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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Posts about NFC

Welcome to Opening Day

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: April 6, 2012 - 10:16 AM

Baltimore -

My view on the 2012 Twins: They'll be much better than the 2011 Twins, and still not very good.

The math is simple: The Twins lost 99 games last year. They could improve by 15 games and never be in contention all season.

The early-season schedule, once they leave Baltimore, is daunting, and they're facing that challenge without two of the guys they expected to be in their rotation: Scott Baker and Jason Marquis.

I think the lineup will be greatly improved. I think this team will score far more runs. I expect Joe Mauer to contend for another batting title, and Justin Morneau looks far more optimistic today than he did when I saw him early in spring training.

Twins officials project Chris Parmalee to produce similar numbers to Jason Kubel. Josh Willingham is remarkably slow, but could produce a little more power than Michael Cuddyer. The bench and position-player depth in the organization should be greatly improved. Trevor Plouffe, Ben Revere and Luke Hughes were asked to be starters last year; this year they're bench players. Sean Burroughs should be a nice addition. The shortstop position will be greatly improved, whether Carroll holds the job or Brian Dozier takes it.

But the pitching is a house of cards. They are dependent on Francisco Liriano and Matt Capps coming back from horrific seasons, and dependent on Scott Baker getting healthy and for the second time in his professional life pitching more than 170 innings.

In short, here's my view on this season: The Twins will regain respectability but not contend, not unless the Detroit Tigers implode.

The best-case scenario might be for this team to play well enough to remain intriguing, but not fool itself into thinking that it shouldn't trade the likes of Liriano and Capps at the trading deadline to augment a promising group of young players.

I like this group of position players and the organization depth much more than I did a year ago, but the 2012 team lacks defensive range and dynamic pitching.

As someone who loves covering a contender, I hope I'm wrong.

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I began covering the NFL in 1989. The audio of Gregg Williams instructing his players to knock out 49ers is grotesque but not surprising. I've had similar, although less graphic, conversations with many defensive coaches over the years. Williams just took the concept to an extreme.

I know every time former Vikings defensive coordinator Floyd Peters faced Joe Montana, he wanted Montana knocked down or out. He just didn't use the kind of language Williams did.

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I'll be covering the opening series in Baltimore, then flying back on Monday morning for the Twins' first series. Sunday, I'll co-host the Ron Gardenhire Show at 9:30 on 1500espn, followed by Sunday Sports Talk from 10-11:35. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

Bountygate re: Favre

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: March 2, 2012 - 6:47 PM

Because Brett Favre is a fickle and mysterious human, you have to wonder how the Saints' bounty on him affected Vikings history and his career.

If the Saints hadn't badly injured his ankle in the 2009 NFC title game...

-Would he have run for the first down after the 12-man-in-the-huddle call? He had room. He instead tried to force the ball to Sidney Rice and was intercepted. Another first down and I would have bet a lot of money that Ryan Longwell would have kicked the game-winning field goal. Well, OK, I would have bet a little money.

-If he had either advanced to the Super Bowl or left Superdome healthy after a close loss, would he have been more eager to play in 2010? It was Favre's passive-aggressive attitude about playing that helped ruin that season. I can't even guess on this one.

What SpyGate and BountyGate have taught us is that the NFL is a dirty, dirty business. Even when defensive players aren't offered rewards, they often enter the game intent on injuring or intimidating offensive players.

I covered Floyd Peters when he was the Vikings' defensive coordinator. Great guy. And he wanted his defensive linemen to knock every quarterback unconcious. Sound harsh? These were the days before concussion awareness, when that was an explicit goal of every defense.

Football hasn't changed. It's become even more violent and profitable. I can't pretend to be offended by the Saints' bounty system because I believe that all defensive players are incentivized to brutalize offensive players. The Saints were just stupid enough to create a traceable system, and stupid enough to get caught.

Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

Another Carter-Moss note

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 17, 2012 - 9:49 AM

Randy Moss wants to return to the NFL?

Cris Carter's career doesn't bode well for him.

Moss is 35. He'd be 35 1/2 by the time the NFL season started, and close to 36 by the time it ended.

Moss, unlike Carter, has never been known for taking great care of himself. As I wrote in today's column, Cris Carter used to tell me about the team of experts he employed to keep him in perfect condition. Carter, unlike Moss, didn't rely on great speed.

Carter amassed 1,000 or more receiving yards in eight straight seasons. He did not fall off until 2001, after he turned 35.

He faltered in 2001. In 2002, he tried to play for the Miami Dolphins and produced 66 yards. By 2003, he was out of football.

