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39 posts categorized "Football"

August 04, 2014

Points on the Purple Daily: Aug. 4 (will another safety please step up)

Posted by: Feldman

Each week during the Vikings season, me and fellow P-B sports writer Guy N. Limbeck write "Points on the Purple," a back-and-forth column about the Vikings' topics of the day. We'll make this Faceoff Blog version of POTP as close to a daily feature as possible throughout training camp and the 2014 season.

If we've learned anything about new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer through a week-and-a-half of training camp, it's that he still keeps an eagle eye on defensive backs. Zimmer is a d-backs coach by nature and by trade, and watching him in several camp practices, you can tell he notices the tiniest miscue by his corners and safeties.

For example, during a walk-through a week ago, rookie Antone Exum was lining up at safety in a goal-line drill. Exum was only about 3-4 yards off the line of scrimmage and Zimmer stood directly behind him as the offense lined up. Just as the ball was about to be snapped, Zimmer stopped the play. He moved Exum over about 2 steps to his right and a step or two closer to the line. When the ball was snapped, Exum was in position to cut off the tight end's route to the goalpost. Following the play, Zimmer walked over to Exum and was clearly telling him what would have happened if he had stay lined up in his original position. Zimmer's arms were going in every possible direction and he never stopped talking, never stopped coaching.

Now, that's one play in a walk-through on Day 4 of training camp, when guys were only wearing jerseys and shorts.

But the point is, Zimmer is not going to settle for any defensive backs who aren't performing up to his standards for them. That's evident in the safety merry-go-round that we've seen in Mankato. Robert Blanton, Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond have all been talked about as the starter at the safety position next to Harrison Smith.

Blanton and Sanford have both battled injuries or are battling injuries at various times already in camp. Andrew Sendejo, who played 10 games last year when Smith was injured, is just now beginning to practice after missing the first week of camp with a back injury. Veteran Kurt Coleman has also seen time with the first team in camp, but hasn't done enough to earn more trust from Zimmer and his staff.

Zimmer's patience with the revolving door at safety clearly grew thin over the weekend. Sunday he communicated with Chris Crocker, who has played for Zimmer for seven of the past eight seasons (one year in Atlanta, six in Cincinnati). Monday, Crocker showed up in Mankato and was signed, instantly becoming the team's oldest player, at 34 years old. Should he make the team, he'll be in his 12th NFL season. He has 15 career interceptions and 60 passes defended.

Crocker has played both safety and nickel corner in his career.

Zimmer said Monday he wasn't sure if Crocker will play in Friday's preseason opener against Oakland at TCF Bank Stadium. I'd be stunned if we don't see Crocker early in the game, possibly even starting with Smith. Zimmer is obviously fed up with the lack of consistency from the other guys battling for that spot, so why not give Crocker a good look?

Then again, Zimmer pretty much knows exactly what Crocker will give him. And that's why Zim made the call.

Who knows? If Blanton and Sendejo suddenly get healthy, or if Sanford or Raymond or Coleman, or even Exum, step up and play like a starter, maybe Crocker won't make the opening day roster. Maybe signing Crocker is Zimmer's way of sending a message to not only the safeties, but the everyone else on the 90-man: If you're not meeting expectations, you can and will be replaced.

Or, maybe Crocker is Zimmer's security blanket at a position that is most important to him. The Vikings' pass defense was atrocious last season, and the personnel going into this season is mostly the same, so Crocker really couldn't be worse. Could he?

You don't play 11 years in the NFL without being pretty good at your job, so don't be surprised if Crocker is lining up next to Smith on Sept. 7 in St. Louis.

“I think I’ve been accountable, that’s the biggest thing,” Crocker told reporters on Monday. “And (Zimmer) is just so honest. You really appreciate a guy who is going to tell you whether you’re good or whether you’re bad. At the end of the day, you know where you stand. I’ve always played at the highest level playing for a guy like that.”

August 03, 2014

Points on the Purple Daily: Aug. 3 (Looking at a decade of drafts)

Posted by: Feldman

Each week during the Vikings season, me and fellow P-B sports writer Guy N. Limbeck write "Points on the Purple," a back-and-forth column about the Vikings' topics of the day. We'll make this Faceoff Blog version of POTP as close to a daily feature as possible throughout training camp and the 2014 season.

The buzz in Mankato over the past week — just as it is every year — has been about the new guys in purple, and the new guys with whistles. Last year it was the arrival of three first-round draft picks, Cordarrelle Patterson, Xavier Rhodes and Sharrif Floyd.

This year it's first-rounders Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater, as well as an almost entirely new coaching staff. There has already been much speculation about Barr and Bridgewater, where their careers in purple will go and how big of an impact they'll have on this organization (at least four Super Bowls, give or take a couple).

That got me thinking back to 2011, when Christian Ponder was the guy who everyone expected to turn the franchise around. And to 2008, when safety Tyrell Johnson was supposed to end the Vikings' merry-go-round at the position for the next 8-10 years.

So I decided to rank the past 10 Vikings drafts (2005-2014), in order of best to worst (mostly worst … I kid … kind of). I actually only ranked eight of the past 10 drafts because the 2013 and 2014 draftees are still too fresh to criticize or praise. Feel free to let me know if I'm wrong...

