Here’s a baffling take about the ‘poised for more success’ Vikings O-line

Back in the golden age of blogs — pre-Twitter, about a decade ago, when the comments section was GOLD — a common format for a post was “look at this ridiculous thing someone wrote, and now I shall proceed to tear it apart.”

That sort of thing has diminished quite a bit as sites have moved toward more original content and their own TAKES. This blog, I suppose, is no different in that transition.

To post something now in a negative light about something someone else has written, it needs to meet a pretty high threshold.

And folks, this NFL.com piece has cleared that bar by a wide margin. This is Dick Fosbury flopping over a curb.

It was pointed out to me, by the way, by podcast listener Steven, who used his VERY FIRST TWEET OF 2018 to note it.

The headline: “Three effective lines poised for more success in 2018.” These are all offensive lines. The first two: Saints and Jaguars. I don’t have enough depth of knowledge of either team to debate that, but I’ll say sure, fine, OK.

The third of the three, though, is very much in my wheelhouse since I rant about it almost every week on the Access Vikings podcast (and did again this week, if you care to listen).

Maybe author Nick Shook is right and almost all the rest of us are wrong. But yes, he picked the Vikings’ O-line as one of his three improved lines poised for more success in 2018.

The Vikings part starts:

I wanted to place Tennessee in this position, but with a postseason knee injury keeping Jack Conklin sidelined, the Titans will have to wait for such recognition. In the meantime, we’ll look to a team that has undoubtedly earned this praise, even as it sorts out its starting five ahead of Week 1.

Usually a team worthy of undoubted praise has its line figured out with two weeks to go before the regular season, but continue:

Shook correctly says better line play was a huge key for the Vikings last year (agree!) He then declares the projected starting five of Riley Reiff, Tom Compton, Pat Elflein, Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill to be “not a bad group,” which is debatable but not far-fetched. Last year’s line, with Easton and Joe Berger at guard and Remmers at right tackle, was flat-out better.

But it’s conceivable this line could be fine IF Elflein is actually healthy (big if), if Compton is a serviceable replacement for Nick Easton (decent-sized if), if the Vikings don’t miss Berger as much as I think they will (good-sized if) and if the Remmers/Hill combo on the right side is really the best idea after Remmers was a pretty decent tackle last year and is now sliding to guard in order for Hill to play (medium-to-big-sized if). But other than questions on four-fifths of the line, things are good.

Where most Vikings fans are truly worried, though, is with depth. Berger is retired. Easton is injured. Elflein has been slow to return. Rookie second-round pick Brian O’Neill would ideally be getting what amounts to a redshirt year. But Shook is not shaken:

Minnesota’s true strength, though, lies in its depth, which has already been tested. Behind Hill at right tackle is rookie Brian O’Neill, and both guard positions have solid backups in the veteran Compton (now a starter) and second-year lineman Danny Isidora. Should the Vikings suffer an unfortunate injury — they did with the loss of Nick Easton to neck surgery, which necessitated the insertion of Compton at left guard — they have the luxury of a reliable veteran and promising youngster to replace them, which is key for a contender when the unexpected happens.

I agree it is key for a contender to have reliable backups. I’m far from convinced the Vikings are in that position.

The very last line is the one that I am worried is going to kill my good friend and original blog commenter @ChikenFingerz69. It reads:

Things are looking up, right through that transparent roof at U.S. Bank Stadium, with much thanks due to how GM Rick Spielman has built Minnesota’s offensive line.

Or, as I would say, “The biggest thing standing between the Vikings and a possible Super Bowl berth is their questionable offensive line depth.” To each their own.

That bogus penalty? Vikings’ Antwione Williams says he was fined, too

Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, on a day where we suspect you will have a much easier time getting to and from the State Fair. Let’s get to it:

*The NFL’s new rules on helmets and late hits put the league, once again, in a no-win position. The goal of player safety is a good one. The rule itself is confusing (at best) and satisfies nobody.

The folks who want the sport to be as violent as it was a generation ago, before football’s dangers were fully known and exposed, consider the new rules a travesty. Fans who think football is way too violent won’t be appeased. The middle ground sees a confusing product in which games could be decided more and more by the judgment of referees. And the players don’t know what to do.

It makes the NFL an easy (and justified) target, which is what happened after the Vikings’ Antwione Williams was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty at a critical (OK, critical in the context of the preseason) juncture against Jacksonville.

“THIS IS ROUGHING THE PASSER IN THE MODERN NFL?” everyone screamed in unison.

