may be elected mayor soon.
-Teddy Bridgewater is a very pleasant and composed young man.
-Christian Ponder, in non-contact scrimmage, repeatedly pulled down the ball and ran. Why? Why?
-Matt Cassel did not look good throwing the ball deep on Day 1.
-The Vikings wisely had everyone involved in the Kluwe investigation answer questions about it on Thursday. That meant nobody was asking about it on Friday. That is the best way to handle a PR nightmare - turn it into a one-day story, make everyone available on the same day, and give yourself, as an organization, the right to say the rest of camp: ``We've already answered those questions.''
It also didn't hurt the Vikings that their day of access on the topic occured while Ray Rice was receiving just a two-game suspension for hitting his wife, and that Chuck Knoblauch's induction to the Twins' Hall of Fame was cancelled because of his arrest on domestic assault charges.
-Of course, the Star Tribune print edition, Startribune.com, Access Vikings The Blog, and Master Tesfasion's videos will cover these subjects more voluminously.
I'll be writing columns from Mankato for the next three days. First topic: How did this team manage to win just five games last year, and what does that mean for this year?
I'll be on 1500ESPN-AM 10-noon on Sunday for SundaySportsTalk with Korzo and Hunter.
It's usually difficult to invest much emotion in NFL coaches. They're mostly vagabond mercenaries who travel from city to city, knowiing they'll most likely be fired within two or three years, and they often display all the interpersonal charm of vagabond mercenaries.
Leslie Frazier was, and is, different. He brought with him a remarkable personal story and a unique personal touch. He was the rare NFL head coach who became beloved by people at all levels of his organization, who made sure he ate lunch with different employees every day, who was about more than winning and losing.
Of course, losing did him in. He won 18 games in three full seasons as the Vikings' head coach, and that number justifies the Wilfs' decision to fire him, whether I agree with it or not.
It's easy to blame the head coach when an NFL team loses, but I never believe it's that simple. With the exception of Joe Gibbs, every great coach in recent NFL history has been defined by the play of his quarterback. I believe that if Frazier had been given a franchise quarterback, he would still be employed. If he was capable of winning 10 games with an erratic Christian Ponder, what could he accomplish with a real NFL quarterback?
Rick Spielman has a good batting average while running the Vikings' draft, but his choice of Ponder cost Frazier his job.
So while the Wilfs and Spielman begin their search for a new coach, what will matter most is the combination of coach and quarterback upon which they settle.
Frazier has been blamed for the choice of Bill Musgrave as offensive coordinator. I've been given indications that wasn't his decision alone. Alan Williams wasn't his first choice as defensive coordinator, either.
If you want to blame Frazier for something, blame him for not playing a bigger role in defensive play-calling, and for not forcing Musgrave to use Cordarrelle Patterson more early in the season.
I was lucky enough to spend time with Frazier in his hometown of Columbus, Ms. I saw the remains of the shack in which he was raised, and met with people who are still close to him.
He's a remarkable human, and if he had been given a good quarterback, he'd stil be employed.
I'll be on 1500ESPN (that's 1500AM) at noon to talk about Frazier. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
I'm not sure I've ever seen a finishing flurry quite like the one in the Vikings' 29-25 loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
It's remarkable how hard the Vikings hsve played in the weeks since it seemed their season was doomed. What I'll explore in my Monday column is why it took so long for this coaching staff to put its best players on the field. With Matt Cassel at quarterback, Cordarrelle Patterson starting at receiver and Xavier Rhodes starting at corner, this is a competent team, a team that could be at or near .500 and theoretically in the playoff race if those players had started earlier this season.
This was a Vikings team that made all those dramatic plays with its backup quarterback, backup running back, and a lot of backup defenders on the field.
We'll have extensive coverage in the Monday paper and on startribune.com, complete with videos.
We'll also update Adrian Peterson's health as soon as possible after the game, Indications now are that he has a sprained ankle and nothing more. It will be interesting to see whether Leslie Frazier plays him next week, or lets Toby Gerhart have a start.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
NFL games shouldn't end in ties.
Enough about that.
If you, like me, are watching Vikings games more to discern what next year's team will look like than what this year's final record will look like, there were a few interesting developments on Sunday, in the Vikings' 26-26 tie with the Packers.
Here are two key developments:
-Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the 29th pick in this year's draft, was credited with four passes defensed, of the Vikings' nine total. He aquitted himself well against a pretty good group of receivers, and saved a touchdown by knocking the ball from the hands of James Jones.
