Young Vikings show promise in opener

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 14, 2011 - 11:43 PM

Rick Spielman said he liked what he saw from some of the team's draft picks against the Titans on Saturday.

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Vikings VP of player personnel Rick Spielman

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Before reviewing the tape of the Vikings' 14-3 loss at Tennessee in their preseason opener, one of the bright spots that Vikings Vice President Rick Spielman said he saw from Saturday night was the play of the team's top two draft picks, quarterback Christian Ponder and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

"I thought Ponder showed some poise, the one thing I think you see with Christian is that he does have some athletic ability to escape the pressure and he does a pretty good job throwing the ball when he has to improvise on the move," Spielman said Sunday. "I'm very excited about the things Ponder showed us."

Ponder, the first-round pick out of Florida State, completed eight of 13 passes for 84 yards with no interceptions in his first game experience as a pro.

As for Rudolph, the second-rounder out of Notre Dame, Spielman said: "I don't think there is any doubt that he is one of the best athletes the Vikings have drafted. You are going to see some great tight end plays by this young man."

Overall, Spielman said he believed there were some positive performances in Saturday's game, along with some negatives.

"I think everybody realizes we have a lot of work to do before the San Diego opener [Sept. 11]," Spielman said. "But I know the coaches have a great game plan and how they will implement things. By the time we hit San Diego, hopefully we'll be at full stride."

When asked about the offensive line, a unit that could be a critical one for the team, Spielman said: "A lot of those interior linemen and stuff, we'll be able to see a little bit closer when we get a chance to review and grade the tape."

Defensively, one player who seemed to do well was fourth-round pick Christian Ballard, a lineman out of Iowa.

"Christian has had a very strong camp," Spielman said. "We've moved him inside, he's played both defensive end and defensive tackle in college. We're going to slide him inside to play behind Kevin Williams a little bit. I think he's going to be a pretty good player, and you could see some of the pass-rushing ability he has."

Spielman also liked what he saw of linebacker Erin Henderson, the brother of starting middle linebacker E.J. Henderson. Spielman said the younger Henderson had a very productive game.

"Erin and Jasper [Brinkley] are kind of battling over there for the Will linebacker spot to fill in since we lost Ben Leber," Spielman said. "Erin has done that since he's been here, he's always been very productive in the preseason. When he gets his opportunities, he has a natural instinct to locate the ball. I just think that he has to have his chance and if he keeps continuing to show, we'll be fine at that linebacker position."

Booker impresses

Lorenzo Booker, the running back the Vikings picked up out of the United Football League last year, had a good night but didn't have a lot of chances as a running back.

He saw most of his action with the team last December as a kick returner. Spielman said Booker is a different type of back than Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart. "He's a smaller back that's a quick scat-back type that showed some bursts of speed and he can be effective catching the ball out of the backfield in some third-down situations," Spielman said.

As for some of the undrafted free agents who are with the Vikings, Spielman said a few have stood out: Allen Reisner, a tight end from Iowa; Devon Torrence, a cornerback from Ohio State; and Matt Asiata, a fullback from Utah.

No doubt the Vikings have some holes to fill, so it is encouraging to hear Spielman, a very good judge of talent, say that the club might have added some players who can solve that problem.

Seals meet with U

Jerry Kill wanted the Gophers to learn how to be tough, so he recruited two people associated with the U.S. Navy SEALs -- Dave Morrison, who was a captain, and Mark Courrier, a former special warfare operator master chief -- to speak to the team Friday.

Also on Friday, 79-year-old Roger French, who has coached at Minnesota, Wisconsin and Brigham Young, among other places, attended Gophers practice. French, a good judge of what goes on at a football practice, said he had never seen coaches and players work harder. French, whose most recent head coaching job was at Minneapolis Henry High School, will serve as volunteer coach for Minnetonka coach Dave Nelson this season.

Jottings

• The tentative 2012 Twins schedule has them opening at Baltimore on April 5 with the home opener against the Angels on April 9. ... The Twins have finalized plans with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission for the return of TwinsFest to the Metrodome Jan. 27-29. The event was held at the National Sports Center in Blaine last year after the Metrodome roofcollapse.

• John Gordon, the longtime Twins radio announcer retiring after 26 years here, will be honored Sept. 17 when the Twins play host to Cleveland. ... Twins President Dave St. Peter will be in Fort Myers, Fla., next week as Lee County selects an architectural firm for potential renovations to the Twins' spring training facility. The Twins, who have a lease to play at the Lee County Sports Complex through 2020, hope to have the first phase of the renovations in place prior to the spring of 2013. ... The Twins will commence their 2012 season ticket campaign the week of Aug. 29. The team's current season-ticket base stands at 25,000, with a waiting list of 3,000.

 Gophers basketball standout Trevor Mbakwe had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds as Team USA won its first game of the World University Games, beating Mexico 108-67 in China. He had five points and nine rebounds in Sunday's 102-53 victory over Hungary.

• Daunte Culpepper, who put on some great shows with Randy Moss during their days with the Vikings, is going to get a tryout with the San Francisco 49ers.

• One reason the Brewers are leading the National League Central is the fact that former Twins pitcher LaTroy Hawkins, at age 38, is one of the stars of their bullpen, with a 1.67 ERA in 40 games.

• St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was happy to sign Leber last week. Spagnuolo was linebackers coach with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006 when Leber signed with the Vikings. "We tried like heck to get him [in 2006]," Spagnuolo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I've always admired the way he plays. He's coming from a good system [in Minnesota]."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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