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 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.''
Big picture: The Vikings are much better off losing these games and landing the second pick in the draft, and facing their shortcomings, than they are winning meaningless games and making themselves feel better as the end of the year looms.
Small picture: That was a poorly-coached team that lost to the Broncos on Sunday.
Writing opinion for a living can make you look pretty silly. My column in the Sunday paper made the point that while the Vikings' coaching staff hasn't distinguished itself, it's a lack of personnel and depth that is the Vikings' biggest problem.
I'll stick with that opinion, but the Vikings' coaching staff failed in pretty much every area on Sunday.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave often left Kyle Rudolph, perhaps his best possession receiver, on the sideline on obvious passing downs. He sometimes even left Percy Harvin, the best player on the field, on the sidelines, too.
It's always hard to tell who's at fault when a unit collapses, but the defensive backs having no idea what their responsibilities were is frightening, considering that Leslie Frazier was a cornerback and defensive coordinator Fred Pagac has plenty of experience in the league and with this group.
And Frazier once again allowed his faith in his players to overwhelm logic. Saying that he didn't allow the Broncos to score because believed his players could block a short field goal attempt, well, that defies logic.
The Vikings probably wouldn't have won the game if they had allowed the Broncos to score quickly, but at least they would have a had a chance, and at least they would have had some control over the outcome. Instead, they played for a block of what was essentially an extra point. How often do extra points get blocked?
Frazier is a man of faith and likes to believe in his players. But the NFL is a game of probabilities. Frazier needs to learn how to play the odds, and he may have to learn within the next four games, to give Zygi Wilf a sign that he's making progress on the job.
Wilf takes losses hard, and I don't know if I've ever seen him more ashen-faced than when he left the lockerroom on Sunday. Frazier should take note.
The Wild had another comeback win on the road last night, beating Anaheim, and Josh Harding was outstanding in the third period.
The Wild now has more points than any other team in the NHL, but what I'm watching is the point total for the eighth-place team in the West. What's really important is for the Wild to make the playoffs, and it has an eight-point lead over the teams tied for eighth in the West.
As far as they've come, that doesn't give them a tremendous margin for error.
Their goals differential is plus-9, the fourth-best mark in the West. They're tied for sixth in the conference in goals scored. To stay near the top of the conference, they'll eventually have to score more goals.
So far, they have far exceeded expectations, and on a team without any true stars, it's hard not to give most of the credit to Chuck Fletcher and Mike Yeo.
About the only criticism remaining of Aaron Rodgers was that he has led relatively few fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, compared with the great quarterbacks with whom he statistically compares.
Did you see that drive on Sunday? It was surgical.
I've been saying all year that I think the Packers can go undefeated, not because they win easily every week, but because their offense seems to be able to score anytime it needs to.
What I wonder is if the mental wear and tear of trying to remain undefeated could cost the Packers in the playoffs. It's hard to play under pressure week after week.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today and every weekday with Reusse & Mackey.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
There are certain questions I get asked repeatedly. Let me provide a few answers:
1. I don't write headlines. If you love the headline, I don't get the credit. If you hate the headline, I'll take the blame if you like, but I didn't write it. And while we have a dedicated team of editors who do their best to capture the spirit of a column in the headline, please don't read the headline and fire off an angry email. The opinion expressed in the column might be slightly different, or less vehement, than the headline suggests.
2. I don't write ``articles.'' I write ``columns.'' The difference, and my business does a terrible job of differentiating these things, is that articles are supposed to be based in objectivity and reporting, while a column allows the auithor to express opinions and his or her perspective. It's my job to write opinion pieces, so if you're shocked to see me writing opinion, well, we in my industry haven't done a very good job of explaining to you that that is my role.
The line has blurred over the years, with more beat writers (people assigned to cover specific teams or leagues) writing more opinion pieces, but essentially my job is to do my homework and then tell you what I think. A beat writer's job is to bring you the news.
3. I don't dislike Jerry Kill, and I wouldn't be surprised if, in three years or so, he's fielding a competitive Big Ten team. In fact, I like the guy. I like open, honest, intense people.
I criticized the timing of his contract extension because it looks to me like another amateurish decision by the overseers of Gophers athletics. I'm not calling for him to be fired; I'm saying that he should be forced to prove himself like anyone else in any line of work before he's rewarded.