2007
The picks (8): RB Adrian Peterson (Round 1, No. 7 overall); WR Sidney Rice (2, 44); CB Marcus McCauley (3, 72); DE Brian Robison (4, 102); WR Aundrae Allison (5, 136); LB Rufus Alexander (6, 176); QB Tyler Thigpen (7, 217); WR Chandler Williams (7, 233).
Analysis: Does it really matter what happened after No. 7 overall this year? No. That the Vikings found a long-term DE in Round 4 is just a nice bonus. Rice had the one big year of his career when the Vikings needed it -- Brett Favre made him into a stud in 2009. Getting the best RB in team history -- when someone in the media (possibly me, I won't confirm or deny) wanted them to draft Brady Quinn -- is enough to make this one of the best drafts of the past 10 years.

2012
The picks (10)
: T Matt Kalil (Round 1, No. 4 overall); S Harrison Smith (1, 29); CB Josh Robinson (3, 66); WR Jarius Wright (4, 118); TE Rhett Ellison (4, 128); WR Greg Childs (4, 134); DB Robert Blanton (5, 139); K Blair Walsh (6, 175); LB Audie Cole (7, 210); DL Trevor Guyton (7, 219).
Analysis: Aside from the players drafted, I chuckled when reminded the team's first sixth-round pick was shipped to Washington for a QB. Donovan McNabb. He threw just two more TDs for the Vikings than Kelly Holcomb. Heh-heh. … Rick Spielman made his two first-round draft picks count, filling holes at two key spots for years to come. Wright has provided a lot of speed at the receiver spot, Blanton was in the mix for a starting safety spot before being injured in camp this year, and Blair Walsh has made the Vikings look smart for using a draft pick on a kicker.

2009
The picks (5): WR Percy Harvin (Round 1, No. 22 overall); T Phil Loadholt (2, 54); CB Asher Allen (3, 86); LB Jasper Brinkley (4, 150); S Jamarca Sanford (7, 231).
Analysis: If Harvin had remained a Viking, this draft might be ranked higher, though, the Vikings turned out OK after trading him, essentially getting CB Xavier Rhodes in return. Say this about Harvin: He may have been a headache (no pun intended) for coaches and teammates at times, but you knew you'd get everything he had when he stepped on the field. Loadholt has turned into a solid NFL tackle, a guy you know you don't have to worry about faltering on the right side. Brinkley could be in his second stint as a starter for the Vikes this year and Sanford has started 44 games, though he may not make the roster this year.

2008
The picks: S Tyrell Johnson (Round 2, No. 43 overall); QB John David Booty (5, 137); DT Letroy Guion (5,152); C John Sullivan (6, 187); WR Jaymar Johnson (6, 193).
Analysis: This draft, based solely on the players the Vikings selected, is about as bad as it gets, with the obvious exception of Sullivan. But, the Vikings' use of their first-round pick and two third-round picks this year has to be taken into consideration. They dealt those to Kansas City for DE Jared Allen. When you consider Allen as the team's first-round pick, plus getting a possible Vikings lifer -- Sullivan -- in the sixth round, this draft isn't as terrible as it seems.

2011
The picks (9): QB Christian Ponder (Round 1, No. 12 overall); TE Kyle Rudolph (2, 43); DL Christian Ballard (4, 106); CB Brandon Burton (5, 139); T DeMarcus Love (6, 168); S Mistral Raymond (6, 170); G Brandon Fusco (6, 172); LB Ross Homan (6, 200); DE D'Aundre Reed (7, 215); WR Stephen Burton (7, 236).
Analysis: The Ponder selection seemed like a reach at the time, and it proved to be exactly that. Raymond has started 10 games, but hasn't been consistent enough to lock down a starting job. Ballard was a bust; he decided he just didn't like football. Rudolph and Fusco saved this draft. Rudolph was just signed to a $7M-plus per-year extension and Fusco could be next in line for a nice extension, if he continues his ascension. Burton's moment of fame came in a loss at Indy, when he caught a twice-tipped pass in the end zone late in the fourth quarter for a TD. At least he did that. … As a side note, the Vikings didn't have a third-rounder. It was traded to New England for Randy Moss. *sigh*

2010
The picks (8): CB Chris Cook (Round 2, No. 34 overall); RB Toby Gerhart (2, 51); DE Everson Griffen (4, 100); T Chris DeGeare (5, 161); LB Nate Triplett (5, 167); QB Joe Webb (6, 199); TE Mickey Shuler (7, 214); LB Ryan D'Imperio (7, 237).
Analysis: Looking at this list makes me want to throw a temper tantrum like my 2-year-old. Cook and Gerhart are two of the most frustrating picks in the past 10 years. Cook never lived up to the potential he'd show in training camp. Gerhart was a beast running between the tackles, but the Vikings left a lot of tread on his tires and weren't smart enough to trade him — for something, ANYTHING! — last year. They traded up for him in this draft and ended up with pretty much nothing to show for it. The coaches could never figure out how to use a guy with Webb's athletic ability and he's backing up Cam Newton now. Griffen is the only saving grace of this draft, and now he has to prove that he's worth $42.5M over five years.

2006
The picks (6): LB Chad Greenway (Round 1, No. 17 overall); CB Cedric Griffen (2, 48); C Ryan Cook (2, 51); QB Tarvaris Jackson (2, 64); DE Ray Edwards (4, 127); S Greg Blue (5, 149).
Analysis: As much criticism as Greenway has received over the past year or so, he is a two-time Pro Bowler and was a 2nd Team All-Pro in 2012. His teammates voted him the defensive MVP last season (which, I guess, isn't saying much, considering how awful that 'D' was). Griffen was OK at corner, but Cook and T-Jack never lived up to their second-round draft status. Edwards was a decent DE, but it's fair for fans to have expected more from him, playing opposite Jared Allen.

