Friday (Looking for Vikings and Gophers QB progress) edition: Wha’ Happened?

leidnerteddyTeddy Bridgewater turned 22 less than two weeks ago, yet he said this week he is ready to be the face of the franchise for the Adrian Peterson-less Vikings.

In two months, Gophers sophomore QB Mitch Leidner will turn 21, and already he carries the weight of expectations on his shoulders.

These two quarterbacks figure to play a major role in the fortunes of their teams for the rest of this season and the foreseeable future. Neither can do it alone. Both have shown flashes of being good at their respective levels. Both have shown they have a lot of room for improvement.

The fair way to judge each of them for the rest of this year and going forward will not be against the very best established QBs at their respective levels, but rather against themselves.

Are they making progress? That will be the question. Are they learning from their mistakes? That will be the key. Are they evolving to the point that their positives increasingly overtake their negatives? That will be the test.

But we can’t expect them to be what they are not yet — particularly when Bridgewater is playing behind a shaky offensive line and Leidner’s wide receivers remain a question mark.

We can wish that they had taken bigger steps already that might have allowed the Gophers and Vikings to pull off key wins last weekend against Ohio State and the Bears, respectively, but we can’t demand it this week in two more big games against Nebraska and Green Bay. All we can do is watch, wait and evaluate.

TFD: NFL’s Broncos are watching videos of animals attacking animals to prep for next game

matthewsIs the NFL violent? The NFL is violent.

Per USA Today, in their defensive meetings the Broncos often watch nature videos. But not so much the ones that depict natural wonders or beautiful lands. They’re more focused on the primal stuff, like watching videos of sharks coming out of the ocean to attack seals.

The shark video was just the latest installment of violent nature videos the Broncos defense has watched this season.

“It’s all aggressive animals going after animals that are not so happy about being pursued,” defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “It’s good stuff.”

So yes, never forget that professional football is a brutally violent sport for which watching animals killing animals is good preparation.

Former Shattuck hockey star and current NHL player Jack Johnson says he’s bankrupt, blames parents

jackjohnsonHere’s a bizarre and interesting story from the Columbus Dispatch about Jack Johnson, who played prep hockey for the elite Shattuck-St. Mary’s program in Faribault:

On the morning of Oct. 7, two days before the Blue Jackets opened the 2014-15 season, Jack Johnson left his Ferrari parked in the garage of his Dublin apartment and drove his BMW to a federal courthouse Downtown to file for bankruptcy. Johnson has earned more than $18 million during his nine-year NHL career, not including the $5 million he will be paid this season by the Blue Jackets.

Almost all of the money is gone, and some of his future earnings have already been promised — which is why Johnson, surrounded by a new team of financial advisers and an attorney, signed his financial surrender. The scene was nearly four years in the making, after a string of risky loans at high interest rates; defaults on those loans, resulting in huge fees and even higher interest rates; and three lawsuits against Johnson, two of which have been settled and one that’s pending.

“I’d say I picked the wrong people who led me down the wrong path,” Johnson, a 27-year-old defenseman, told The Dispatch last week. “I’ve got people in place who are going to fix everything now. It’s something I should have done a long time ago.” He has declined to comment further. But sources close to Johnson have told The Dispatch that his own parents — Jack Sr. and Tina Johnson — are among the “wrong people” who led him astray financially.

The story notes that Johnson’s bankruptcy filing lists assets of less than $50K and debts that are in excess of $10 million.

Crazy, sad story of what — according to the reporting in the story — is a case a pro athlete having no idea what to do with all his money and of his parents taking complete advantage of him.

Here’s the link to read the entire piece.

Thursday (Adrian Peterson and Ben Tate) edition: Wha’ Happened?

bentateFrom early on in 2007 through Week 1 of 2014, with the exception of a handful of games missed because of injury, you never had to ask what the Vikings’ plan was at running back. It started with Adrian Peterson, and that was as close to 100 percent of the answer as any team could hope. Sure, he had backups and the Vikings employed third down/blocking backs, but Peterson was the man. There was no running back by committee, unless one man can be a committee.

The Cleveland Browns have had no such luxury since 2007. Since that season and including this one, six different players have lead the team in rushing: Jamal Lewis, Jerome Harrison, Peyton Hillis, Trent Richardson, Willis McGahee and Terrance West.

