The Vikings open a season of high expectations on Sunday by playing host to San Francisco as seven-point favorites. There will be many story lines to follow throughout the NFL in 2018, with one of the bigger ones emerging this preseason being the new tackling rule.

It led Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to say at one point that the new rule was “going to cost some people jobs — playoffs, jobs, the whole bit, I’m guessing.”

After complaints from players and coaches, the NFL and its referees made a number of changes to clarify what is and is not a penalty when it comes to tackling with the crown of the helmet.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said he believes the rule has been cleaned up enough that it shouldn’t be as big an issue during the season.

“Watching it in the preseason you saw a lot of flags on that. The officials wanted to get a lot on tape so they can determine what is and what isn’t leading with your head,” he said. “I think as we went though the preseason, the number of those penalties kind of decreased. I think they have a pretty good sense. I think the players have adjusted to the new rules, as well. I look forward to seeing how it plays out throughout the season.”

Regarding the Vikings, a big story line to watch is kicker Daniel Carlson, the fifth-round draft pick out of Auburn. That was the second draft pick Spielman has used on a kicker, the other being Blair Walsh in 2012.

The Vikings have drafted only two other kickers — Mike Wood in the eighth round in 1978 and Mike Mercer in the 15th round of their inaugural season in 1961.

The Vikings believed in Carlson enough to cut Kai Forbath after two preseason games, but Carlson then missed two 42-yard field goal attempts at home in the third preseason game.

Spielman said Carlson still has his full faith. “We think he has tremendous upside, he has a very strong leg.” he said. “I know [special teams] coach [Mike] Preifer truly believes in him and he had the one bad game against Seattle, but I don’t think he missed a PAT or field goal except for that game. We’re very excited about him and what he has the potential to become.”

Taylor talks to Butler

There were reports all summer that Timberwolves forward Jimmy Butler is unhappy with either Andrew Wiggins or Karl-Anthony Towns or the franchise in general.

Team owner Glen Taylor was asked if he thinks Butler has an issue with the direction of the team.

“Oh, I do not think that. I asked Jimmy and he said he did not say anything so I do not put much stock into that,” said Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune. “When I asked him I said did he have any problems? And he said, ‘No.’ That is what he told me.”

When it comes to Towns and a potential five-year maximum extension, which remains the Wolves’ No. 1 priority before the season starts, Taylor said that is still being worked out.

“I think we need to just get together and get it done,” Taylor said. “The last time I checked it was going good, but we want it to go better.”

Taylor said he and coach Tom Thibodeau are getting along great, speaking multiple times a week, and he is excited about the free agents the team is bringing in for workouts this week.

The players the Wolves are rumored to be targeting are former Wolves draft pick Corey Brewer, Nick Young, Arron Afflalo and Luol Deng.

“Yes, we are, and we will probably get that done in the next couple of weeks,” Taylor said. “I mean the people we are all talking to are veteran-type of guys that will come off the bench.”

Taylor said he believes the Wolves are on the right path heading into the season. “I feel good,” he said. “I think we should be very competitive in a very tough league.”

Rebranding ‘the Barn’?

Now that the Gophers are in their second year of calling their men’s hockey rink 3M Arena at Mariucci, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler was asked if he would ever consider branding Williams Arena to generate revenue for the athletic department.

“We don’t have anything in the bucket right now in terms of pending naming opportunities for Williams, but that is something that is on our list,” Kaler said. “As we did with Mariucci, getting some corporate sponsorships that honors the traditional name of the facility is a win-win for us. We are open to those conversations.”

The deal with 3M brought the Gophers a 14-year, $11.2 million sponsorship deal, and you have to imagine that a name change for Williams Arena would bring in more money than Mariucci simply because of the building’s larger national profile.

The Gophers’ 25-year, $35 million deal with TCF Bank for the football stadium remains the sixth-largest collegiate naming rights deal in the nation. No. 1 is Southern California’s 16-year, $69 million deal for what next year officially will be known as United Airlines Memorial Coliseum.


• Vikings receiver Adam Thielen on the benefits of having running back Dalvin Cook back for 2018: “We have three guys, four guys in that running back room who can carry the ball extremely well. But he’s a dynamic player and he’s only going to help this offense. We’re expecting big things from him.”


• The 49ers have an edge in the size of their defensive line, averaging 295.5 pounds per player with both DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead standing 6-7. The Vikings average 287.3 pounds and their tallest starter is Danielle Hunter at 6-5. “A lot of size,” Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “Not only size but speed up front.” Also, Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings offensive line 28th in the NFL.


• Vikings executive Lester Bagley on tickets at U.S. Bank Stadium: “We do have single-game tickets, affordable tickets. That was part of the legislation for the new stadium and there are a handful of tickets that are available for every game.”

• With Eric Decker’s retirement, former Gophers in the NFL include Briean Boddy-Calhoun with Cleveland, De’Vondre Campbell with Atlanta, Eric Murray with Kansas City, Marcus Sherels with the Vikings, Maxx Williams with Baltimore, Damien Wilson with Dallas and MarQueis Gray with Miami, though he is on injured reserve. Tramaine Brock, who began his college career with the Gophers, is with Denver after playing for the Vikings in 2017. Three former Gophers are on practice squads: Jalen Myrick with the Vikings, Steven Richardson with the L.A. Chargers and Nate Wozniak with New Orleans.


• Bob Gelle, a four-sport standout for the Gophers who was a coach and/or athletic director at St. Olaf from 1957 to 1989, died Aug. 3 at 87. Gelle was one of the best athletes I ever saw. We drafted him with the Minneapolis Lakers in 1953, but he went into the military before becoming a coach.