2005
The picks (7): WR Troy Williamson (Round 1, No. 7 overall); DE Erasmus James (1, 18); G Marcus Johnson (2, 49); S Dustin Fox (3, 80); RB Ciatrick Fason (4, 112); DT C.J. Mosley (6, 191); CB Adrian Ward (7, 219).
Analysis: I'm not sure whether to scream or laugh when looking at this list. I've chosen to laugh, because I otherwise might cry. This isn't nice, but here are a few players the Vikings could have taken in the first round: DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, Thomas Davis, Roddy White and some QB named Aaron Rodgers (I can give them a pass here, though; Daunte Culpepper was coming off a 39-TD, near-MVP season in '04). Still, this draft is beyond cringe-worthy. Aside from the two first-round disasters, their second-round pick, Johnson, was no better. He's best remembered for being pulled off the field in the middle of a drive at the Metrodome because he false-started multiple times. I don't know if Fox ever played a game, I didn't have the stomach to look it up.

• • • • •

2013
The picks (9): DT Sharrif Floyd (Round 1, No. 23 overall); CB Xavier Rhodes (1, 25); WR Cordarrelle Patterson (1, 29); LB Gerald Hodges (4, 120); P Jeff Locke (5, 155); G Jeff Baca (6, 196); LB Mike Mauti (7, 213); G Travis Bond (7, 214); DT Everett Dawkins (7, 229).
Analysis: Two of the nine aren't with the team (Bond, Dawkins), but the other seven already have made significant contributions or are competing for more playing time. Mauti and Hodges are in the mix of six linebackers who are competing for time. Baca should be, at worst, a key backup at multiple spots on the line. The three first-rounders are expected to take big steps forward this season as second-year guys.

2014
The picks (10): LB Anthony Barr (Round 1, No. 9 overall); QB Teddy Bridgewater (1, 32); DE Scott Crichton (3, 72); RB Jerick McKinnon (3, 96); OL David Yankey (5, 145); DB Antone Exum (6, 182); CB Kendall James (6, 184); DT Shamar Stephen (7, 220); LB Brandon Watts (7, 223); CB Jabari Price (7, 225).
Analysis: Best draft class EVER! … OK, obviously way too soon to tell, but depending on how a couple of camp battles go, we could see three starters in this group (Barr, Bridgewater, Yankey) and maybe seven of these guys make the opening day 53-man roster. Those two first-round picks could make this a boom-or-bust draft.

August 01, 2014

Points on the Purple Daily: July 31

Posted by: Feldman

Each week during the Vikings season, me and my fellow P-B sports scribe Guy N. Limbeck write "Points on the Purple" for our Vikings Playbook page in the Weekend print edition. We'll make this as close to a daily feature as possible here at the blog, with a smaller dose of POTP.

The Vikings took a day off early in training camp, so I decided to take two, as well. I'm old. My body needs time to recover.

Limbeck was over in Mankato today and wrote about some of the injuries (and recoveries) the team has dealt with in the first week of camp. Read that story here.

Today's POTP topic: The offensive line is the biggest strength of the offense.

That's a lot to say, considering No. 28 is in the backfield. But, then again, he goes nowhere without a hole being opened for him. ... Well, that's not entirely true, because we've seen A.P. make his own running room. You get my point, though: We're so excited about Teddy, Cordarrelle, A.P. and Jerick that we forget about the big ugly guys up front who do the heavy lifting.

It would seem the only spot up for grabs on the line is left guard, where incumbent Charlie Johnson could be cut or benched and a majority of Vikings fans wouldn't notice or care. Some would even applaud. Don't rule out the possibility of Johnson not only losing his starting job, but losing his spot on the 53-man roster entirely.

The Vikings drafted Jeff Baca in the sixth round last year and, while he was inactive for 12 games, he played in the final three. Baca (6-3, 302) could battle for the starting job at left guard, but he seems more like one of those guys who is a capable backup at any position along the line. That would leave this year's fifth-round pick out of Stanford, two-time All-American David Yankey. The 6-6, 315-pounder was All-America at left tackle in 2012 before moving to guard and earning All-America honors again last season. He even occasionally lined up at tight end.

Even with the uncertainty about the starter at left guard, the line is still the strongest part of the Vikings' offense.

Left tackle Matt Kalil is expected to bounce back after a subpar sophomore season last year. John Sullivan has developed into one of the most reliable and accountable centers in the league. Brandon Fusco at right guard is one of those guys you'd have expected to see in the era when Mike Tice was coaching the O-line. He was a sixth-round draft pick out of D-2 Slippery Rock in 2011 — the Vikings third pick of that round, by the way — who has blossomed into a solid, if not outstanding pro. Pro Football Focus called Fusco "a legitimate All-Pro candidate." That's lofty praise for such a young guy, and a lot of that is probably playing next to the dependable right tackle Phil Loadholt.

Fusco is a free agent after this season, but don't expect him to hit the market. Vikings' GM Rick Spielman has shown he's willing and ready to lock up the young up-and-comers before other teams can court them. Loadholt was given a new deal before last season. He's a no-nonsense guy who just wants to do his job and win football games; he's the anchor of the Vikings' line and he graded out as the No. 98 player in the NFL last year by PFF.

The Vikings also have some depth along the line this year, with two of Baca/Johnson/Yankey backing up the interior spots, as well as veteran Vlad Ducasse, and guys like Mike Remmers and Kevin Murphy at tackle.

As good as the line has been over the past two seasons, it should be even better this season, not having to protect Christian Ponder for half the season.

