The Vikings open training camp in a couple of weeks, and coach Leslie Frazier is very happy with the draft choices and the rookie free agents the team signed and believes the club will go to Mankato with much better personnel than last season.
Following the completion of offseason OTAs and minicamps, Frazier said he believes several draft choices have a chance to play a big part in making this a much better season than the 3-13 finish of a year ago.
"We'll learn a lot more about them once we put the shoulder pads on and see them move around, but from what we saw this offseason, none of the guys were a disappointment," Frazier said.
"They really seemed like we did a good job in picking the right kind of guys. Now we have to put the pads on and see how fast they come along and see how much they'll be able to help us in 2012."
Frazier said his coaching staff is really excited about the Vikings' top selection, left tackle Matt Kalil, the No. 4 pick overall in the April draft.
"He did a great job throughout the offseason, really showed some improvement in a lot of areas where we wanted him to improve," Frazier said. "We want him to get stronger, which will happen over time. But his agility and his athleticism were very impressive, and then his passion for football really stood out."
Frazier also pointed out Kalil will get great practice in learning how to protect the quarterback in the NFL when he goes up against the Vikings' strong group of pass-rushing defensive linemen.
"We got to get the pads on and let him line up against Jared Allen and Brian Robison in practice and then we'll know a little bit more. But he looked good, he really, really looked good," Frazier said. "He has great feet, great agility, the biggest thing he'll have to adjust to is the strength and power of some of these defensive ends that he's going to face, and we think he'll be able to make that adjustment."
Frazier is really high on safety Harrison Smith, the Vikings' other selection in the first round. "[I] was really impressed with him as well," he said. "And [cornerback and third-round pick] Josh Robinson did a good job for us."
Of the two receivers from Arkansas drafted in the fourth round, Frazier said Jarius Wright did a good job but Greg Childs was hurt a lot, so the coaches didn't get a chance to see him as much as they would have liked. Childs' 2011 season was limited to eight games because of a knee injury.
"All of those draft picks showed different assets that we liked. We'll learn more about them here in the next few weeks," Frazier said.
Speaking about the undrafted rookies signed by the Vikings, Frazier said, "The one linebacker that we took out of Hawaii, Corey Paredes, he showed the ability to make some plays for us."
Though Frazier downplayed his opinions of first-year players in offseason workouts -- "We'll have to see how those guys do once we put pads on," he said -- the feeling of the coaching staff was that from what they have seen so far, the rookies are going to play a big part in helping the Vikings.
And Frazier reminded fans that Christian Ponder didn't have a training camp last year and has looked outstanding in all the workouts to date, which is another reason to be optimistic, with a much better performance expected this year.
Twins draft picks start their careers
Outfielder Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in last month's baseball draft by the Twins, hasn't played since Monday because of hamstring soreness. He is hitting .156 (7-for-45) with one home run, one double, two RBI, four runs scored and two stolen bases in four attempts for the Gulf Coast League Twins.
Fellow 18-year-old Jose Berrios, who was taken 32nd overall, is also with the GCL Twins and entered Saturday having pitched seven innings in relief, posting a 1.29 ERA with 12 strikeouts, two walks and two hits. The two hits and one walk came in his first one-inning outing.
Second-round pick Mason Melotakis (63rd overall) is with Elizabethton and had pitched 5 2/3 innings of relief with a 1.59 ERA, striking out eight, with two walks and two hits. The Twins other second-round pick, J.T. Chargois (72nd overall), had pitched one perfect inning for Elizabethton with one strikeout. Both pitchers were drafted out of college.
Wild partners contribute
With the recent signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, team owner Craig Leipold was asked if all his partners will come up with the share of their ownership to pay each player the $10 million signing bonus they will receive this year. Leipold said: "If I have to, I will put it all up."
And he added that partner Phil Falcone, the owner of 30 percent of the team who is being sued for fraud by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, will contribute. Leopold said: "[Falcone] is all excited about the addition of Parise and Suter and will come up with his share of the money."
• Speaking about some of the positives from the Twins' season so far, President Dave St. Peter said:
"The Josh Willingham signing, I think, will rank right up there with the better signings of the offseason, considering the pace he's on and the fact that that's a multiyear contract that I think really gives us that righthanded power here going forward for the next several years. I also think it's important to give Bill Smith some credit for that Scott Diamond Rule 5 pick-up, that certainly looks like it's going to be a keeper for the Twins here for years to come."
• Jerry Kill and his wife, Rebecca, are staging a social party for couples on Thursday night at TCF Stadium, an event organized by the U's Goal Line Club. Couples will be fed and get a chance to meet the coaches. Registration closed Tuesday for the event, which cost $300 per couple with money going to help Gophers football, though there might be some late openings.
• Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley, along with Gov. Mark Dayton and the two stadium bill authors, Sen. Julie Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning, were honored Thursday night at the St. Paul Hotel with the "Public Policy Achievement Award" in sports for their part in getting the Vikings bill to become a reality.
• The fact that both Gophers hockey and basketball fans had to contribute donations to the Williams Fund of $100, $250 or $400 in addition to the price of their season tickets didn't hurt renewals much. Hockey season tickets renewed at 89 percent, basketball at 85 percent. Last season, the Gophers men's basketball team averaged 11,685 fans at home per game, the lowest figure since Tubby Smith became coach in 2007. But the return of Trevor Mbakwe helped sales and will no doubt continue to help sell single-game and season tickets going forward. And the announcement that Nick Bjugstad is returning should help sell more hockey tickets as well.