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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Donovan McNabb conducted his first game-week press conference as a Vikings quarterback, and he was thoughtful and insightful. Must be the podium. He was a lot like Favre, except that he listened to the question and kept his answers shorter than 35 minutes. And he didn't ask himself rhetorical questions the way Favre did.
The Vikings appeared pretty close to completely healthy as we were allowed to watch the beginning of practice on Wednesday.
Here's my take on this team: I like the people, I'm not sure I like the mix.
I think Leslie Frazier has a good chance to become a very good coach. I think McNabb has a chance to have a bounce-back season. The Vikings still have elite players in Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway. They have highly-useful veterans like Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser, Steve Hutchinson, Michael Jenkins and E.J. Henderson.
But they lack the kind of youth movement that could give those veterans one last run at a championship. Kyle Rudolph may be the only young player who could be outstanding this season. The Vikings lack roster depth, are installing a new offense with a new quarterback without the benefit of offseason workouts, play in the same division as the best team in football and need to maintain close to perfect health to have a chance to post a winning record.
So, my pick for this teams is 7-9. They went 6-10 last year, and I think Frazier's steady hand will give them a chance to win one or two more games than they did during the crazy 2010 season.
Their best hope is that they can win the games they're supposed to win, that the Bears take a predictable fall and that the Lions aren't nearly as ready to win as most people think they are. To get to 9-7, McNabb will have to be sharp enough to lead the Vikings to wins in a lot of close games.
I would love to predict that the Vikings will go 10-6 and make the playoffs. After watching the Twins stumble around all season, I'd love to cover a playoff team. But I think this team's weaknesses in the secondary and on the offensive line will be exposed by quality opponents.
I hear a lot of fans whining about the Twins calling up youngsters and putting them in the starting lineup. That's the way this works, folks. Take it from me: I covered the Twins as a beat writer from 1993-97. Watching the kids come up and play in September was the highlight of those seasons.
I'm most interested in Joe Benson. He's a multi-talented guy who can run, hit, hit for power, throw, and cover ground in the outfield. He seems to have charsma. He loves Springsteen (!). He plays with the energy of a football player - he was a standout running back in high school. And unlike a lot of the kids who have been called up this season, he seems to be after more than a big-league paycheck.
With the futures of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel uncertain, Benson could be a key player for this team next year.
I highly recommend reading our hockey writer, Michael Russo, these days, even if you don't care about hockey. His piece on Derek Boogaard's death, and his quick-reacting coverage of the airline tragedy in Russia are just the latest examples of his outstanding work.
I'll be traveling to Green Bay for the season opener against the Saints tomorrow, then coming back and heading to San Diego for the Vikings' opener. I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 weekdays from now on, and I'll be calling in from Green Bay tomorrow at that time.
Quick stat from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Bob McGinn: Saints coach Sean Payton's career record is 53-33. Packers coach Mike McCarthy's is 53-34. And they've won the last two Super Bowls.
Tom Pelissero and I will run the Gardenhire Show and Sunday Morning Sports Talk from San Diego on Sunday morning, from 9:30-11. We'll do our first NFL picks, along with my buddy Tom Linnemann, and we'll have ESPN.com NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert on to preview the games.
I'll also be calling 1500espn at 6:20 p.m. tomorrow from Green Bay.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Enjoy the beginning of football season. I know I will.
-Upcoming: I’ll be flying to LA for the weekend to cover the Gophers at USC and the Twins at Angels. My twitter name is @Souhanstrib.
-We're all sitting here writing on deadline and eating really unhealthy food. (Judd doesn't seem bothered by this.)
-My column for the Friday paper focuses on the Vikings' trade of the 30th pick in the draft. Short version: I like the trade. I'm not sure I like who they traded with.
-There is the possibility that the Vikings could take Jimmy Clausen on Friday. I could be wrong, and we'll know soon, but I don't think so. I don't think Clausen is the right personality type for this team, a veteran team trying to win now. And I'm not as impressed with Clausen as the general public is.
At Notre Dame, his teams generally underachieved and faced mostly poor competition, and he had great receivers who could catch anything near them. I'm not sold.
I also think the Broncos are fools. They essentially traded Brandon Marshall for Tim Tebow. Marshall is one of the NFL's two best receivers. I don't believe Tebow will ever be a good NFL quarterback. And you don't spend a first-round pick on a Wildcat quarterback.
-Here's the column I wrote early in the evening, well before the Vikings picked. We in the business call it an ``early.''
Want to know how immensely popular the NFL has become?
On Wednesday, the NFL commissioner suspended a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback in his prime for six games for a sordid incident involving a bathroom, an underaged girl and alcohol.
On Thursday, the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger only added to the intrigue and suspense _ and thus the popularity _ of the NFL draft. Would the Steelers trade Roethlisberger? Which teams would trade their first-round pick for him? Would Bad Ben molest anyone between the announcement of the suspension and the end of the first round?
The NFL is so popular that it has become the first pro sports league in history to lend truth to the phrase, ``Any publicity is good publicity.’’