Sorry, a one-point win at home over Iowa doesn't justify the extension. It was a nice moment and a sign that Kill hasn't lost his players, which is a positive development. But as I've said before, if beating Iowa at home is such a monumental achievement, why didn't Jeff Horton get the job?
4. I haven't been as hard on Leslie Frazier as many of you would have liked because I had low expectations for this team entering the season. I figured this was a 7-9 team, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's about where this team ends up.
I think Frazier is learning on the job, and that should be expected. To me, the key to his tenure might be how his offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, handles the offense now that Christian Ponder is in place. Musgrave is highly respected around the league as a quarterbacks coach. Now he has to prove he can run an offense effectively. Sunday was a start, with Musgrave using Percy Harvin creatively and getting Adrian Peterson involved in the passing game.
5. I haven't been as hard on Ron Gardenhire as many of you would like because I think the average fan is nuts when it comes to evaluating managers. Take the World Series. Both managers made egregious strategical errors, and yet Ron Washington almost guided his team to a title, and Tony La Russa won the title with a team that shouldn't have even been there.
All managers, even the greats, make moves that make us scratch our heads. And no manager can win without pitching depth and talent.
I didn't see Gardenhire performing any differently this season than he did when the Twins were considered baseball's model franchise. He's not the X factor.
6. Don't take my predictions any more seriously than I do. After all, I thought the Twins were going to be good last year.
7. I'm hearing that the NBA lockout will end within three weeks, and that the owners will get pretty much the deal they wanted all along. They always planned to make the players miss a paycheck or two, knowing that would bring them all the leverage they need to finalize a deal.
8. I don't expect the Twins to re-sign Joe Nathan or Michael Cuddyer. The Twins value them both, but once a player hits the open market, someone is going to bid more than the Twins. That's just reality. If the Twins really wanted Cuddyer back, they wouldn't have offered him $16 million over two years, which was bound to insult Cuddyer's agent if not Cuddyer himself.
9. Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 p.m. today, and all weekdays, with Reusse and Mackey. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
The Vikings are becoming more interesting for all of the wrong reasons.
Chris Cook is arrested on suspicion of felony strangulation.
A report appears from NFL.com and the NFL network that Donovan McNabb lacked a strong work ethic and didn't fully prepare himself.
Head coach Leslie Frazier calls out his defensive line, and defensive lineman Kevin Williams takes exception.
The team is 1-5 while ownership seeks approval of a new stadium plan.
This is not only a bad team, this is an organization in disarray in part because, as you've read here many times, it doesn't have a true general manager who can make decisions based on what's best for the franchise and who can be held accountable when things go wrong.
First of all, there were red flags attached to Chris Cook, and yet the Vikings drafted him, just a few years after the Wilfs issued the Code of Conduct. Maybe a real general manager would have viewed hte big picture and not taken a chance on him.
Second, the fact that someone in the Vikings' organization is leaking inside information (true or not) about McNabb after he was benched could be seen as someone in the organization second-guessing Leslie Frazier's decision to bring in McNabb. It's a piling-on move that's unecessary and hints that the decision-making group of the Vikings is not all on the same page. At least, that's the way I read it.
Third, Frazier's cache as a coaching candidate was that he was going to get the most out of his players. I admire Frazier and don't hold him solely responsible for the 1-5 record - this organization has much bigger problems than the identity of its head coach - but if key players like Williams are publicly sparring with him, that's not a good sign.
And the pursuit of a stadium makes the Wilfs more likely to be reactionary with their decisions, when what this organization needs is patience and a long-term plan to regain respectability.
This is a mess right now.
Having covered Troy Aikman, Rich Gannon and Daunte Culpepper as young quarterbacks, I can tell you that there's nothing more interesting than watching a young quarterback develop, and nothing more rewarding than watching a young quarterback learn how to win in the NFL. But Christian Ponder is going to have a tough road with this organization. They have a million flaws and yet no one decision-maker who can set the right course.
I think Ponder will probably play well today. But I don't think that will matter. Not with Aaron Rodgers facing a secondary that was porous even when Antoine Winfield and Cook were healthy.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2 p.m. every weekday, and also contributing to Tom Pelissero's 6-8 show Monday and Friday. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib, and I'll tweet from the Vikings-Packers game as much as the Metrodome wireless system allows.
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