July 28, 2014

Points on the Purple Daily: July 28

Posted by: Feldman

Each week during the Vikings season, me and my fellow P-B sports scribe Guy N. Limbeck write "Points on the Purple" for our Vikings Playbook page in the Weekend print edition. We'll make this as close to a daily feature as possible here at the blog, with a smaller dose of POTP.

1. Yo, Adrian! Adrian Peterson talked to the media after this morning's walkthrough at Blakeslee Stadium. The MVP addressed a lot of topics, perhaps the most noteworthy is his love for the scheme that new O.C. Norv Turner has put in place. And in doing so, A.P. finally said what we all said for the previous three years: Bill Musgrave's system stunk. A.P. was a little nicer, terming it "predictable." You can read more of what A.P. had to say today in this story.

2. Flip-flopping on Teddy. It was just two days ago that I called the Vikings' starting QB job Matt Cassel's, unless rookie Teddy Bridgewater has a Russell Wilson-like preseason. Do I have to start walking toward the Team Teddy Bandwagon? I'll wait to sprint for my spot until we see a couple of preseason games, but Bridgewater was sharp tonight, leading the second team offense in a practice under the lights at Blakeslee Stadium. He went 12-for-13 passing, the only miss being a whiff by rookie tight end AC Leonard. Bridgewater obviously hasn't won the job yet, but he hasn't hurt himself. Cassel is at least hearing Bridgewater's footsteps behind him now.

3. Considering where a lot of sixth-round draft picks end up (not on NFL rosters), Blair Walsh could probably be considered a steal. Sure, he's a kicker, but he's a darn good one. His rookie season was outstanding (35-for-38 on field goals, 10-for-10 from 50-plus yards). He regressed a bit as a sophomore, with a 26-for-30 season (2-for-5 from 50-plus), but sounds very confident heading into his third year. He made 6 of 7 field goals Monday night, including both of his attempts from 50-plus (50, 52). His lone miss was wide right from 44 yards. Vikes head coach Mike Zimmer has talked all offseason about creating competition at every position, but Walsh can relax and just kick in camp this year; he is at one of very few positions where there is no competition. There are just one kicker and one punter (Jeff Locke) on the 90-man roster.

July 27, 2014

Points On The Purple Daily, July 27: Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

Posted by: Feldman

The biggest news through the first three days of Minnesota Vikings training camp broke late tonight: Kyle Rudolph has been elevated to the top tier of NFL tight ends.

Rudolph, the Vikings' 2nd-round draft pick in 2011 (the year they drafted Christian Ponder in Round 1), signed a five-year, $36.5 million extension on Sunday, with $19.5 million guaranteed.

Tight ends don't get that kind of money for being good blockers in the running game. This big-money deal for Rudy says more about where the Vikings' new coaching staff expects him to go under Norv Turner's offense than what he's done in his first three seasons in the NFL.

This is a great deal for both sides. At 6-feet-6, 259 pounds, not only does Rudolph give QBs Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater a big target, he's also fast and agile for his size. The obvious comparison here is what the New Orleans Saints have done with Jimmy Graham. Of course, it's  not fair to expect Rudolph to catch 85 balls for 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, BUT at $7.3 million per year, it's clear that Turner and head coach Mike Zimmer expect Rudolph to be a huge part of the passing game.

And that's exciting for Vikings fans, to add Rudolph's pass-catching skills on top of receivers Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright. 

There are some injury concerns with Rudolph, dating back to his time at Notre Dame. Rudolph only played in eight games last season because of a foot injury, but to be fair, Rudolph played in 31 of 32 games during his first two seasons, and he caught nine TD passes in 2012.

With Rudolph's combination of size, strength and agility, Turner has to be salivating about using him in red zone situations, especially when the Vikings have the ball near the goal line. 

According to OverTheCap.com, Rudolph's deal makes him the fifth-highest paid tight end in the NFL, in terms of average annual value of his contract behind Graham ($10.0 M/year); New England's Rob Gronkowksi ($9.0 M/year); Dallas' Jason Witten ($7.4 M/year) and San Francisco's Vernon Davis ($7.35 M/year).

"I'm extremely excited to get this extension completed and continue my career with the Minnesota Vikings," Rudolph said in a press release. "I've said all along I wanted to stay in Minnesota. I love the fans, the community and most importantly, I'm excited about where this team is going."

Rudolph has 109 catches for 1,055 yards and 15 TDs in 39 career games (32 starts).

July 26, 2014

Points On The Purple Daily, July 26

Posted by: Feldman 

A new head coach. (Possibly) a new starting quarterback. A new (temporary) home stadium. An old punter stirring the pot.

We're only two days into Minnesota Vikings training camp and there is already so much to talk about. Why not do some of that on this blog?
 
In every Weekend Post-Bulletin during the Vikings season, me and the P-B's version of Sid Hartman, sports writer Guy N. Limbeck, do a column called "Points on the Purple." It's a back-and-forth, give-and-take (usually me giving Limbeck the business for his homerish opinions) about the state of the Vikings.
 
We'll try to bring some of that to the Faceoff blog during training camp, the preseason and regular season. And by "we" I mean "me." I don't think Limbeck knows what a blog is, much less how to log in and write in this space. 
 
Enough about us, though, football season is here, so let's talk some Vikings!
 
Each day, I'll do my best to come up with four "Points" about the Purple. Some days I'll add an Extra Point, just because I feel like babbling on, and the Interwebs offer limitless space.
 