The draft itself has, over the last couple of decades, morphed from an oddity obsessed over by the kind of geeks who now invent fictitious acronyms so they can sound smart talking baseball into a prime-time television special that promised to garner an immense rating.
I had a buddy tell me he was going to try to put his kids to bed early so he could watch every minute, even though most of the players taken in even the first round of the 2009 draft made little or no impact on their team last season. In fact, looking back at that first round confirms that the Vikings would have been silly to consider anyone other than receiver Percy Harvin, even if they had known then the extent of his migraines.
In 1990, I covered my first NFL draft. I spent two days in the basement of Winter Park, the Vikings’ compound in Eden Prairie. The Vikings had traded just about all of their draft picks to Dallas for Herschel Walker (just thought I’d remind you) and it was pretty much a couple of writers, a couple of camera guys and a bag of chips killing an entire weekend.
At the end of each day, the Vikings’ draft gurus, Frank Gilliam and Jerry Reichow, would come downstairs from their office, shrug a few times, and say that some of the guys they took had a chance to make the team, but who could tell?
Mel Kiper had not yet been invented or laquered, and everyone’s favorite draft analyst was a guy named Joel Buchsbaum, who produced a draft pamphlet that every self-respecting writer treated as a bible, to the consternation of NFL personnel directors.
Thursday night, the Vikings were slated to make the 30th selection in the first round.
This column was written well before the Vikings made their first selection. In this case, you didn’t know who the Vikings took to know that their selection probably wouldn’t make much difference in 2010.
If they took a defensive back or an offensive lineman, that player was not likely to start Game 1 in New Orleans. If they surprised everyone (or maybe just me) and selected a quarterback, that quarterback would be at least a year away, and perhaps more, from being expected to contribute.
And that is the greatest compliment you can offer the Vikings’ braintrust: They have pieced together such a strong roster that the 2010 draft should be seen as a way to bolter future teams moreso than the current squad.
The Vikings have excelled in free agency, adding Bernard Berrian, Brett Favre (yes, he counts), Anthony Herrera, Steve Hutchinson, Ben Leber, Ryan Longwell, Visanthe Shiancoe, Pat Williams and Antoine Winfield since 2004.
Under Rick Spielman, the Vikings’ vice president of player personnel, the Vikings have excelled at hitting home runs at the top of the draft.
In 2006, Spielman & Co. took Chad Greenway and Cedric Griffin in the first two rounds. In 2007, it was Adrian Peterson and Sidney Rice.
In 2008, the Vikings traded three of their first four picks for Jared Allen, a brilliant move, and chose Tyrell Johnson _ a starter although not a standout _ in the second round.
In 2009, The Vikings took Harvin in the first round and Phil Loadholt in the second.
All of those move guaranteed that anyone the Vikings selected at the end of the first round on Thursday would play a supporting role.
-Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is complaining about the NFL preempting the NBA playoffs. Way to be a free-marketeer, Mark.
-On 1500ESPN with Joe and Pat at 2:35 Friday, then on at 6-ish with Joe Anderson before the Twins play the Royals. I have tomorrow off from the newspaper.
A video I shot with Mr. Reusse should be up at startribune.com.
You can follow me on twitter at Souhanstrib. If you followed me today, you know I think Jon Gruden is a fool when it comes to draft analysis. If I hear one more ``analyst'' try to tell me that Tim Tebow will be a good NFL quarterback because of his character, I'm going to regurgitate.
Ben Roethlisberger is a jerk, and he won two Super Bowls.
-I'm back to write about the draft Saturday for the Sunday paper, then on Sunday we've got the Gardy Show on 1500ESPN at 9:30, followed by Sunday Sports Talk with myself and Brad Lane. Trying for Twins and Vikings guests.
Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe grabbed a reporter's mic and told us he likes one Shania Twain song today. Along with 50-cent, Maroon 5 and some of his own compositions.
So I asked the logical question: Shania Twain?
Shiancoe laughed and hit me on the shoulder. I don't know what that means.
Shianc also revealed his game-day breakfast: Egg whites (``It's like pulling teeth to eat that stuff; not very tasty''), oatmeal (``With nothing on it'') and a protein shake (``Best one you've ever tasted.'')
He did not exactly seem tight. He promised to get 10 hours of sleep on Friday, because rest takes two days to register with your body. Or so he tells me.
The guy is a beauty. We spend so much time overanalyzing pro football that it was refreshing to end the week with an interview with a guy this lighthearted.
It was a loose lockerroom all around. Ryan Longwell told me he believes Brett Favre is primed for a big game (his quotes will appear in my Sunday column), and Antoine Winfield said ``These kinds of games are the reason you play the game.''
Let's face it - when the Cowboys come to town for a big game, the game has a different feel. I covered the Cowboys in 1989 before moving to Minneapolis, and even when they were 1-15, they were fascinating. In fact, I think the most fascinating year I've ever had on a beat occured in 1989, when I covered Jimmy Johnson in his first year in the NFL, Jerry Jones in his first year as an owner, Dave Wannstedt as the defensive coordinator, and Troy Aikman as a frustrated young player who did not trust Johnson at that point.
