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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Catching up on the local sports scene:
-Vikings. I'm at the Dome, where I'm picking a typical grind-it-out victory for the Vikings. Tampa Bay has scary weapons in Doug Martin and Victor Jackson, but the Vikings have a number of advantages in this game.
Their defense has excelled at taking away the best skill-position player or players on the other team, with Larry Fitzgerald being the most recent example. The Vikings have been able to run the ball on pretty much everyone, and are smart enough not to veer away from their strengths, even though Tampa Bay is much better against the run than the pass.
Most of all, though, the Vikings appear to be the superior team at this juncture, and they're getting to play at home, presumably in front of a loud crowd, against a team that doesn't play often on turf. And the Bucs had to play on Sunday and spend Wednesday traveling. NFL players just don't bounce back that easily and quickly, not most of them.
My sure-to-be-wrong prediction: Vikings 23, Bucs 16.
-Twins: In September, I heard that the Twins would make major changes to their coaching staff. The only surprise, among the recently-announced changes, is that Terry Steinbach will be the bench coach. I hadn't heard Terry's name previously, and he wound up taking the position I had heard was reserved for Triple-A manager Gene Glynn.
This lineup makes sense. Glynn is very valuable where he right now, and Steinbach should be a good foil for Ron Gardenhire. Gardenhire is hyperactive on the bench. He needs someone to slow him down and offer all of his options. Gardenhire's first instinct is to act. Steinbach's job will be to make sure Gardenhire has thought every move through thoroughly as possible.
Whatever the changes to the coaching staff, the success of the franchise will depend on finding pitching. With word that Scott Boras client Kyle Lohse may be looking for a $75-million contract, it's more apparent than ever to me that Terry Ryan is going to have to try to get lucky with trades or low-level free-agent signings that will not impress anyone initially.
-Wild: Remember when we had an NHL team in our town? Me, neither.
-Gopher football: I want to like Jerry Kill. I really do. He's making it difficult, though. I've already ripped the removal of North Carolina from future schedules. I'm also disturbed by the removal of redshirts from several key young players.
The last time I went to one of Kill's press conferences, he emphasized the importance of patience. Removing the redshirt from your freshman quarterback at midseason and telling him on Friday that he would be starting on Saturday is not patient. It's an act of desperation.
Jerry: Recruits can smell desperation.
-Gopher basketball: As tough as I've been on Tubby Smith on many fronts, I won't bash him because his son got a DUI. While I believe driving while intoxicated is absolutely wrong and reckless, I also know a million people who have done it at some point in their lives. Saul Smith made a terrible mistake, but let's not play the ``leader-of-young-men card.'' He's an assistant coach. Let's not pretend that an assistant coach getting a DUI is going to alter the lives of a dozen college basketball players.
-Here are a few notes on tonight's game, courtesy of Vikings media relations:
-Matt Blair will enter the Vikings' ring of honor tonight.
-Percy Harvin ranks second in the NFL in receptions, with 53. His 271 receptions rank second in franchise history for a player in his first four seasons. He's caught a pass in every NFL game in which he's played.
-Kicker Blair Walsh leads the league with 27 touchbacks. He's tied for third in the NFL with 16 field goals.
-The Vikings' 72 sacks and 25 forced fumbles since the start of the 2011 season are the most in the NFL.
-Jared Allen has a sack in five straight games.
-Kyle Rudolph is tied for the lead league among tight ends with 5 touchdown catches.
-Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib. I'll be on WJON at 7:15 a.m and 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. tomorrow to talk about the game.
Despite the occasional innovator, pro football remains rooted in group-think. Take the preseason. Almost all teams handle it the same way - build up playing time for the starters through three games, rest everyone in Week 4.
That's the Vikings' approach this week. And it's the wrong approach.
I just listened to Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave downplay his team's struggles during the Friday night loss to San Diego. He shouldn't be taking this approach. He should be demanding that they play on Thursday until they put together an impressive drive, however long that may take. This is no time to go soft on a young, unproven team coming off an embarrassing performance.
I'm back from three weeks in London and almost two weeks on vacation, and I return to a familiar sports scene: The Twins stink, and the Vikings are promising only in theory.
It's a Lynx town, people.
I'll be writing more about this for the paper before the Vikings open the regular season, but for all of the reasons to like Christian Ponder, there are an equal number of reasons to question him right now.
The biggest concern is the way he handles himself in the pocket. He lacks the sixth sense that most good quarterbacks have, the sense of when to manuever for more time, when to run, when to spin out of trouble.
He's also got to improve his body language. If great quarterbacks have anything in common, it's their ability to always look like they're in charge, regardless of results. Ponder too often looks defeated.
-I'll be at the Twins game tonight, catching up with that team. I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today.
Catching up with the sports world after some time away....
1.Just when you thought he might be out of our lives for at least six months, Tim Tebow beats the Steelers with an impressive and dramatic performance, leading to our highly oversimplified national debate. It seems half the country thinks Tebow is an inspirational winner who can't be measured by conventional passing statistics, and half the country thinks he's overrated and lucky.
We tend to do this in sports: Reduce everything to a for-or-against debate that makes for an easy-to-stage TV argument. Here's my not-so-simple view of Tebow:
He's never going to be the kind of precision passer that every NFL GM wants. If you're choosing between the next Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers and Tebow, you'd take the next Brees or Rodgers. But not every team is in a position to make that choice. If you're choosing between Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn and Tebow, why not choose the compelling and entertaining guy who somehow wins games, even if he sometimes wins only because he stays out of the way of the players on his team who actually make a big difference every week?
