Hartman: Vikings gaining an Irish accent

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2012 - 12:02 AM

With the drafting of Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton, the Vikings will have five Fighting Irish alumni on the roster.

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First-round pick Harrison Smith is one of five Notre Dame products on the Vikings roster.

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Special To The Star Tribune

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There will be five Notre Dame products on the Vikings now that Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton were drafted to join center John Sullivan, who is in his fifth year, second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph and recently signed free-agent tight end John Carlson.

Rudolph, who led all rookie tight ends last season with three touchdowns and finished second among rookie tight ends in receiving yards with 249 on 26 catches, played three years for the Fighting Irish with Vikings newcomers Smith and Blanton and is convinced the Vikings made a great move in drafting them.

"[Smith] is a very versatile safety who can play a two-high and cover, and he is also very familiar with playing down in the box," Rudolph said. "He's a guy who was the leading tackler for us at Notre Dame two years in a row, a two-time captain. He was a great leader and a great kid.

"I definitely think he'll compete for some playing time. He's going to come in and you know he's going to work hard and do everything he's asked to do -- whether it's playing safety or special teams. He's definitely a hard worker. A guy who was known as the first one in and one of the last ones out."

According to Rudolph, Smith is "more of a leader by example. A quiet guy who is not likely to say a whole lot."

Smith and Blanton finished second and third, respectively, in tackles for the Irish last season, but Rudolph recalled that both were key in his final game with the Irish -- a 33-17 victory against Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl. In that game, Smith and Blanton ended four consecutive first-half drives by the Hurricanes with interceptions -- Smith grabbed three of the picks while Blanton had one. (St. Paul's Michael Floyd, drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, also caught two touchdown passes in the game.)

Rudolph said he had expected Smith to be drafted in the first round.

Long relationship with Blanton

Blanton, a cornerback with whom Rudolph played in the Army All-American Bowl in high school, also came into Notre Dame in the same class.

"[Blanton] will bring a lot to our defense and our special teams," Rudolph said. "He made a lot of big plays and tough plays for us while we were at Notre Dame. He had a lot of big interceptions, a couple returned for touchdowns, and then also he'll be able to play special teams. He blocked a punt against Utah my junior year and returned it for a touchdown. That was a huge play in that game."

Rudolph is excited about having five Notre Dame guys with the Vikings. "It's going to be awesome to have those guys in the locker room and they'll do whatever it takes to win football games," Rudolph said.

Rudolph also said that Sullivan is one of his favorite players and that it is no surprise because the center is one of the most popular players in the locker room -- you would have a hard time finding a Vikings player with more class than him.

"He helped me a ton last year," Rudolph said about Sullivan. "He kind of put his arm around me and walked me through the city, and he's an outstanding player as well."

Rudolph spent time this offseason working out in his hometown and with quarterback Christian Ponder, who's also entering his second year. "[I] worked out at my high school for the first few months and then left and Christian and I went down to Florida together and trained at a place down there," he said. "I really felt like I got myself in great shape for OTAs and am ready to start working.

"I feel a lot more comfortable going into Year 2. Having gone through it all and this still being my first offseason, because of having the lockout we didn't have one last year, I definitely feel good."

Yes, and look for a lot of local Notre Dame boosters to be very supportive of the Vikings because of those five Irish alumni on the team.

Future of Wolves

Wolves owner Glen Taylor spent 3 1/2 hours with Wolves coach Rick Adelman and his assistant coaches Tuesday, getting their views on what it will take to make the team a contender next year.

It was obvious from what Taylor heard that they didn't expect forwards Michael Beasley or Anthony Randolph to be back next season.

And the coaches made it clear they need to find some outside shooters if they are going to win consistently, and Taylor promised that the team will be a minimum of $10 million under the salary cap next season.

Apparently, the coaches discussed the names of about 20 outstanding players who will be free agents at the end of this season. They pointed out a couple they would prefer, but Taylor refused to divulge those names.

Besides the cap room, with Adelman as coach, more good players will be interested in playing here.

Jottings

• The Jacksonville Jaguars take in even less revenue than the Vikings and have had a number of television blackouts because of a lack of attendance, but they were recently sold to billionaire Shahid R. Kahn for $760 million. That compares to $600-plus million the Wilf family paid to buy the Vikings in 2005. If the Jaguars are worth $760 million, the Vikings are worth at least $1 billion. As part of the sale, the understanding is that the Jaguars can’t be moved. On the other hand, the Wilfs are free to sell the team to somebody who might move it if a stadium bill isn’t passed in the next two years.

• Nobody has done a better job selling the Gophers football program than coach Jerry Kill. On Wednesday night, Kill did some community outreach and spoke at Richfield High School to the Richfield, Edina and Bloomington school boards and the chambers of commerce in each of those cities, along with students at the events. He also spoke in Brainerd. And on Saturday morning, he conducted a clinic for children with cancer and one in the afternoon for another group of boys.

• Former Gopher Adam Weber was the only quarterback on the Broncos roster when they signed free agent Peyton Manning. Denver added former Bears starter Caleb Hanie and then added a fourth quarterback to the mix by drafting Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler in the second round.

• Former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson got some more competition for the Seahawks’ starting job after the team drafted Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round. Seattle also signed former Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn in the offseason. Flynn and Jackson are expected to battle for the starting spot.

• The Gophers’ Sept. 22 home football game against Syracuse will be televised on the Big Ten Network at 7 p.m.
 

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