Moss is 35. He had an excellent season at 32, for the Patriots, in 2009. In 2010, he fell off so much that Bill Belichick, while trying to win a championship, decided that Moss was a detriment. Then Moss came to Minnesota, dogged it on one infamous long pass against the Patriots, and produced 393 yards for three teams, none of whom wanted him back.

He sat out the 2011 season. Is there any reason to believe he could return this season and help an NFL team?

History, particularly Cris Carter's history, tells us no.

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I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today. Sunday, Tom Linnemann and I will run Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon, from the Minnesota Golf Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

More Birk thoughts

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 4, 2012 - 7:28 PM
In light of St. Paul native, Cretin alum and former Viking Matt Birk winning the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award tonight, here's a link to the column I did with Matt on the subject, and many others, earlier this week: http://t.co/HnxAPR8n
Matt and I spoke for a long time and covered more topics than I could get to in a newspaper column. Here's one: I asked, given his concerns about the high risk of injury and the debilitating nature of football, whether he ever wished he had done something else. He graduated from Harvard, after all. He could have worked on Wall Street.
``I really can't say I ever wished I did anything else,'' he said. ``This has been a blast. It really has. The whole experience.Really, that's because of the relationships, the friendships, you make while playing football. You have a bonding with your teammates that you don't have in other walks of life, because of what you go through together, and experience together.
``Guys always say, when they retired, that they miss two things: The paychecks and, most of all, the lockerroom. Hanging out with the guys. Show up every day wearing flip flops and shorts and if you choose to you can use any word in the English l,anguage and some that aren’t in the language, and walk around naked in front of 60 other guys. You could say it's a unique work environment.
``You sit there and laugh and say there can't be any other place of employment where this is possible.''
And I asked him if the award was even more meaningful because Walter Payton's name is attached to it.
``Oh, absolutely,'' he said. ``When I was a kid, Walter was the man. He was the best. I was actually up for this award a few years ago and go to to go the Super Bowl, just like this week, and it was a real nice deal.
``They put you in this room for lunch with the commissioner and the finalists and the Payton family. I remember talking to his widow and his two kids, and you hear about the man, stories about him and what he did for people and what he meant to people. It's a special deal.''
Matt said he'd come on my radio show, and I have a text into him to confirm. Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-11:30 on 1500espn tomorrow. We'll hit on all the local teams and dissect the Super Bowl. Guests should include Matt Birk, ESPN NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert and guest NFL picker Tom Linnemann. I believe Pelissero and I are going to strongly disagree over who's going to win.
Again, congratulations to Birk. I've known him since 1998 and can say he's very deserving of this award for his strong play and good works over the years.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
 

Weekly LPR, plus Super Bowl stories

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 3, 2012 - 6:09 PM

I've covered seven Super Bowls, and I'm ambivalent about missing them these days.

I hate the pack journalism and inane questions. I also hate not being in the eye of the storm, at the game that commands everyone's attention.

Two favorite Super Bowl coverage memories:

1. At my first Super Bowl, SB XXIV, the Joe Montana/Jerry Rice 49ers blew out the John Elway Broncos 55-10. You might think that the game was boring, but it wasn't, not for me. I was fascinated at the precision of the 49ers. A friend of mine was the 49ers' pool reporter that week, and he told me on Friday, `If you could watch them practice, you'd know why they're so good.'

Also, it was my first Super Bowl, my first big trip on an expense account. Eating New Orleans cooking and drinking Abita beer was a blast, although I learned that following such a diet by eating the chocolate mint on the Hyatt pillow was like lighting a match near a munitions factory.

Also: I remember being in a French Quarter bar with a bunch of writers late at night, and hearing someone yell, `The Doctor is in the house!'' And he was. Dr. J walked in, acting and being treated like royalty.

2. My favorite Super Bowl in terms of coverage was XLI, when the Colts beat the Bears in Miami. The game wasn't very inspiring, and if the Bears hadn't busted a coverage and allowed Reggie Wayne to get open for a free touchdown, who knows what would have happened? Maybe Peyton Manning wouild have joined Dan Marino as all-time great quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl.

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, I was able to spend time with Rochester native Tom Moore. Moore had recruited Tony Dungy to the University of Minnesota and now was Dungy's offensive coordinator and Manning's personal mentor. Seeing Moore, such an anonymous yet influential figure, sitting at the back tables of the media scrums, refusing to call attention to himself, made me admire the man even more than I had previously.