He also injured his leg and returned to the field, a promising sign of toughness.
-Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson finally - finally! - looked like a big part of the offense. He had 11 passes thrown his way. He caught a eight. Both totals were team-highs.
He gained 54 yards. He returned the opening kickoff 57 yards. That return caused the Packers to kick the ball out of bounds while trying to keep the ball away from him on a subsequent kickoff.
Patterson could have had a much bigger day. He was unable to hold onto a long pass down the left sideline, and he had the ball bounce out of his hands in the end zone after it was tipped on the Vikings' first drive of overtime.
Patterson said he should have caught that pass.
I've been saying all season that Patterson should be a bigger part of the offense. He's too talented to leave on the sideline. He can catch short passes and turn them into long gains, and he should be able to take the occasional handoff or reverse, like Percy Harvin used to do.
He should be the Vikings' featured receiver the rest of the season.
-Aaron Rodgers is probably wishing he could ask for a raise.
The Packers have lost four straight since he was injured, and have tried three other quarterbacks. Without him, the Packers' receivers are less productive, the offensive line looks worse (because the ball doesn't leave the pocket as quickly) and the defense looks shoddier (because the offense doesn't sustain as many drives or create leads.)
And it's no longer too early to say that Greg Jennings made a dire mistake by leaving the Packers and Rodgers. Jennings caught two passes for 29 yards in five quarters on Sunday, and dropped a key third-down pass.
It's almost as if Jennings is so embarrassed by his decision to leave Green Bay that he's gone into a shell.
-Chrisitan Ponder amazes me. I've never before covered a quarterback whose performances could look so different on the field and on paper.
Watching him today, I thought Ponder had terrible pocket awareness, threw a potential pick-six that was dropped, was too eager to pull the ball down and run or scramble. Then I look at the stat sheet and he was 21-for-30 with a touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 103.9.
There are a lot of modern statistics that offer great insights into the games we watch. There are also statistics that contradict eyesight and common sense.
I was more impressed with the Gophers' loss to the Badgers than any of their victories this season.
They stood up physically against a program built on tough, physical play. And while Phil Nelson did not have a good game, I have to believe the cold affected his accuracy and touch. His receivers dropped a handful of key passes, and when he missed ,he often missed by a wide margin. He's better than that.
Had a friend today tell me an interesting story: That last year, Jerry Kill was coaching on the sideline, and he dropped to one knee to look at a play chart. A half-dozen Gophers coaches and officials rushed to him, thinking he was having a seizure.
Kill said at that point that he needed to coach from the press box, so he wouldn't be a distraction.
It will be very interesting to see whether Kill stays in the press box the rest of this year, and for the rest of his career. He's found something that works - Tracy Claeys running the sideline, and Kill seeing the big picture from upstairs, rather than arguing with officials.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15, and on 1500ESPN at noon for my regular weekday hit with Judd&Dubay. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
There are rational reasons for starting Christian Ponder on Sunday.
I'm just not sure the Vikings are employing any of them.
Here are possible behind-the-scenes explanations for starting Ponder, or at least not starting Josh Freeman:
1. If Freeman has looked lost in practice. It would be hard for an NFL head coach to believe that a quarterback who has trouble running the offense or completing passes in practice would be able to do so in games, especially on the road.
2. The Vikings have decided to tank the rest of the season to obtain the highest possible draft choices. I could see the front office wishing for this outcome, but Leslie Frazier is incapable of trying to lose a game. A coach would tank only if he was assured of coming back next year, and there's no way the Vikings can be making assurances to their head coach given the ineptitude of this team.
3. The Vikings' offensive coaches don't know what they're doing.
Starting Freeman is the most logical decision, but if he's not ready to start, then it's tough to figure out why the Vikings wouldn't start Matt Cassel. Cassel has given the Vikings their best-quarterbacked game of the season, against Pittsburgh, and would give them their best chance to win on Sunday at Green Bay.
I can't think of a good reason for starting Ponder. Worse, the feeling in the Vikings' lockerroom is that starting Ponder is an embarrassment.
Frazier has done much to build trust and respect in the Vikings' lockerroom. He's sabotating his credibility by starting Ponder when everyone knows Ponder's career is effectively over in Minnesota.
For all of their problems, the Vikings have continued to play hard even as their season has slipped away. It's tough to put your body on the line when your bosses keep handling the most important position on the team so poorly.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon with Judd&Dubay to discuss this, the Wolves, the Wild, and the Gophers.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
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