Here are today's Points On The Purple:
 
1. The QB Battle. I'm definitely in the minority with this opinion, at least if I use Twitter as a judge (and we all know, if you read something on Twitter, it has to be true. Right?), but to me, there's no battle for the starting QB job. At least right now. It's Matt Cassel's job. Could Teddy Bridgewater play his way into that spot, or at least make it a battle? Absolutely. But he hasn't yet. He hasn't had enough of a chance. Unless Bridgewater has a Russel Wilson-like presason, he'll be a backup when the Vikings open the regular season on Sept. 7 at St. Louis. This doesn't mean Cassel will still be the starter in Week 17, when Chicago comes to TCF Bank Stadium. It just means there's nothing wrong with letting Bridgewater be an attentive student for most, if not all, of the season.
 
2. Keep calm about Cordarrelle. Vikings coaches and fans -- and many people around the NFL, for that matter -- are expecting big things from second-year WR Cordarrellle Patterson this season. So a few eyebrows were raised, as were some blood pressure rates, when fans found out Patterson didn't practice on the first two days of camp due to a foot injury. It's OK to take a deep breath and relax about this one. While the Vikings were practicing Saturday afternoon, Patterson was working with a trainer on one of the practice fields. Head coach Mike Zimmer said Patterson and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hamstring) are close to returning.
 
3. Blanton and the safety battle. One of the position battles in the spotlight in Mankato is the competition for the starting job opposite Harrison Smith at safety. Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond are the names most often mentioned as the top candidates to win that job, as well as veteran free-agent acquisition Kurt Coleman. Andrew Sendejo had been considered a front runner, too, but he has started training camp on the PUP list and his return does not sound imminent. With players putting pads on for practice, beginning Sunday, every practice, every rep Sendejo misses is costly. Don't count out 2012 fifth-round draft pick Robert Blanton, though. Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards gave Blanton, who was teammates with Smith in college at Notre Dame, reps with the first team during mini-camp practices this summer. Blanton dressed for all 16 games last season, starting three in December. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder led the Vikings with 19 special teams tackles last season. In the season finale against Detroit, he started and recorded 14 tackles, the second-most in a game by a Viking last season (Sendejo had 17 vs. Washington). He was also credited with six pass breakups and two tackles for loss last year. 
 
4. Will the defensive ends hold up? The Vikings gave defense end Everson Griffen a five-year, $42.5 million contract in the offseason. They locked up DE Brian Robison a year earlier with a four-year, $28 million deal. That's a lot of money for guys who have never had a 10-sack season. Robison has been solid, recording 25.5 sacks over the past three years. Griffen has 17.5 in his four-year career. Last year, Robison appeared to shed his reputation of wearing down in the second half of seasons. He had eight of his nine sacks in the final nine games. The big question that will loom this season, though, is: Can they keep that up without Jared Allen's presence in the lineup? Perhaps Zimmer's scheme -- with pressure possibly coming from any direction on any given snap -- will help offset the loss of Allen. Griffen is saying all the right things, particularly that he thrives on and lives for the pressure he'll face this season. He'll be better against the run than Allen was, but, fairly or not, he'll likely be judged by the number of sacks he produces.
 
Extra Points: I made my first trip of this training camp to Mankato today and was reminded of a copule guys that you can count on seeing every year that make me chuckle or cringe, or both. These are guys to watch out for, and possibly mock, if you choose.
 
The first is Intense Fan. We've all seen this guy in the bleachers at MSU Mankato. He's the one who is so focused on a Day 2 training camp walkthru -- which, by the way, is nothing more than football players in jerseys and shorts, literally walking around and simulating game play -- that he can't be bothered by anyone or anything around him. "Honey, you have to keep the kids quiet! I'm trying to hear what's going on out there!" Intense Fan believes Jerick McKinnon will be a Pro Bowler because he witnessed first-hand McKinnon (wearing jerseys and shorts) catch a pass and run untouched to the end zone, while the defensive players (wearing jerseys and shorts) didn't even bother to pursue him. 
 
The second guy you'll see is Serious Security Guy. He's the guy who stands in the median on Stadium Road, halting traffic when a Vikings player or coach needs to cross the road from Myers Field House to the practice fields. Serious Security Guy will quickly and emphatically hold his arm straight out, with his palm facing you, making sure you know you need to stop your vehicle while a person is walking across the road, in a crosswalk. Once said person has safely crossed the road, SSG will start waving his arm toward you like he's telling you to hurry up and round third base because the throw is already at the cutoff man. I learned today that Serious Security Guy does not like it when you chuckle at him as you drive past while he's urging you toward home plate. 
 
Oh, there's also Sunburned Journalist Guy. He usually gets mocked by Intense Fan and Serious Security Guy. Feel free to join in. He can take it.

October 10, 2013

High School Football Picks | Week 7

FELDY: As usual, Phersy and I tried to gain some separation from one another in Week 6 by picking four games differently. As usual, nothing was settled. We both went 4-3. I'm still holding a slim two-game lead, at 29-13, while Phersy is 27-15.

Some good games on tap again this week. Phersy gets to pick first. Here are this week's games:

BIG NINE CONFERENCE

Rochester Mayo (4-2) at Winona (2-4)

SFA RED DIVISION

Lake City (3-3) at Plainview-Elgin-Millville (4-2)

Rochester Lourdes (5-1) at Kasson-Mantorville (6-0)

Byron (2-4) at La Crescent (1-5)

SFA WHITE DIVISION

Pine Island (4-2) at Zumbrota-Mazeppa (4-2)

SFA BLUE DIVISION

Rushford-Peterson (4-2) at Wabasha-Kellogg (3-3)

SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE

Spring Grove (6-0) at Grand Meadow (5-1)

* * * * * * * * * 

PHERSY: Yeah Feldy I went too far out on a limb last week. And it didn't pay off. I'm going to keep it short and sweet this week because I'm on the move ... gotta get down to Albert Lea for tailgating. :)

BIG NINE CONFERENCE

Rochester Mayo 21, Winona 13: Man, Winona is a juicy underdog against the banged-up Spartans. But I think they still get it done. Plus, Winona always gives Mayo trouble. But I gotta stick with Sparty.

