If you’re going to list the top recruited high school football players to ever come out of Minnesota, Jonah Pirsig probably would be in the top 10. Colleges were chasing him like they did Seantrel Henderson, the great offensive tackle from Cretin-Derham Hall who is now with the Buffalo Bills.
CBS Sports ranked Pirsig as the 15th-best offensive tackle prospect in college football, and the senior hopes to put together a great campaign in his last season with the Gophers. There’s a good chance he’ll go down as the best offensive lineman of the Jerry Kill era.
He was asked why this team should have better results than last year’s 6-7 season, which was a disappointment to many players.
“I think we just have a great senior class, and I think guys really bought in this offseason and gave it all they had,” Pirsig said. “At the same time I think guys are feeling really healthy and really good about what we want to do. I think there’s really good chance we’re going to be able to do what we set out to do.”
What improvements has he seen on the offensive line?
“I think up front we have some holes to fill and we just have to be more consistent and stay healthy,” he said. “But we have two great running breaks, I think the greatest quarterback in the Big Ten. All the pieces are falling in place, and we just have to make it happen now.”
Pirsig was easily the most consistent part of the line last season; he was the only lineman to start all 13 games, and he made All-Big Ten honorable mention.
So what has the line worked on the most?
“I think one of our concerns in the spring was pass protection and letting Mitch [Leidner] get the ball down the field, because we know he can do it,” he said. “It’s just up to us to give him enough time, so I think just like the last few years we’re going to have some deep balls and play action and I think Mitch will capitalize on that.”
And what needs to improve most in Pirsig’s game?
“I would say pass blocking for me personally and also being more nasty and physical on the run blocking side of it, too,” Pirsig said. “But as an offensive line I think there’s definitely some holes to fill as far as getting some reps during camp and adding some depth.”
Another big change for this season is the arrival of Bart Miller as the team’s new offensive line coach. Pirsig said he’s already brought good changes.
“He’s more consistent. He knows he has been there and done that, and he’s not too far removed from college football,” Pirsig said. “We know what he expects, and we know what we’re going to get from him each and every practice. Along with that, he’s an intense coach and [he has] a lot of energy every day. I think that’s what you need in the Big Ten.”
So can this team win the West Division?
“There’s no doubt in my mind we can do that and hopefully be playing in Indianapolis come December,” Pirsig said.
Lastly, he was asked if he still thinks he made the right decision to stay home and attend the U.
“Absolutely,” Pirsig said. “There’s no doubt in my mind I want to be here and have never thought twice about it.”
Cockran waits for shot
Theiren Cockran, the former Minnesota standout defensive end, is working to become the next Gopher to make a big impact with the Vikings.
He was asked what he learned from Kill that is helping him transition to the pros.
“Man, hard work, that’s definitely No. 1,” Cockran said. “One thing about Coach Kill is every day we went out on the practice field he always gave us 100 percent. He always had that expectation or us. So putting in extra work, doing overtime, those are the things he did and as players we all followed that. He showed us how to be men. The list goes on. He was definitely a great leader.”
He was asked how he’s transiting to a pro system.
“The scheme itself is similar, same 4-3 and I play on the left side on defensive end,” he said. “But here we drop in coverage more, work in things like that. It’s little things, different technique, small things like that.”
While Cockran hasn’t seen much playing time so far, he knows that’s part of starting out in the NFL.
“Not much, but that’s how it is as a rookie,” he said. “You have to wait your turn, be prepared, and when your name is called be ready to get out and go. I’ve done special teams, and when my name is called I’ll be ready.”
• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked if quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Shaun Hill need a little rest before they play again. “No, not really,” Zimmer said. “We try to do the best we can. I told you guys [the media] when I first got here I would try to be as transparent and honest as I can. I will be, but there are certain things I am not going to tell you. And if [Bridgewater] had an issue with his shoulder, then I am going to be sure that I err on the side of caution. Also, because if I played him and he got hurt, you guys would be killing me in the press. So I am going to protect the players. I’m going to do what I think is best for the organization, and you’re going to respect that.”
I’ve been here since the Vikings franchise began, and Zimmer is as fair with the media as any coach.
• Gopher athletic director Mike Coyle was asked if there was any progress on a new contract for hockey coach Don Lucia, who has only one year left on his deal. “Nothing new on the hockey coach,” Coyle said. “I continue to have conversations with Don, and we’ll continue to work our way through that process. But I don’t have any update on our hockey coach. There’s no doubt Don will be here this year. I have a great deal of respect for what he does with our program, 13 championships in 17 years. I think very highly of Don. When I was here before he and I were in Mariucci Arena together, and I’m really appreciative of what Don does and how he represents our program.”
• At the recent Vikings party for me, former Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi was talking about Gophers wrestling coach J Robison and how tough of a guy he is to negotiate with, meaning that if Gophers authorities are going to make a super deal on Robinson they are kidding themselves. For years Robison worked on a one-year contract because he was upset that he was making less than some of the female coaches at the school. That didn’t mean Maturi didn’t have a lot of respect for Robinson, but the fact that several women coaches were earning more than Robinson was the big issue.
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