Also: While I wouldn't want to build a franchise around Tebow, I'd rather have him than the starting quarterbacks for the 10 worst teams in the NFL, That might be faint praise, but it should be part of the debate. You don't have to compare Tebow only with the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL any more than you should be comparing Christian Ponder with the great quarterbacks at this point in his career.
Also: Tebow has a chance to get better. This is where character might matter. He's a gifted athlete with a strong work ethic and a tremendous drive to succeed. Those factors won't enable him to ever complete 70 percent of his passes, but they could enable him to become slightly more accurate as his career progresses.
Finally, Tebow is, beyond a doubt, one of the most entertaining players in a league in which there really aren't all that many interesting people. I don't think he should use his place in the NFL to push his religion on people, but I do find the way he plays and the way people react to him fascinating. So I hope the guy keeps his job as a starter for years to come. Would you really rather watch Brady Quinn? Or Andy Dalton? Or Alex Smith?
The same argument can be made for Joe Webb. If Ponder becomes an efficient passer, then you'd obviously rather have Ponder starting than Webb. But if Ponder fails, and becomes our version of Orton or Quinn, then you can make an argument for a great athlete playing the position and trying to win in an unconventional manner.
2. If his name were anything other than Tubby Smith, would anyone think this man deserved to keep his job? He's lost 14 of his last 15 Big Ten games. He's shown an inability to adapt to injuries and help players get better while they're under his watch. Yesterday, against Purdue, even his vaunted defensive system stunk, allowing Purdue to shoot open three-pointers whenever they wanted.
And can we please re-visit all of the cheerleading from the local media that occured when the Gophers were beating junior-high teams from Winnipeg during their embarrassing non-conference schedule? Please remind me, people, why you were all so impressed? Won't you please admit that you just have no standards?
3. I know a lot of Vikings fans are questioning the Vikings' promotion of Rick Spielman to GM. After all, he's helped shape a roster that has flopped the last two years.
My view: Spielman deserves a shot at this. No one works harder or is more organized. Yes, he's missed on a number of draft picks, but most personnel gurus outside of Green Bay do. I'll say the same thing about Spielman that I said when the Twins made Terry Ryan their GM in 1994: I don't know if he'll succeed, but he's earned this opportunity. While most fans daydream about the Wilfs hiring some personnel magician away from another team, in any organization I like to see loyalty and hard work rewarded.
Of course, Spielman will probably be judged by Christian Ponder's career. If Ponder becomes a good NFL starter, then Spielman will have succeeded on his most difficult and important decision, and will have the opportunity to build around Ponder. If Spielman missed on Ponder, he'll probably be out of a job in two years.
4. I've had a lot of different views of Ricky Rubio over the years. I covered him at the Beijing Olympics, and he was very impressive while playing against the US in the gold medal game. I watched him play in Europe, and thought he had regressed. I watched him in preseason practices, and was newly impressed by his poise and ballhandling.
Just a few weeks into his first NBA season, I'm much more impressed by Rubio than I thought I would be. He's smoother and more efficient than I expected, and he doesn't throw some of the flashy, silly passes that I saw in Europe.
Rubio, Kevin Love and Derrick Williams could be the basis of a playoff team.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn with Reusse and Mackey at 2:05 p.m. today and every weekday. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Cam Newton was spectacular today, and Joe Webb reminds me of Cam Newton.
I'm not saying they're comparable. Newton was the best player in college football while winning a national championship, then was taken with the first pick in the draft. Joe Webb played at UAB and was drafted as an athlete, not a quarterback.
But when Webb throws with touch, as he did on Saturday, and especially when he runs, he looks like a less-polished version of Newton.
He's building a body of work that shouldn't be ignored, and when I asked Leslie Frazier whether he deserves consideration as a starter, Frazier said, essentially, yes.
More on that in tomorrow's paper and on the website later tonight.
-I think Adrian Peterson has a torn ACL and will be out until next August. This is a bad break, and you have to wonder whether he'll be exactly the same guy when he returns. I'm sure he'll still be a very good back, but his explosiveness was unique.
-Christian Ponder's numbers don't look terrible, but for the third straight week I hated the way he played. Against Detroit he threw the ball up for grabs. Against New Orleans, he looked scared to death. Saturday, he again looked scared to death, tucking and running at the first sign of trouble, throwing quickly and nervously instead of making his reads. Then Webb came in and excelled.
I know a lot of rookie quarterbacks struggle and still have good careers. But I'd feel a lot better if Ponder were struggling because he was trying to jam the ball into tight windows, or hanging in the pocket too long while making his reads. Being skittish in the pocket is something that is hard to overcome, and that prevents making progress. How can you get better at reading defenses if you take off right away, or settle for the easy, quick, pass? There were plays when he stared down the back out of the backfield.
-Rex Grossman is awful. He's the worst kind of awful - the kind of awful quarterback who makes just enough plays to tease you into thinking he might get better. But he doesn't.
If anything demonstrates the importance of quarterbacking in the NFL, check out Mike Shanahan's career. When he had John Elway, people called him ``The Genius.'' Before and since he's been a dud.
-Joe Webb still carries his UAB backpack. I asked him if he's considering upgrading. ``Not a lot of people know about UAB,'' he said. ``I'm trying to get the word out.''
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