SFA RED DIVISION

Lake City 27, Plainview-Elgin-Millville 16: Feldy, this is a sucker game. PEM with a better record and at home ... but I'm going with the team that is playing better right now.

Kasson-Mantorville 27, Rochester Lourdes 21: The Eagles have the best coach in the conference, but KM has way more talent. Their dominant offensive and defensive lines will control the game, and freshman QB Brady Berge gets better every week.

Byron 44, La Crescent 22: Byron is getting healthy. The Bears have their QB back now, and they'll roll.

SFA WHITE DIVISION

Pine Island 20, Zumbrota-Mazeppa 6: I'm loving road teams this week. Another tossup game.

SFA BLUE DIVISION

Rushford-Peterson 40, Wabasha-Kellogg 28: Am I missing something here?

SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE

Spring Grove 42, Grand Meadow 35: This game is going to be fun ... wish I could be there.

* * * * * * * * * 

FELDY: Lots of good ones this week, let's see if I can put a little more distance between me and Phersy.

BIG NINE
Mayo 27, Winona 20: The Winhawks have a way of playing the Spartans tough. Plus, who knows what Mayo's mindset is actually like after losing to Austin last week for the first time in nine years. It was an unexpected loss, but was it a wakeup call or a game that starts the Spartans on a tailspin?

SFA RED
P-E-M 29, Lake City 28: Yes, Lake City is playing very well right now. P-E-M hasn't given up more than 20 points in a game, though, except to an outstanding K-M team. LC's Elliot Cox will give the Bulldogs all they can handle, but P-E-M sneaks one out on its home field.

K-M 24, Lourdes 20: I went back-and-forth on this one about two dozen times. I'm still not convinced of who I should pick to win. Lourdes' defense has been outstanding this season, but K-M has been so good along the line on both sides of the ball. The KoMets big guys hide diminutive QB Brady Berge really well. How about, the team with the ball last wins. I'll go with K-M on its home field.

La Crescent 33, Byron 28: La Crescent has played pretty well against the top teams in the division. With its QB back and the team getting healthier, Byron's 'O' will put up some more points, but I'll take the Lancers in a mild upset.

SFA WHITE
Pine Island 32, Z-M 21: P.I. is 4-1 in the division with the only blemish a 6-point loss to a very good Triton team. Z-M's offense has been solid when it's had all of its top players, but I just like this P.I. team this season. Sorry in advance for the jinx, Panthers fans.

SFA BLUE
Rushford-Peterson 34, Wabasha-Kellogg 21: R-P is 4-2, W-K is 3-3. But R-P is better than that record indicates, with its two losses coming to two of the top teams in the state, Chatfield and Caledonia. The Trojans win this one by two scores.

SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE
Grand Meadow 34, Spring Grove 31: I'm banking on the SuperLarks being ticked about last week's loss to Lanesboro and ready to prove they're still one of the top 10 teams in the state.

September 27, 2013

High School Football picks | Week 5

FELDY: Last week was a tricky week. Neither Phersy nor I saw Austin beating Winona or Mankato East winning for the first time in a couple of years. I still managed to pick up a game on Phersy; I'm 20-8 overall, he's 16-12. Lots of good games this week that could go either way. Here are the games to watch this week. Phersy picks first:

BIG NINE CONFERENCE
Rochester JM (3-1) at Rochester Mayo (3-1)
Albert Lea (0-4) at Rochester Century (1-3)

SFA RED
Plainview-Elgin-Millville (3-1) at Kasson-Mantorville (4-0)
Rochester Lourdes (3-1) at Byron (2-2)

SFA BLUE
Rushford-Peterson (4-0) at Chatfield (4-1)

SFA WHITE
Pine Island (3-1) at Triton (3-1)
St. Charles (1-3) at Kenyon-Wanamingo (1-3)

* * * * *

PHERSY: Yeah, this is getting tough ...

BIG NINE CONFERENCE

Rochester Mayo 28, Rochester JM 22: This will be another classic in a long line of great games between these two schools. I've put a lot of stock in the Spartans this season, and hopefully, they continue moving in the right direction after the big win over Faribault.

Albert Lea 7, Rochester Century 6: Yep, I'm calling the upset. Injuries have ravaged an already thin Panthers team, and they have WRs playing quarterback.

SFA RED

Kasson-Mantorville 35, Plainview-Elgin-Millville 28: This is the best game of the week. KM has stumbled a bit, but the KoMets have survived to remain unbeaten. They'll get another tough test this week.

Rochester Lourdes 24, Byron 13: Lourdes bounced back last week after its first loss of the season. They have enough firepower to run past a dinged-up Byron club.

SFA BLUE

Chatfield 20, Rushford-Peterson 0: The Gophers' lone loss is a one-pointer to Caledonia. They've also had three consecutive shutouts. RP has a great defense, too, but the Gophers hold on.

SFA WHITE

Triton 24, Pine Island 16: This is a tough game to pick, but I'll go with the Cobras at home.

Kenyon-Wanamingo 40, St. Charles 39: Flip a coin ... I'll go with the home team.

* * * * *

FELDY: Lots of tough choices this week. Might have to toss a coin a few times...

BIG NINE

Mayo 24, JM 20: Mayo is finding its identity, starting to figure exactly what works for it and what doesn't. Plus, its line is improving each week, which will be crucial against a strong Rockets team. JM gets LB/QB Kaeleb Stangler back this week, which will be a huge boost. He'll give Mayo problems on both sides of the ball. This game is likely to determine the No. 2 seed in the Section 1AAAAA playoffs. Mayo wins this one -- but only if it can eliminate the penalties and mental mistakes that allowed Faribault to stay in the game last week.

Century 14, Albert Lea 8: Sounds like the Panthers will have a QB healthy enough to play this week. And there's some pride involved in this one; Century doesn't want to let Albert Lea get its first win of the year on the Panthers' home field. 

SFA RED

Kasson-Mantorville 29, P-E-M 26: P-E-M is a 1-point loss to Rochester Lourdes away from being undefeated. The Bulldogs will be the KoMets' toughest test yet, but they'll pass it -- in a close one -- on their home turf.

Lourdes 24, Byron 16: What a stretch for Byron -- P-E-M, Stewartville and Lourdes in consecutive weeks. This SFA Red Division is difficult every week. The Bears get up for this rivalry game, though, and they'll give Lourdes a battle, but the Eagles' defense will hold off Byron in the end.

SFA BLUE

Chatfield 23, R-P 7: R-P is a strong team, unbeaten through four weeks, but Chatfield is borderline elite this season -- bringing a 4-1 record into the game only because of a one-point loss to Caledonia in a Zero Week game. The Gophers' defense hasn't allowed a point in September.

SFA WHITE

Pine Island 19, Triton 17: Pine Island has scored 98 points in the past three weeks; Triton has allowed 7 in that same span. Something has to give. This is as big a game as the P.I. program has had for some time. I think they'll be up for it physically and emotionally and I'll take the Panthers in what some might consider a mild upset.

St. Charles 28, Kenyon-Wanamingo 24: I flip-flopped a few times on this one, so the coin settled it: The Saints get their second win of the season, their first on the road.

September 13, 2013

High School Football Picks | Week 3

FELDY: There are a couple of really big early-season games this week, none bigger than No. 1 Owatonna at No. 2 Mankato West in a game that could decide the Big 9 Conference champ. Phersy went 4-3 last week and is 8-6 overall; I was 6-1 and improved to 11-3.

Phersy picks first this week, so here are the games we'll predict in Week 3:

THIS WEEK'S GAMES

BIG 9 CONFERENCE
Owatonna (2-0) at Mankato West (2-0)
Winona (0-2) at Rochester Century (1-1) 

SFA
Plainview-Elgin-Millville (1-1) at Byron (2-0)
Stewartville (2-0) at Lourdes (2-0)
Cannon Falls (1-1) at La Crescent (1-1)
Lewiston-Altura (0-2) at Triton (1-1)

SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE
Mabel-Canton (1-1) at Lanesboro (1-1) 

*****

PHERSY: I hate picking second; you always pick a few just to be different. At least that's my excuse for stinking last week. I have no excuse this week ...

BIG 9 CONFERENCE

Owatonna 40, Mankato West 21: I know it's in Mankato, but I'll take Huskies to win big in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2. Owatonna is a more balanced team, and West doesn't have as many offensive weapons this season (after Claussen, there's a big dropoff at receiver).

Century 20, Winona 6: Battle of the bottom half of the Big Nine. Century doesn't have much, but Winona is really down.

SFA

Byron 15, Plainview-Elgin-Millville 8: The Bulldogs look like one of the better defensive teams in the SFA. But Byron will do just enough.

Stewartville 26, Lourdes 21: Stewartville is coming off of an impressive victory over Lake City, while Lourdes beat PEM by a point. Maybe this is a sucker game? Lourdes has the tools, but I love that Stewartville passing game.

La Crescent 28, Cannon Falls 14: La Crescent is back. It lost a close game to K-M last week, but the Lancers already have a win over Triton and they look much improved. Cannon Falls has great line play, but the Bombers need some skill players to step up.

Triton 19, Lewiston-Altura 6: This might be a better game than people think...

SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE

Lanesboro 34, Mabel-Canton 33: This might be the game of the week. But I learned my lesson. I'm not betting against Niko Anderson again. He's a monster on both sides of the ball.

* * *

FELDY: Lots of tough games this week. Maybe Phersy will be back in this thing come Week 4...

BIG NINE

Owatonna 35, West 21: Not only is this a matchup of the top two teams in the state, it's also likely a battle for the Big 9 title and, dare we say, a possible preview of the Class AAAAA state title game? The Huskies are just too good in every phase, though. They prove it tonight.

Winona 23, Century 12: The Winhawks have had a really tough start to the season, having to face Rochester JM and Owatonna in the first two weeks. They'll rebound this week against a Century team that struggled to get much going up front against Mayo last week.

SFA

P-E-M 18, Byron 15: P-E-M showed just how good it is defensively a week ago, when it limited a potent Lourdes offense to one touchdown in a 10-9 loss. The 'Dogs will try to slow down another strong offense (Byron averages 34 points per game through two weeks) this week, on the road. 

Lourdes 27, Stewartville 24: This isn't a bad upset special on your part, Phersy, picking Stewie to beat Lourdes, especially based off how they played last week. I think Lourdes received an early-season wake-up call, though. It doesn't matter how talented you are, you can't let down in practice or on game day, especially in an SFA Red Division that is strong from top to bottom. This is the Eagles' home opener; they'll go up by a couple scores in the third quarter and hold off a very good Stewie team in the fourth.