I remember Johnson pulling a few of us aside to explain the Herschel Walker trade, and you could tell how shrewd, cutthroat and driven he was. Jerry was always entertaining. Aikman was driven to be great. I remember one day after the '89 season, I was walking through the Cowboys lockerroom, and they didn't have a great weight room at the time, and Aikman was doing lunges with a huge weight across his back all the way across the lockerroom and back.
He's turned into a fine analyst for the same reason - he does his homework, and he's a sharp guy.
I remember having a conversation with Wannstedt during that 1-15 season, and he made football sound awful simple. I was asking him how he could be confident when his defense was so horrid. He told me something like, ``If you can get off the field on third down, all those stats change. If you can get off the field on third down, it changes field position, time of possession, and if you have a good offense, it can mean a lot more points on the board. You can go from 1-15 to 8-8 very quickly, and then you see how good you are.''
Jimmy's staff won three Super Bowls, even though Barry Switzer got to be the figurehead for one of them.
My picks for the weekend: All home teams. I think the Chargers will win by 10 or more over the Jets. I think what people are forgetting about the Cardinals is that they would have lost that game to the Packers if Aaron Rodgers had thrown his last pass anywhere near a wide-open Greg Jennings. I'm taking the Saints in a close one.
I'm taking Peyton Manning over the Ravens, because I never bet against Peyton Manning. And I'm taking the Vikings, 31-27, over the Cowboys. All of the analysis of the Vikings' weaknesses is right on. I just think we're forgetting that the Cowboys have similar weaknesses (particularly in their secondary) and the Vikings' pass rush will benefit from the noise in the Dome.
I see Favre, Harvin and Jared Allen having big games, with Adrian Peterson making big plays in the passing game and...to go out on a limb...Benny Sapp making a pivotal play at some point.
In an even matchup, I favor the home team, for lack of a better reason.
Upcoming: I'll be at the FSN studios tonight to conduct my weekly debate with Jim Petersen. The show starts at 6:30; I'll be on about 6:35-6:40. You can vote for me by texting 234234 then Souhan.
I'm hosting Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on Sunday on am-1500, and I have a few of my Dallas buddies and a national guest or two lined up to talk about the Cowboys and the NFL.
You can follow me on Twitter at SouhanStrib.
My latest Sport SORT (Series of Random Thoughts) following the Vikings' 27-10 victory over the Lions on Sunday at the Metrodome:
-We asked Brad Childress if Adrian Peterson could have done anything to prevent the fumble on his breakaway run, and he said that if this were a new stadium with a huge Jumbotron in each end zone, Adrian would have been able to see the defender coming up behind him.
I asked Brad if he was blaming the taxpayers of Minnesota for Peterson's fumble. He said, ``Whoever is responsible for us not having a Jumbotron.''
-I came out of this game really liking Lions rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford. He took a severe beating from the Vikings' defensive line, avoided a handful of sacks, threw well on the run, displayed a strong arm and rallied his team to make a game of it.
The key will be keeping him healthy. I covered the 1989 Dallas Cowboys during Troy Aikman's rookie year, and if he had played in every game, his career would have ended with zero Super Bowl rings.
-It's amazing how much this season's offensive success _ and Brett Favre, of course _ have changed our perceptions about the Vikings. Last year when they struggled against the Lions, they won 12-10, largely because of a bad call.
This year, when they ``struggled'' against the Lions at home, they won, 27-10; their quarterback passed for 344 yards; their running back ran for 133; their top receiver gained 201; and they didn't throw an interception.
Now, that's the way to struggle.
-Don't be surprised if you see a few more lackluster efforts down the stretch. Players can't perform at their peak every week; it goes against human nature.
-Best quote of the day, from tight end Visanthe Shiancoe: ``We're not trying to be 9-1; we're trying to be 15-1...We're trying to build an empire.''
-Gawd, I hate the Dome. Beautiful day, maybe one of the last of the winter, and we sat under Teflon watching the stinking Lions.
-Childress said Ray Edwards has quietly had a good year.
-Vikings fans are right, by the way: The safeties simply don't make enough plays. When the defensive line puts pressure on the quarterback and the safeties don't even come close to making interceptions, they lack range and instincts.
-I understand fan anger of the penalty to Ray Edwards for launching himself at the quarterback's head, but I am completely in favor of officials protecting quarterbacks. Because, if they don't, we will spend a lot of Sunday afternoons watching John David Booty quarterback against Sage Rosenfels.
Upcoming: I'm on Rosen Sports Sunday tonight. I'm the shorter guy with the smaller nose.
I'll be on with Reusse at 6:40 a.m. on am-1500, and on in St. Cloud on WJON at 7:14.
You can follow me on Twitter at Souhanstrib.
And: I promise you I will be ready for the Jackrabbits.
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