Twitter rage aside, it was a borderline call (at best). If you look from certain angles at slower speeds, Williams drives the QB to the ground and kinda sorta lands on him. Under the new rules, you could make a case that it’s a penalty. At regular speed, the way football has been played for generations, it’s a perfect tackle — hard but clean.

What we should all agree on is that at any speed, the play did not warrant any further discipline.

So here’s your chance to get outraged again: Williams said Thursday on Twitter that he was fined for the play. No, really.

Williams also replied, “wild, right” to someone who commented that the fine was weak.

If the question in the NFL for a few years was, “What is a catch?” the question now appears to be, “What is anyone allowed to do, ever?”

*E-mailer Jim points out an oddity from last night’s Twins 6-4 win over Oakland: Every Twins batter who had an official at-bat had exactly one hit. Not zero. Not two or more. Just one each. Bobby Wilson walked and was officially 0-for-0 before leaving with an injury.

*E-mailer John and I will have to agree to disagree about the Minneapolis Miracle. He writes: “Enough already. There was a ‘Saints Stumble’. He tripped over his own two feet giving Vikes 6 free points and the right to meet a real football team in Philadelphia. No cup cake schedule this year, no cheap shot on Rodgers. Long way from playing in Feb 2019.”

I have a hunch John roots for the Packers. That said, he’s right about this season. The schedule is harder, including two likely games against Rodgers. If the Vikings win 11 this year, it will be an accomplishment.

GM Fenton: Not trading with teams trying to rip off the Wild

When the Wild hired general manager Paul Fenton as Chuck Fletcher’s replacement three months ago, there was an assumption that significant roster moves would follow this offseason.

While Fenton’s initial news conference brought several assurances that the Wild just needed to make minor adjustments to its roster instead of overhauling it, it also brought these words from Fenton: “I’ll look at small trades. I’ll look at big trades. Whatever is going to improve this organization going forward to give us a chance to win the Stanley Cup, we’re going to look.”

For the last two months, though — starting with the late June draft and continuing through free agency — the narrative started to take shape in a different way. Fenton didn’t swing any big moves at the draft, and the outside free agents brought in were more about depth than splash.

“If we go into the season like that with the acquisitions and the character-type signings we’ve made, then I’m OK with it,” Fenton said after a flurry of those signings in early July, pledging at the time to keep looking at bigger moves.

After Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker re-signed in late July, Fenton said, “Right now, I’m very comfortable with the lineup we have.”

But what Fenton hadn’t offered until Wednesday was much of an explanation as to why he hadn’t struck any major deals.

During a “Town Hall” from Xcel Energy Center that was also shown on Fox Sports North, Fenton was asked by FSN’s Anthony LaPanta about the trade market and the expectations of fans going into the offseason.

After a somewhat convoluted analogy that included two separate card games (poker and war), Fenton got to the point: he hasn’t made any trades because there haven’t been any good deals to make.

More specifically: Other teams have been trying to take advantage of the Wild and rip the team off during a time of transition.

“(Other GMs) know that we don’t know our team as well as we want to yet, so they’re trying to steal things is what they’re trying to do,” Fenton said. “I guess I don’t blame them, but they’re not going to get anything.”

It was an interesting and honest reply, and one that indicated the Wild hasn’t even really come close to a trade this offseason. (Full video of that segment is here).

Standing pat under those circumstances is understandable and prudent, but it’s dangerous — if we can continue the card game analogy — to overplay that hand.

Most people who have observed the Wild closely or even from a distance seem to agree that the roster needs more than the “tweaks” suggested by both Fenton and owner Craig Leipold at Fenton’s introductory news conference. Many of the same players have been a part of six consecutive playoff berths, none of which went further than the second round.

Most people would also agree, though, that the regular season hasn’t been the problem for the Wild. Minnesota has posted back-to-back 100-point seasons under Bruce Boudreau, only to get dumped in five games in the first round both times.

Fenton’s best chance for a blockbuster trade might come in February as the trade deadline approaches — after he’s had a chance to better evaluate the roster and contracts he inherited, and when other teams might be the ones who look desperate.

Fletcher’s playoff-bolstering moves often left a lot to be desired. If Fenton can prove to be the better GM — and poker player — in that situation, maybe he’ll still get the last laugh.

The ‘Minneapolis Miracle’ is the only bobblehead you really need

We’re about 10-15 years removed from the peak of the intense bobblehead craze during which fans would line up outside stadiums for hours (or days) to get their hands on the must-have items.

But that’s not to say the dolls are no longer popular or relevant.

