The NFL combine began at Indianapolis on Wednesday, and the Vikings have more than 50 people there, including coaches, scouts and team doctors, as they try to make sure they have as good a draft as last year, when every pick made the team.
"We have a system in place, as we get down there and it comes to our pick, we'll have two or three options at different positions," said General Manager Rick Spielman. "We always take the best football player, but try to fill a need if we possibly can.
"But we never want to take a need pick if he's not worthy of where we're picking. I don't think you can ever go wrong taking the best available player, because those guys are going to end up playing for you."
Spielman believes the Vikings have needs at every position except running back.
"We evaluated our roster. We're always looking to upgrade and bring in the top competition at every spot, because I think the more competition that you can create, the better team you're going to have. It pushes guys to be their best."
Spielman said that the Vikings interviewed a bunch of potential draft choices at the Senior Bowl, and they will be permitted to interview 60 players in Indianapolis between now and Monday.
"Our coaches and scouts will also grab guys not coming in that formal setting at the combine," Spielman said. "We'll bring 30 guys through here throughout the spring. Plus we go out and interview guys while we're out at those workouts.
"If we didn't catch them at one of those areas, we'll go out to their school on their pro day and sit down and interview them or have dinner with them.
"To me it's very, very important to interview these kids, get to understand what you're bringing into the organization. The only way you can do that is interviewing them face-to-face.
"That's what we're trying to really home in on, smart, tough players who really have a passion for the game. Those are the guys I think you can win with."
Spielman said the team gets thousands of e-mails pertaining to the draft.
"Every player we interview wants to be drafted, and he's probably telling that to 30 other teams, too. We'll go through that process, and the thing about the draft is we get to pick those guys who we think are best for the Vikings."
Spielman has a high standard to meet after last year's terrific draft, but look for that success to continue.
How do you account for the fact that the Gophers got completely embarrassed at Ohio State, losing 71-45 while committing 20 turnovers and scoring just one point over 10 minutes in the second half, but were ranked No. 15 in RPI by several sites going into Wednesday's game?
And now it will be interesting to see how a second consecutive blowout loss on the road affects that ranking.
Despite having seven losses in their previous 10 games going into the Ohio State game, the Gophers were ranked No. 15 on both ESPN's RPI rankings and at realtimeRPI.com.
The main reason is that the Gophers have just one loss to a team with an RPI lower than 100, and that was at Northwestern. Six of their losses have come to teams ranked in the RPI's top 30, and Iowa has an RPI of 79.
That's why many analysts say it will be nearly impossible for the Gophers to not make the NCAA tourney.
Eamonn Brennan wrote on his ESPN Bubble Watch column: "Minnesota cautiously avoided cupcakes in the nonconference, which is why they have so many top-100 wins and why, despite recent losses, they have the No. 2 [strength of schedule] and a top-15 RPI.
"Numbers that good don't miss the tournament. They just don't."
Picks taking time
The three most recent Minnesota natives to go to the NBA -- Royce White, Cole Aldrich and Jon Leuer -- are struggling to get playing time. Aldrich and White were first-round picks, while Leuer was taken in the second round, 40th overall.
Leuer was traded to Memphis last month and is averaging 1.9 and 1.1 rebounds in 2.6 minutes per game.
Aldrich, who was traded from Oklahoma City to Houston earlier this season, was sent to Sacramento on Wednesday. In 30 games he's averaging 1.7 points and 1.9 rebounds in 7.1 minutes.
White finally has started playing for the NBA Development League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers after his long suspension and is showing little rust, averaging 6.5 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 19 minutes per game.
• Colton Iverson continues to play great for No. 21 Colorado State. Iverson is leading the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game, and is tied for the lead in rebounding at 9.6 per game.
• Another Gophers transfer, Justin Cobbs, is playing very well for Cal, which has won four of its past five, including upsets of No. 10 Oregon and No. 7 Arizona. Cobbs is second on the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game and leads the team with 4.5 assists per game.
• Gophers Athletic Director Norwood Teague hired Shaka Smart as basketball coach at VCU. Last year, Smart turned down a $3 million offer to coach Illinois even though he is making $1.7 million at VCU. Apparently Smart is not going to leave VCU unless he gets what he thinks is the right position.
• Former Gophers head coach Dan Monson's Long Beach State squad is in first place in the Big West Conference with a 16-9 record overall and a 12-2 mark in Big West Conference play. ... Another former Gophers head coach, Jim Molinari, has his Western Illinois squad in contention in the Summit League. They're 11-3 in conference play, a half game behind South Dakota State, who is 12-3.
• Quinnipiac retained its No. 1 ranking ahead of the Gophers in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, getting 34 first-place votes. One big reason for Quinnipiac's success is the goaltending of Eric Hartzell, a White Bear Lake native. Hartzell is 22-3-4 on the season with a 1.46 goals-against average. His 22 victories are the most by a goaltender in school history.
• Former Rogers standout Nick Jensen is having a great year for St. Cloud State as a defenseman. Jensen, a sixth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, has 23 points after scoring a career-high 26 last year. His uncle, Steve Jensen, played for the North Stars.
• Former Gopher Phil Kessel has three goals and seven assists in his last eight games and is Toronto's third-leading scorer with three goals and 10 assists.
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