La Crescent 33, Cannon Falls 23: The Lancers pushed a really good Kasson-Mantorville team to the end last week at K-M. The Lancers return home this week and get a two-score win against the Bombers.

Lewiston-Altura 21, Triton 14: I went back and forth on this one before deciding on L-A in a slight upset. Sure, it's Triton's first home game and the Cobras are coming off a big win at Cotter last week. L-A played well in its opening loss to P-E-M despite the 26-9 score. The Cards are still searching for their first win; I think they get it this week.

SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE

Lanesboro 38, Mabel-Canton 30: The Burros get back on track after a tough loss to a top-10 team last week (Spring Grove). I still think Lanesboro shows up as the third-best team in a really good SEC, behind No. 8 Spring Grove and No. 2 Grand Meadow.

September 06, 2013

High School Football Picks | Week 2

FELDY: Well, Phersy, even though we picked three games differently in Week 1, we're still only separated by one game. My pick of Lanesboro to beat Houston was the difference between us last week. So, I'll take a 5-2 record into this week, while you're 4-3. Prepare to be down by at least four games after this week. Or up by four.

This week's games:

BIG NINE CONFERENCE

Rochester Century (1-0) at Rochester Mayo (0-1)

SOUTHERN FOOTBALL ALLIANCE

Chatfield (1-1) at Goodhue (1-1)

Lake City (1-0) at Stewartville (1-0)

Lourdes (1-0) at P-E-M (1-0)

Hayfield (2-0) at Fillmore Central (0-1)

SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE

LeRoy-Ostrander (1-0) at Grand Meadow (1-0)

Lanesboro (1-0) at Spring Grove (1-0)

• • •

FELDY: I'm going to pick first this week, then next week, I'll pick the games again, but Phersy will pick first, to get our rotation back on track. Here we go ...

BIG NINE

Mayo 30, Century 23: Mayo had a reality check last week against Owatonna, the best team in the conference the section, and one of the best in the state. Century enters with confidence and play care-free; truth be told, expectations are higher for the Spartans this season than the Panthers. With Century's balance on offense, this one will be closer than we might think.

SFA

Chatfield 35, Goodhue 21: The Gophers are one of the best teams in the state, with a one-point loss to powerhouse Caledonia the only blemish on their record. This is no knock on Goodhue; Chatty's just that good this season.

Lake City 38, Stewartville 28: Lake City had an offensive explo ... wait, Elliot Cox just scored again. The Tigers had an offensive explosion last week in a 56-12 win against St. Charles. Cox, a senior RB, put up video game-like numbers (137 rush yds, 102 rec. yds, 5 TDs) in the victory. He'll keep hitting the 'X' and 'Y' buttons repeatedly this week.

Lourdes 31, P-E-M 22: P-E-M had a very nice opening win last week against L-A, but Lourdes is so deep and talented, it'll be tough for anyone to knock off the Eagles in the regular season.

Fillmore Central 21, Hayfield 20: The Vikings are off to a solid start and they'll still play good football, but the Falcons will edge em this week to pick up their first win.

SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE

Grand Meadow 45, LeRoy-Ostrander 27: The Superlarks looked dominant last week, blowing out Lyle/Pacelli early. L-O got off to a nice start, with a convincing 46-6 win against Glenville-Emmons. The Larks will win this one on their home turf with a big opening half once again.

Spring Grove 38, Lanesboro 32: Can Spring Grove slow down the Niko Anderson Express? Can Lanesboro stop Spring Grove's high-scoring offense? This one could be a track meet; I'll take the home club in a close one.

• • • • •

PHERSY:Yeah, my inside source in the Nine-man community completely failed me last week. I told him, Niko, Niko, Niko! And he gave me some kind of bologna about Niko playing nose tackle and it hurting them. I'm never listening to that joker again!

Either way, I'm sure I'll erase the deficit quickly.

BIG NINE

Mayo 39, Century 7: OK everyone calm down about Mayo's blowout loss to Owatonna last week. They trailed by less than a touchdown at half. And Owatonna is darn good. I still think Mayo runs the table during the rest of its games. Sparty rolls this week.

SFA

Chatfield 28, Goodhue 15: Goodhue is in the process of rebuilding, and the Wildcats are a year away from contending for a conference title. But not tonight. Look for Jake Neis to roll up big yardage behind that fantastic offensive line.

Lake City 26, Stewartville 20: Yes, Elliot Cox is good, but how about Will Balow? He's a monster, on the mat and on the football field. He will lead the way as LC powers past Stewartville.

Lourdes 34, P-E-M 13: PEM is rebuilding, and the Bulldogs are probably going to have a tough time competing this year in a brutal conference. Lourdes just reloads. Look for the Eagles to continue their dominance.

Hayfield 13, Fillmore Central 7: The Vikings have me convinced. They're a legit contender for the No. 2 spot in the Blue after two impressive wins, including topping an improving Goodhue team. The Hayfield defense will keep it low-scoring and they will make a late play to win it.

SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE

LeRoy-Ostrander 29, Grand Meadow 27: UPSET OF THE WEEK! I said I wouldn't listen to my Nine-man guy again, but I lied. If this doesn't happen, I'm blaming him. And maybe TPing his house.

Spring Grove 30, Lanesboro 22: Can Spring Grove slow down the Niko Anderson Express? Yes. I bet against Niko once ... I probably shouldn't do it again. But Grove is a darn balanced team, and it handled a solid Mabel-Canton team last week.