West is the last name on the list and is fewer than 100 yards ahead of Ben Tate, who was signed to perhaps be the team’s feature back this season. Tate, of course, was released this week and picked up by the Vikings, who are almost certainly now going to be without Peterson for the rest of 2014.

Beyond that, the Vikings might be moving into a new era where they treat running backs like the Browns, Patriots, Broncos and so many other teams do these days: cycling through a bunch of them in the course of seasons and employing a committee approach during games. Peterson will be 30 before his NFL-imposed suspension is lifted, and as freakish an athlete as he is, NFL running backs have expiration dates and Peterson’s contract makes it very convenient (and prudent) to cut him or trade him before the 2015 season. Peterson’s off-field problems, in fact, could strangely make it easier in a way for the Vikings to sever ties without having it be purely a football or business decision.

But as encouraging as Jerick McKinnon’s rookie season has been at times, he is not Peterson. No one person is going to replace Peterson, and perhaps no one person should. Because as nice as it was for the Vikings to pencil him in for 20-25 carries a game for as long as they did, and for Peterson to deliver in the way that he did, today’s NFL does not demand a dominant running back. It demands an effective running game and an efficient, playmaking passing game.

There was only one Peterson, a gifted athlete who willed the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012 with a breathtaking season. There will always be a guy like Tate — with six career 100-yard games and two seasons over 750 yards to his credit — to grab in free agency or off the waiver wire to bolster a committee.

One is a convenient luxury (Peterson alone rushed for 4.5 yards per carry last season). One is an effective reality (the Vikings, primarily without Peterson this year, have averaged 4.6 yards per rushing attempt this year).

Now the Vikings are on the other side and might stay there for a long time.

TFD: Here’s a web site that will replace “Redskins” in your browser

redskinsA site calling itself Indigenous Peoples Web Skin offers a simple tool if you find yourself at odds with the Washington Team Nickname:

The word “Indigenous Peoples” is racist. Yet our nation’s capital plays host to an NFL organization that uses the term as its team name, the Washington Indigenous Peoples. It’s offensive. It’s unnecessary. And it needs to be replaced.

That’s where the Indigenous Peoples Web Skin comes in. Simply install the extension into your Safari, Chrome, or Firefox browser to replace the term “Indigenous Peoples” with a more dignified term on the web. And then sign the petition to make Dan Snyder replace the term with something more noble on the field.

It looks as though only the Chrome extension is up and running, with Safari and Firefox to follow. (No word on Netscape, but whatever).

If this tickles your fancy, here’s the link.

We installed it and used it on ESPN.com … it changed “Washington Redskins” to “Washington Indigenous Peoples.”

 

Report that Vikings won’t trade or release Peterson during suspension doesn’t mean a whole lot

petersonBart Hubbuch of the NY Post tweeted on Tuesday that according to a source the Vikings have no plans to release or trade Adrian Peterson during his suspension.

That’s a fine piece of information to get and dispense, but it doesn’t really amount to much when considering where Peterson and the Vikings stand long-term.

They couldn’t trade him this season even if they wanted to because the NFL trade deadline has passed. Next year? Peterson’s suspension is until April 15. There’s no reason or incentive for any team to try to trade for Peterson before then, nor is there any reason for the Vikings to trade him while he’s still suspended.

Release him? Again, there’s really no need to do that now. He’s being paid what he’s being paid this year (and not being paid for any games for which he is officially suspended and not just on the exempt list).

They can wait until after April 15 to cut them if they want to and still save big on the salary cap. Peterson is set to make eight figures again next season and technically has three years left on his contract, but that money isn’t guaranteed. The Vikings can cut him and have it count just $2.4 million against the cap.

Really the only reason to cut him now would be as a PR move. But even that would generate its share of backlash from fans who are in Peterson’s corner. While it would surprise us, the Vikings could end up keeping Peterson, we suppose.

And, as always, there is this: the Vikings could change their mind, or the source from the report could be wrong.

Wednesday (MLB patience and Torii Hunter’s return to the Twins?) edition: Wha’ Happened?

hicksAaron Hicks has 538 plate appearances over the past two seasons with the Twins, and in that time he has shown very little in terms of production. In 2013, as a rookie, he hit eight homers, but more than one of every four trips to the plate ended in a strikeout. Last year, he boosted his walks, cut down a little on the strikeouts, but any semblance of power basically vanished as he fluctuated between switch-hitting and going from just the right side.