Time with Moore was one reason covering that Super Bowl was worthwhile. Another: By some quirk of late deadlines and pure luck, I wound speaking with Manning alone at his locker long after the game, and he started talking about the difficulty of playing with a wet football. It had rained early in the game.

Manning explained that he had prepared for rain. During breaks in practice, he would make his longtime center, Jeff Saturday, dunk footballs into a full bucket, so they could get used to snapping a wet football.

When I finished speaking with Peyton, I ran into his father, Archie, outside the lockerroom, and told him the story. ``Wet ball drills, huh?'' Archie said. ``He really does think of everything.''

I never would have had those conversations with Moore or the Mannings if the Star Tribune hadn't sent me to the Super Bowl.

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On to this week's highly irrevelant, completely subjective and yet mildly annoying Local Power Rankings:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Didn't like the way they let the Pacers push them around. Hate the fact that the starting lineup features one guy who shouldn't be in the starting lineup (Luke Ridnour) and two who might not belong in the NBA (Wes Johnson and Darko Milicic.) But even in defeat I find this team interesting and entertaining.

It will be interesting, at this point, to see what Rick Adelman does with his lineup, and how Rubio reacts to teams that have been able to thoroughly scout him. His steals are down lately.

By the way, I rank the Wolves ahead of other teams not because of their place in the standings, but because of their combination improvement/likeability/promise/entertainment value.

2. Gophers hockey

They finally swept an opponent last weekend, and have this weekend off. What will be interesting is to see how the new athletic director will react if the Gophers flop in the postseason again. It would be tough for a new AD to fire Don Lucia. It would also be tough for a new AD to be overly impressed with Lucia if his team flames out again.

3. Minnesota Wild

I covered the team on Tuesday, and that was one of the most gut-wrenching days a coach or an organization can have: First a highly-paid veteran rips the coach, then the team blows a three-goal third-period lead and doesn't even salvage a point.

The Wild came back to win in Colorado on Thursday, more proof that fans probably invest more emotion in outomes than do players, who have been winning and losing games all their lives.

4. Gophers basketball

The Wild is still in eighth place in the West; the Gophers may have fallen out of the prospective NCAA bracket with their loss at Iowa. Most people in my business have analyzed the end of the game; i say when you score three points in the first 10 minutes of a game, you should have been thrown off the floor long before time ran out.

5. Minnesota Twins

Nothing new to report here, so I'll repeat myself: I think Terry Ryan made a bunch of sensible, strategic moves to bolster his roster and give this team a chance to compete, but the Twins need Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer to be healthy and Francisco Liriano to be outstanding if they're going to win this division.

6. Minnesota Vikings

The Giants give other NFL teams hope that patience can be rewarded. They stuck with Eli Manning when he sometimes looked lost, and he could give them a second Super Bowl victory on Sunday. They stuck with Tom Coughlin when the tabloids were calling for his firing, and he, like Manning, could win a second Super Bowl in five years. The Giants failed to run the ball as well as they should this year. They patched together an offensive line. They used multiple backs. They had a long-shot receiver (Victor Cruz) become their difference-maker down the stretch.

In other words, you can win in the NFL without setting passing records and being innovative offensively, which is good news for the Vikings.

7. Gophers football

Jerry Kill probably has the perfect personality to appeal to Minnesota high school coaches and recruits. I'm not going to rate his recruiting class, because all that matters is the scores of the games in which these recruits wind up playing.

As for the departure of MInnesota athletic director Joel Maturi, I'll offer a series of thoughts:

1. I never thought he was a big-time athletic director. He was a reactor, not an actor. He often made the decision that was easiest for him, not the one that would lead the department in the right direction. Some people just are No. 1s. It's not his fault; it's the fault of the guy who hired him.

2. Why is it that every time an important sports job comes open in Minnesota, everyone suggests that a Minnesotan be hired? Please. Minnesota should hire the best AD candidate they can find, wherever that person currently resides.

3. Minnesota needs an AD willing to take on lots of big, daunting problems. What do you do with Tubby Smith if he misses the NCAA tournament? What should be done with Williams Arena? How can funds be raised for a basketball practice facility? What happens with Don Lucia if his program flops again?

Minnesota athletics needs a CEO. Mr. Maturi was more like an HR director.

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Upcoming: I'm writing a Super Bowl prediction column for the Sunday paper. Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon Sunday on 1500espn. Hoping for a special guest, plus we'll talk about Tom's season-ending Vikings film work, preview the Super Bowl, do picks along with Tom Linnemann, and check in on the rest of the sports scene.

Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

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