The Vikings will not practice Friday so the team can attend the funeral of offensive line coach Tony Sparano.
There’s no question that Sparano’s death made a profound impact on the team and others around the NFL, as the outpouring of sympathy for Sparano’s family has dwarfed every other story in the league.
For an example of Sparano’s influence, consider what guard Colby Gossett — a sixth-round draft pick out of Appalachian State who recently completed his first organized team activities (OTAs) under Sparano’s guidance — had to say about his short time with the coach.
“I learned a lot,” Gossett said. “Coach Sparano was a great guy and I really couldn’t have asked for a better coach to bring me into the NFL. He taught me a lot of things. So far I’m really trying to carry on those ways that he taught me.
“I didn’t know him a long time, but when you’re with somebody for six weeks almost 12 hours a day or however long we were here, you really get a decent relationship with somebody. Like I said, he instilled a lot in me that I’m going to try to carry it on throughout my career.”
Sparano was able to get the best out of the players he worked with, whether it was a first-round draft pick or sixth-rounders such as Gossett and former Vikings offensive lineman Joe Berger.
And while coach Mike Zimmer said the team is going to get right back to work because that’s what Sparano would want, it certainly isn’t going to be easy.
Gossett open to any role
As for Gossett, he already has experienced the big jump in the level of play from Appalachian State to the pros, but he’s ready for whatever opportunity comes his way.
“I just want to be an asset any way I can, be it as a depth player, a starter, any way it can happen,” Gossett said. “Right now we’re going to take it day by day and I’m going to control what I can control with my effort and my play out there at practice.”
Gossett is one of 12 players from Appalachian State currently on an NFL roster. He wasn’t highly recruited coming out of a northern Georgia high school — where he played on the defensive line before taking about 85 percent of his reps at guard in college — but fell in love with the campus in Boone, N.C. He prides himself on also being able to play tackle.
He said the Appalachian State coaches really advanced his game.
“I had two offensive line coaches at App State,” Gossett said. “Dwayne Ledford, who is at [North Carolina] State, and I would say I owe him a lot. Just coming out of high school and mostly playing D-line, I got to get up to App State and he really taught me the ways to be an offensive lineman and really instilled that very physical mentality in me. I had Shawn Clark for my last two years at App State. He was a great coach and just helped me carry on that way.”
Gossett said he and the other rookie lineman have had a nice sounding board early in camp in second-year center Pat Elflein, who started 14 games as a rookie and has passed along a lot of knowledge.
“All the veterans have been very welcoming,” Gossett said. “Pat Elflein is really a guy that we’ve got to talk to a lot because he’s a young guy, as well. He’s easy to talk to and helps us a lot.”
Grant’s death a big loss
Patrick Reusse did one fantastic job with a column on the death of Bruce Grant, a much better job than I could have done.
I knew Bruce from the day he was born because of how close I am to former Vikings coach Bud Grant and their family. I was also very close to Pat Grant, Bud’s wife, and spent time with her when she was at the hospital before she passed away in 2009.
Bud first learned about his son’s diagnosis of brain cancer during a luncheon Bud put on for my 98th birthday. It hit Bud pretty hard.
Bruce played quarterback at Minnesota Duluth for Jim Malosky, who was a teammate and roommate with Bud at the University of Minnesota from 1947 to ’49.
Grant and Malosky won 22 consecutive games together during one stretch, and his play in college earned Bruce a tryout with the Vikings at one point.
One thing about Bruce, he would tell you what he thought. He was outspoken and a lot different from his brothers Dan and Mike, the Eden Prairie football coach. We had our discussions about sports over the many years that I knew him and during his treatment.
There will be a lot of tears shed during Bruce’s funeral Tuesday.
World Cup Wolves?
One of the most interesting stories out of the World Cup tournament earlier this month came from the Wall Street Journal, which reported that England manager Gareth Southgate, who would take his young team to the semifinals, used the basic principles of the basketball back screen on England’s set plays.
He picked up those moves when he attended the Timberwolves’ home game with the Pelicans on Feb. 3. The Super Bowl was held the next night at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Southgate’s tie to the Wolves was Chris Wright, the former Wolves president from England, who is now the CEO of Minnesota United.
“Here’s this English guy, the England team manager, trying to figure out Basketball 101,” Wright told the Journal.
Wright said he joked with Southgate that he wasn’t [Wolves coach and boss] Tom Thibodeau and didn’t have all the answers.
One of the aspects of the game Southgate was most curious about was how basketball teams create space around the basket, and how he could put NBA movement onto a soccer field.
He eventually figured it out. England scored four set-piece goals, more than any other team in the World Cup.
Wright said when he finished that night with Southgate, he sensed England was going to have a great tournament.
“You could just tell the way [Southgate] went about his business that he was going to leave no stone unturned,” Wright said.
Battles to watch
Pro Football Focus released their training camp preview of the Vikings and labeled these the key matchups to watch. They also had the Vikings as one of only two Tier 1 teams in the league.
Daniel Carlson vs. Kai Forbath for kicker; Brian O’Neill vs. Rashod Hill at right tackle; Laquon Treadwell vs. Kendall Wright for the No. 3 receiver; Stacy Coley vs. Mike Hughes vs. Marcus Sherels for kick returner; and Terence Newman vs. Hughes vs. Mackensie Alexander for the nickel cornerback.