It adds up to a .606 career OPS. He’s a gifted centerfielder, but many Twins fans question whether he will ever be a quality everyday player, let alone a very good one.

The answer they might not want to hear is this: patience, still, is key. That notion was hammered home by a very good recent piece in the Providence Journal about MLB prospects these days. While some arrive and have quick success (like Danny Santana), others require more time than ever to make the leap from the minors to the majors. There are multiple reasons for this, per the article:

The gap between Triple-A and the big leagues has never been larger,” Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington said. “You hear it from scouts. You hear it from major-league guys. You hear it from minor-league guys. That’s our biggest challenge — that gap becomes readily apparent when you see guys who have been dominant in Triple-A come up and struggle in the big leagues.”

Also:

More information than ever is available about prospects and their performance at various minor-league levels, boosting to unrealistic levels the expectations for their performance once they reach the major leagues — at which point more information than ever is available about their tendencies and weaknesses.

That’s not to say Hicks, or any other Twins prospect, will turn some magic corner in 2015 or beyond. It’s easier to believe in this happening with someone like Oswaldo Arcia, who has shown more flashes of competency and even downright brilliance at the plate than Hicks.

But it’s also a reminder that these things take time, perhaps now more than ever. Remember: Torii Hunter had about the same number of plate appearances in his career when he got to Aug. 1, 2000. He had just turned 25 — just like Hicks — and was hitting .190 with a .503 OPS in that season at the end of that day. For the rest of the year, he hit .355 with a .912 OPS. And from 2001-07, he was a lineup mainstay.

The Twins are said to be courting Hunter aggressively for a late career return to Minnesota. Our guess is that he would be brought in not only because he can still hit but because he can tell Hicks, Arcia and co. first-hand stories of turning a corner. It doesn’t always happen, but patience rewarded is a beautiful thing.

The strangely changing status of the Wolves’ Nikola Pekovic

pekSomething weird is going on with Wolves center Nikola Pekovic. Now, it might just be a series of strange coincidences or circumstances, but whatever it might be it strikes us as strange. Let’s follow the bouncing ball (or, more aptly, the big man not bouncing a ball):

That was during the Dallas game Saturday, after Pekovic had just two points (and zero field goals made) in 12 first-half minutes an then sat the entire second half in what appeared to be a benching. That followed a four-point, minus-24, 19-minute appearance in Friday’s blowout loss to New Orleans.

But after that Dallas game, Pekovic said his ankle had been bothering him — yes, the same one that kept him out of 28 of Minnesota’s final 38 games a season ago.

On Monday, Pekovic missed practice because of what was deemed a “personal situation” by head coach Flip Saunders, though the notion that he had an ankle injury was still being offered up.

On Tuesday at practice, Saunders reportedly said Pekovic hurt his wrist during the Dallas game and that the ankle isn’t the issue.

So we went from Pek being fine to play Saturday, per trainers and that tweet from the Wolves’ official PR staff … to Pek saying postgame his ankle was still hurting … to him missing practice Monday but for a personal situation while his ankle still hurt … to Tuesday, where we learn he apparently had a wrist injury in that Dallas game that will keep him out until next week.

Weird. Again, not sure what to make of it. But definitely strange.

We will say this: We had concerns about how Pekovic would fit into a Kevin Love-less team, and how his style of play would fit with the new Wolves in general, and there have been games this season where those concerns have been validated. He has a hard time passing out of double teams. He doesn’t protect the rim. He scores down low and works the offensive boards like a beast, which are valuable things, but he hasn’t topped 20 points in any game this season for a team that could use established scorers.

If he’s hurt, that could be an explanation, but it would be nice if the pieces added up in a more tidy fashion.

Jose Canseco says he is going to sell his severed finger on eBay

Jose Canseco shot his finger accidentally recently. (There’s a sentence we’ve never typed, but not one that we completely expected to never have to type).

Canseco’s mangled finger then fell off during a poker game. (Again, never typed it … but never ruled it out).

But this? this we never imagined: Canseco is planning to sell his severed finger on eBay and also wants it known that he will sell you the gun that did the deed. We’re just going to leave these two tweets from Jose right here: