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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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.''
Doing some housecleaning here as I sit in the FedEx press box...
-A lot of people are thanking me today for writing about Jim Kleinsasser, but I'm the one who is thankful, for the opportunity to meet some great people while reporting the story. Kleinsasser's family and friends are as they appear, down-to-earth, hard-working, straightforward Midwesterners.
I know a a few Viking employees who say Jimmy has always been one of their favorites. I met him at his wife's Make-A-Wish fundraiser a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck by how naturally Jimmy fit into the scene. He stood by the cheese tray, greeting friends, neither acting nor being treated as a celebrity.
And I was struck by how his peers raved about him. NFL players are rathered hardened by their experience. Pro football is a brutal, Darwinian existence. I've never heard Steve Hutchinson gush the way he did about Kleinsasser, and Matt Birk would have talked all day about him.
-I'm taking a vacation after today's game, so I'll miss the Wolves' opener. This is the first time in a long time I can say that's a bad thing. I think it would be a mistake to assume the Wolves will suddenly leap into contention. They still have holes and defensive flaws, and Rubio and Derrick Williams will have growing pains. But it's going to look like basketball, and there are going to be nights when they shoot the lights out.
I'm most interested in seeing how Kevin Love handles all the changes, in his body and in the organization. I don't blame him for chasing stats last year - it was a way to stay motivated during a horrid season - but I want to see him play a more well-rounded game this year, and I think, under Adelman, he will. He strikes me as a much more mature guy this season.
-I've known Fred Zamberletti, the former Vikings trainer who became the team historian, since 1990. He's breaking a streak of 1,049 straight Vikings games today, as he missed the trip with an illness. The Vikings assure me he's doing OK.
The man is a great storyteller who loves the old Vikings. He's also a keen football analyst. I can't count the number of times he's made an observation that wound up being dead right.
Get better, Fred.
-The more I think about it, the more I think the Vikings would be foolish to do anything other than play for the Andrew Luck pick. They would either be able to trade that pick for great value, or would be able to install Luck as their quarterback and trade Ponder (not for value, but for a second or third-round pick.)
I'm not quite as high as most people on Luck. I don't see the next Tom Brady. I see a guy who is a very safe bet to be a good NFL starter for a long time. Of course, I could be wrong. I just haven't seen a lot of NFL-style throws from Luck. I've seen a guy who is very smart and controlled and knows how to operate a ball-control offense.
And now for today's LPR, the highly-irrelevant Local Power Rankings, my transparently shallow way to assess the key local sports teams:
1. Minnesota Wild
Slipping but still overachieving. As he did last year, Mikko Koivu is proving his worth by being injured. They're a very shallow, limited team without him.
2. Gopher hockey
Feels like college hockey begins at the start of football season and ends at the end of basketball season.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
I haven't been this excited for a Wolves opener since about 2005.
4. Gopher basketball
I can't wait for the Big Ten season to start, so the Gophers will be forced to play someone worth watching. What a disgusting, irrelevant non-conference schedule. Ticket-buyers should be livid.
5. Minnesota Twins
I liked and understood every move Terry Ryan had made this winter, until he signed Jason Marquis. I don't get it. NBy definition, a free-agent pitcher who can be had for a one-year, $3 million contract is viewed as nearly irrelevant by the free-agent market. The best argument for the signing, I guess, is that there is less chance that he will completely implode than one of the Twins' kid. But I would have been happy to see Anthony Swarzak take a shot at the fifth starter job. At least he has a little upside.
6. Minnesota Vikings
They're the worst and most disappointing team in town, but the possibility of landing the No. 1 pick adds value.
7. Gopher football
I'm hearing that Coach Kill is blaming the local media for recruiting woes. Coach, this is not a co-op. It's our job to reflect reality, not create a fantasy land that serves your purposes.
Upcoming: Won't be on Sunday Morning Sports Talk the next two weeks, tomorrow because of Christmas, the following week because of vacation. I'll be making my regular daily radio appearances on 1500espn at 2:05 each afternoon, and for those in the St. Cloud area, I'm on WJON daily at about 7:15 a.m.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib, and I"ll be tweeting from the Vikings game today.
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