Hartman: Hearing loss doesn't stop free-agent back

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2012 - 6:24 AM

The Vikings signed UCLA's Derrick Coleman, who reads lips and uses hearing aids to help him compete.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman reported that Derrick Coleman, the UCLA running back who is one of the 15 rookie free agents signed by the team, has a unique story. He is severely hard of hearing.

"He does read lips, he does wear hearing aids," said Spielman, who attended Coleman's workout at UCLA and was impressed enough to sign him. "[Coleman's] a big running back that has a lot of ability. I'll be anxious to see him come in and see him compete."

According to online reports, Coleman can make out sounds but not words without his hearing aids. With the hearing aids, he can understand words but still has to read lips to fully understand what is being said.

Coleman told ESPN's Los Angeles website that his hearing deficiency makes him hyper-aware of his surroundings on the field and requires a sharp mind in the huddle.

"I have to pay attention like five times more than everybody else does," Coleman said. "When [the quarterback] says the play, I'm focused. I'll do whatever I got to do to do my job because if I don't hear him, we're all in trouble."

Coleman, a 240-pound running back, rushed for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns for UCLA last season. He was also named to the All-Pac-12 second team as a special teams player for recording seven tackles and also playing on kick return and kick coverage units last year.

A few years ago there was a movie called "The Replacements," in which actor David Denman played a tight end with a ton of talent who could have been a first-round draft pick if he hadn't been born deaf.

In the history of the NFL, there have been only two deaf players, Kenny Walker, a defensive lineman in 1991 and 1992 with the Broncos, and Bonnie Sloan, a defensive tackle with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. Maybe Coleman can become the first offensive skill player with a severe hearing impairment to play in the NFL with the Vikings.

Carroll-Kalil history

Frank Kalil -- the father of the Vikings' No. 1 draft choice, offensive tackle Matt Kalil -- was recruited by Lou Holtz to play at Arkansas in 1978. One of Frank's teammates was George Stewart, now the Vikings' wide receivers coach.

One of Holtz's graduate assistants at the time was Pete Carroll, who recruited and coached Matt at Southern California before he took the Seattle Seahawks job.

Also on Holtz's staff was Monte Kiffin, son of USC head coach Lane Kiffin. Monte is still going strong at age 72 as Southern Cal's defensive coordinator.

Matt Kalil said Monte Kiffin, who was a Vikings assistant from 1986-89 and 1991-94, "still has the step. He still has the enthusiasm and he gets his players to play hard for him. He's an outstanding coach."

Matt paid the expenses for the Kiffins to fly to New York for the NFL draft, so they were present when Matt was selected No. 4 overall by the Vikings.

High on Ellison

A lot of people were surprised when the Vikings drafted Southern Cal tight end Rhett Ellison in the fourth round, but Matt Kalil was not.

"The thing about Rhett, and not a lot of people may know about him, but from being his teammate for four years at USC, he is definitely an underrated player," Kalil said. "A very valuable player on our team. He played a huge role last year, he played different positions, he played in the slot, he played tight end, he played fullback."

Kalil said the 6-5, 251-pound Ellison is the hardest worker he has ever been around, and one of the toughest and smartest teammates he has played with.

"The Vikings got a steal in the draft, and they're going to get a great player in Rhett Ellison," Kalil said. "He definitely can move around the field and play in a whole bunch of different spots. I'm excited to be his teammate again. I'm looking forward to it.

"He can catch, he can run the ball, he can block. You kind of got that player that can do it all. He's definitely going to work hard to play at a high level for the Vikings. I'm excited to have him over there."

Ellison had 53 catches for 471 yards, an 8.9-yard average, with six touchdowns in his career at USC. Kalil said he was stunned when Ellison also was drafted by the Vikings.

"Yeah, honestly, that was a surprise to me," Kalil said. "He deserves it and he's going to do great things over here. But you know it was definitely a surprise, a good surprise. I was really excited when I heard his name, gave him a call, him and his whole family were celebrating. It was definitely a great day for him. I couldn't find anyone more deserving."

Ryan looking for help

Twins General Manager Terry Ryan is headed to Class AAA Rochester this week, where he hopes to find some help for the major league team.

One of the pitchers he is anxious to see is Scott Diamond, who was 4-0 but then gave up seven runs and 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings Sunday. Diamond still has a respectable 2.84 ERA after five starts.

"We've had our share of trouble, there's no doubt," Ryan said. "This month has been difficult for us. If it's not one thing, it's another. Obviously our starting pitching has struggled and when we do get a decent outing, we don't seem to score or hit with runners in scoring position. That's about the size of it, because of where we're at right now. That's kind of how we got there."

Jottings

• The Vikings have invited some former Gophers to rookie training camp. Wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight, defensive linemen Brandon Kirksey and Anthony Jacobs and defensive back Kim Royston will try out for the club. ... Undrafted Gophers running back Duane Bennett and tight end Eric Lair both signed with the Packers.

• Three Vikings players from last season -- tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, guard Anthony Herrera and linebacker E.J. Henderson -- still are looking for jobs. Henderson still might sign with the Vikings. The Seahawks recently decided not to sign Shiancoe after he visited with the club, and the Bears recently passed on Herrera after he visited.

• After two years of primarily being a reliever in the Twins organization, former Gophers pitcher Cole DeVries has returned to being a starter at Rochester and been effective. DeVries is 0-1 but has posted a 2.91 ERA through four starts. Over his past three starts, he has allowed only four earned runs in 18 innings and struck out 19.

• Seth Rosin has been dominant in a relief role with the San Jose Giants, San Francisco's Class A affiliate, after being a starter with the Gophers. He has a 1.23 ERA with two saves in 7 1/3 innings pitched. More impressive, though, is Rosin's 13 strikeouts to only two walks this season.

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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