Jeff Diamond worked in the Vikings front office for more than two decades, the final eight as general manager, before becoming the president of the Tennessee Titans for five years until his retirement in 2004.
Diamond still resides in Nashville, and he viewed the Titans’ collapse in the Vikings’ 25-16 victory to open the season Sunday, when three costly second-half turnovers turned what looked like it could be a Tennessee victory into defeat for a team that went 5-27 over the past two seasons.
“They showed good resiliency when they were down 10-0 and came back and scored 25 unanswered points,” Diamond said of the Vikings. “… There were a lot of things that impressed me, especially when you win a game on the road with your backup quarterback, essentially. I thought it was a great team win for them.”
Diamond was impressed with the Vikings defense, which really delivered after Tennessee took that 10-point lead. Eric Kendricks’ 77-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter gave the Vikings the lead for good, and Danielle Hunter followed that with a 24-yard fumble return for a score.
“Their defense stepped up and were opportunistic,” said Diamond, the NFL’s Executive of the Year following the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. “They came up with three big turnovers that turned the game around.
“I thought it was great for them to win with Shaun Hill, and when Adrian Peterson only gains 31 yards rushing. If they can win a game like that, it shows me that good teams find a way to win. … It was a really excellent team win for the Vikings on the road in the opener. Now they can get ready to open the new stadium.”
Diamond did add what a lot of Vikings fans were thinking Sunday, saying: “They have to be a little concerned about Blair Walsh.”
Diamond said he thought the Vikings defensive line really put a lot of pressure on Titans second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota in the second half. And Diamond thought Everson Griffen had a great game up until the final minute, when he committed a stupid personal-foul penalty for roughing the passer.
“But he had a great game,” Diamond said. “He caused the pressure on the first interception for the touchdown that gave the Vikings their first lead of the game. He made some big plays to pressure Mariota. Hunter had the touchdown return and a big sack.”
Diamond also praised receiver Stefon Diggs, who caught seven passes for 103 yards. And he gave credit to Hill for playing within himself and not making big mistakes.
“He’s not a strong-armed quarterback, that’s obvious, but he makes enough plays to win,” Diamond said. “I was impressed with the way he managed the game, especially with the way Adrian Peterson was shut down. So Hill had to make some plays to get some first downs.
“But it was the defense that won the game with the turnovers and the two touchdowns, and they just shut the Titans down in the second half.”
Diamond credited the Titans for their eight- and nine-man fronts to stop Peterson, who had only 31 yards on 19 carries. “They were just loading up to stop the run, and you can see that paid off later in the game when Hill was able to find Diggs on that long pass for 33 yards to set up a field goal.”
Diamond believes how far the Vikings will go will depend on the play of the quarterback, who figures to be Sam Bradford in the weeks ahead. “Ultimately, because they’re going to run into games where they’re playing better teams and they have to score points, and they can’t just have four field goals or whatever they had today,” he said. “Their kicker has to be better. He can’t miss extra points, he can’t miss a 37-yard field goal, and he looked kind of nervous to me on that first kick. Maybe it was a carry-over from that playoff game last year.
“They’re going to have a lot tougher test against Green Bay next week, obviously.”
Kill on Gophers
Former Gophers football coach Jerry Kill was in town Saturday to raise money for his Epilepsy Foundation and had the opportunity to join his former players on the bench to watch them overwhelm Indiana State 58-28.
Kill, who is now working in the Kansas State athletic department, was very impressed with Mitch Leidner, who completed 20 of 30 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns.
“Mitch had a really good game. And he could have even had a better game. [His receivers] had three or four drops that should have been caught,” Kill said.
Kill also praised wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, who caught eight passes for 125 yards and two TDs, saying he “is one of the most improved players I’ve seen over a year, and I thought he did an outstanding job.”
Another player Kill singled out was freshman receiver Tyler Johnson of Minneapolis North. “ I really liked the young freshman, Tyler Johnson,” Kill said. “Me and Tracy [Claeys], I remember watching him on the basketball court, and I said, ‘We’re going to offer that guy immediately.’ I mean, he can jump, and is a great athlete. I think we’ve helped ourself at receiver and offensive line with the recruiting.”
Kill said he believes the Gophers will be much improved on offense from 2015. “And then the offense will help on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “They’re aggressive and played the same type of defense.”
Kill like the performance of the offensive line. “You get better players, you get better,” he said. “I like the offensive line coach [Bart Miller], I think he’s done a nice job. I like what I’ve seen. That will be a group that you’ll see as the year goes on and they build continuity with each other.”
Indiana State threw for 247 yards and four touchdowns, but Kill is confident the Gophers pass defense will get better as the season develops.
“You’ve got to realize that we’re replacing three very, very good secondary players, and it’s not easy to replace those kids,” Kill said. “They’ll get better, the pass rush is going to be important throughout the year. But again, they’re in Game 2, and there’s a lot of people spinning their hat, you know.
“[The pass defense hasn’t] played like they’re capable of. So it’s really too early to judge where you’re going to be after two ballgames. I think you’ll see steady improvement. The biggest thing is they’ve got to stay healthy. That’s always the critical piece of the puzzle.”
Kill thought the defense let up some in the fourth quarter when Indiana State scored two touchdowns.
“I’m sure Coach Claeys is going to address that,” Kill said. “You have to learn how to finish when you’re way ahead like that. But overall, seeing some good stuff. I thought it was a good day for the Gophers.”
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org