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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If the Vikings, at 3-5, can't get into contention this year, I'm going to be much more interested in the performances of four key rookies than the final record. These are four people who could determine the near-future of the franchise. Here's how I thought they did on Sunday.
Rookie head coach Mike Zimmer
His defense has played very well the last three weeks, with the exception of two late drives against Buffalo and Tampa.
Against Buffalo, he failed to call a timeout while his defense was in disarray, and it led to a fourth-and-20 conversion that, at the moment, is the difference between the Vikings being 4-4 and 3-5. Sunday, his defense looked unprepared for a fourth-down play on the Bucs' last drive, and he called timeout. He said after the game that he thought ``it was going to be a big play, and I wanted to make sure we were organized.''
What I like about Zimmer is that while he's a very experienced NFL coach, he admits he's new to running a sideline. He's not afraid to admit when he makes a mistake, and he's willing to learn from those he does make.
Rookie running back Jerick McKinnon
He rushed 16 times for 83 yards and caught one pass. He had two receptions wiped out by penalties.
His backup, Matt Asiata, rushed four times for one yard.
McKinnon also blocked well in pass protection.
There is no reason at this point to play Asiata unless McKinnon needs a break. McKinnon basically gains about twice as many yards per carry as Asiata, is more dangerous out of the backfield, and is improving in pass blocking. He's a keeper, and Zimmer raved about him after the game.
The real question with McKinnon was whether he would be a specialty, pass-receiving back, or an every-down back. I believe he is the latter.
Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
Bridgewater completed 24 of 42 passes for 241 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
He made a number of puzzilng throws, and missed badly on a couple of deep routes, but otherwise stood in well against teh pressure, and began finding Cordarrelle Patterson, which will be a key for this team going forward.
I ripped Greg Jennings when he whined about not having Aaron Rodgers to throw him the ball, when it was he who chose to leave Rodgers. I'll give him credit for this: He's saying all of the right things to Bridgewater. He snapped Bridgewater out of a funk in Buffalo, and Bridgewater immediately began to play better. This week, Jennings told Bridgewater to stop waiting for receivers to get wide open, to trust that if he put the ball in the right place they would make the play.
That was the key to Bridgewater's beautiful touchdown pass to Jennings. Bridgewater was under heavy pressure. Had he waited, he would have been sacked. Instead, he threw while Jennings was making his cut, and hit him in teh back of the end zone.
That might have been the best throw of Bridgewater's brief career.
Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr
I wrote my column for Monday on Barr, so I won't go too far in depth in this space. Let's just say that hsi coaches and teammates rave about his intelligence, and he there was no doubt he was a unique athlete. He's going to be a star for a long time if he stays healthy.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:14 each weekday, and 1500ESPN at 12:15 each weekday.
St. Louis -
Just got to the press box at the Edward Jones Dome (such an elegant name). And here's my pick for today:
I think the Rams are an ordinary team. Their strength on offense should be running the ball with Zac Stacy, and yet Stacy is being pushed for playing time by Benny Cunningham. If your lead back isn't really your lead back, how good are you at running the ball?
I think the key to the game will be the Vikings' offensive line, because the Rams' strength is its front seven. If Matt Kalil plays well, Vikings win, something like 23-16.
I'm placing my faith in Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner. I think he'll put the offense in position to win, whether that means helping Kalil or running plays that defuse the Rams' pass rush. The Vikings have enough talent on offense to score points against even a quality defense, and the Vikings' defense will face its most comfortable matchup of the early season.
Korzo is in studio and I'm in St. Louis for Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500ESPN-AM. Vikings beat writer Matt Vensel and regular guest Tom Linnemann will join. Enjoy Group of Death.
You never know what you’re going to get when you sit down to interview a star.
You might catch them on a good day, or a bad day. They might have something else on their minds. They might like, or not like, something you’ve written about them in the past. They might not have anything to say, or go into the interview with the intent of getting through it without saying anything notable.
I visited Bud Selig in his office after he threatened the Twins with contraction. He gave me an hour. For an hour, I tried to get him to admit some culpability in the situation, to offer some details about the Pohlads’ willingness to have their team contracted. He deflected every question.
Yesterday, I sat down with Adrian Peterson after practice. I prepared questions on five different topics, hoping he would be interesting on at least one of them. I started him with questions about being around other celebrities at the celebrity softball game at the All-Star game at Target Field.
Then I started asking football questions, and he offered up all of the interesting stuff that is in today’s column: That he wants to break Emmitt Smith’s record, that he considers Barry Sanders the greatest back of all time, that he wants to be the greatest player who ever lived, that he wants to retire as a Viking, and that he thinks Norv Turner’s offense will be the best he’s played in.
I’d like to take credit for masterfully dragging all of that out of him, but I can’t. Peterson was ready and willing to open up, and I was lucky enough to be there.
I’ve always found him to be a remarkably engaging and approachable superstar. Here are a few of the things he said that didn’t make the column:
-The importance of winning a Super Bowl: ``One thing people will be shocked to hear me say is, I’d give it all away for a Super Bowl. I’m not a selfish player. I’ve never been a selfish player. It’s not about me. I set my goals, but if we win and I’m rushing for 75 yards and helping us win, I’m happy. This is a team game and the ultimate goal is a championship.
``Any way I can help, in the passing game or a running game, I’ll help. It might take 200 yards rushing. It might take catching the ball. Whatever it takes, I’m all in. I want to hold the ultimate trophy up, and look at all the guys I played with, and know they can’t take that away from us. That’s what I’m all about.’’
-His willingness to set dramatic goals for himself, like rushing for 2,500 yards this season: ``You only live once. Why limit yourself?’’
-What it was like playing in the All-Star game celebrity softball game at Target Field, and having Jenny Finch throw a couple of fastballs by him: ``That was fun. It was a great experience to be around some different people. That was my first time experiencing the celebrity all-star game. Hopefully I’ll be invited back. It was cool to be around some of the legends who play baseball, and Nelly, and the celebrities out there.
``And Jenny Finch? I knew she looked athletic and a lot of people were talking about her, but you thought, `A woman? Shouldn’t be too bad.’ She proved me wrong. It was fun. It was for the fans, and I enjoyed it.
``She threw that fastball, and was like, `Whoa, this just got serious.’ I thought maybe I should have just had her stick to underhand pitching. But I love challenges, so I was like, bring it. I tipped one of them, at least.’’
-Being a low-profile superstar, who had other stars bowing to him: ``I know! I noticed that, too. I thought, man, I guess I have some pull. My friends tell me this all the time – the way you react, you don’t realize the type of star ability you have. It definitely stood out in that setting. Being around them and still getting recognized, it was cool. I just enjoyed blending in.’’
-Being a star who doesn’t seek every endorsement or photo op: ``That’s definitely by design. It’s just my mentality. That’s my vibe. I’ve always been that kind of low-key, solo-type guy. I really don’t like too much attention. That’s the way I’ve always been. I’ve been dealing with it since Little League, and then I had that little blank area of my life where I got off-track, but then in high school, my junior and senior year I was the No. 1 player in the nation. There was a lot of recognition that came with that. I’ve always shied away from attention since that.’’
=On entering a season as a 29-year old at a position where being 30 is dangerous: ``It just means that time flies. But, to be honest, I feel like I’m a different breed than 99 percent of the running backs in the league.’’
I'll be on 1500ESPN at a different time today, 11:15 instead of 12:15. Back to regular programming after that.
We'll run Sunday Sports Talk 10-noon on Sunday at the 1500ESPN stage at the State Fair.
Spoke with Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner yesterday after practice. While he didn’t intentionally shed light on the Vikings’ quarterback situation, he did confirm what I have heard from others, and what has become obvious by the Vikings’ playing time allocation: That Matt Cassel will start in Week 1 and Teddy Bridgewater will brought along slowly, if Cassel plays well and remains healthy.
My question: What’s Turner’s philosophy in regards to developing a talented young quarterback?
``I personally think it’s all about the guy,’’ Turner said. ``Some guys are more comfortable when they can go play. And some guys, it’s more comfortable for them to see it happen. I don’t know that you can answer that question. It depends on the guy.
``I know Teddy’s getting himself ready to play, and he’s got to be ready to play, because this league is tough on quarterbacks. You can be in there real fast.’’
I don’t think Turner was trying to tip his hand. I think he was just acknowledging reality – that Bridgewater needs to be ready to play with the first team because he’s one injury away from playing with the first team.
I"ll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 with the boys. We're also going to hold a football roundtable at noon on Saturday at the fair, and I'll be doing SundaySportsTalk, 10-noon, at the fair on Sunday with Korzo and Hunter.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib. Direct all hate there. Just, please, lay off the hair. I'm very sensitive.
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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