If they weren’t popular, would there be a National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, founded a couple years ago and headquartered in Milwaukee?

And if they weren’t relevant, would that very same Hall of Fame have released a bobblehead of January’s Minneapolis Miracle hookup between Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs?

Those answers are obviously “no,” as a result you can purchase a limited edition (1,000 of them at $60 apiece) bobblehead of that very description produced by FOCO. Per the news release:

The Minneapolis Miracle was one of those plays that gives a sports fan chills and that you remember forever,” said Phil Sklar, Co-Founder and CEO of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. “As soon as Diggs crossed the goal line and after seeing the euphoria at U.S. Bank Stadium, we knew a bobblehead would be a perfect opportunity to commemorate the play forever. This is one of those bobbleheads that fans will hand down to their kids when they tell them about the amazing game.”

The initial production batch of 180 bobbleheads sold out, but orders are being taken for the remaining 820 with delivery by December.

As for the artwork, I’d say they captured Keenum’s appearance pretty well and definitely put Diggs in the right pose, though I’m not sure they quite captured the spirit of Diggs’ face.

Bridgewater’s surgeon: Knee was ‘mangled,’ like a ‘war wound’

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where hopefully you are between meals. Let’s get to it:

*We’re one week away from the two-year anniversary of the awful knee injury that changed the trajectory of Teddy Bridgewater’s career as well as the Vikings’ path.

Without that injury, there is no Sam Bradford trade. There is no Case Keenum, no Minneapolis Miracle and no Kirk Cousins. And Bridgewater, had he stayed healthy, would probably be the Vikings QB on a loaded team with Super Bowl aspirations instead of with the Jets — wondering where (and if) he will get to play this season, as trade rumors swirl.

The two-year mark is a key one, as we learned from a revealing ESPN.com story in which the surgeon who performed Bridgewater’s massive knee procedure talked — with Teddy’s permission — about the process and journey for the first time.

The surgeon, Dan Cooper, did not mince words.

“It was just a horribly grotesque injury,” Cooper said. The good doctor was talking about the quarterback’s left knee, which had exploded without warning nine days earlier while Bridgewater was dropping back to pass, untouched, in a Minnesota Vikings practice. “It’s mangled,” Cooper said. “You make the skin incision, and there’s nothing there. It’s almost like a war wound. Everything is blown.”

Cooper, the Cowboys team physician, was recommended by Bill Parcells. He performed two surgeries — the first major one lasting more than four hours while he repaired the mangled knee. It was hanging together by one ligament, the doctor said. Cooper fixed Bridgewater’s ACL and then five more ligaments. He then transplanted one of Bridgewater’s hamstring tendons to his knee.

It’s certainly the worst knee dislocation in sports I’ve ever seen without having a nerve or vessel injury,” Cooper said. “It’s an injury that about 20-25 percent of NFL players are able to come back from. … It’s a horrific injury. You’ve torn every single thing in your knee.”

But here’s Bridgewater, almost two years later, with two strong preseason showings under his belt and the chance to play for the Jets or get traded to a QB-needy team. I don’t know anyone rooting against him.

This surgery was an absolute gut test, a test of what you’re made of, and I’ve seen it break people down,” Cooper said. “I never saw it break Teddy down. … Most people have no idea the volume of the workload this kid had to put in. He had a toothpick of a leg he had to rebuild.”

*Urban Meyer was suspended three games by Ohio State for his handling of former assistant Zach Smith, a half-measure that was a compromise at its worst. A good middle ground satisfies both sides. A bad one makes everyone angrier. This appears to be the latter. SI’s Andy Staples has a good take on it.

*Here’s two things I learned in one tweet:

Kirk Cousins is new here, ‘kind of sat around’ on his 30th birthday

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins turned 30 on Sunday, which is the age you turn when you think you’re getting old but really you aren’t.

Nonetheless, it’s a milestone birthday. When my wife turned 30, we rented out the 7th Street Entry for a private karaoke party. It remains one of the greatest achievements of our lives.

Cousins, though, is kind of new to town. He also seems like a pretty laid-back guy outside of football. So what did he do on his birthday? Well, the night before, after the Vikings played Jacksonville, he went to eat at Portillo’s and violated about 37 parts of his diet (which is totally worth it).

Beyond that?

“(I) just kind of sat around on Sunday on my birthday,” Cousins said Wednesday. “As we were leaving the other night and the coaches said, ‘Quarterbacks, can you stay? Do you have anywhere to be?’ I looked at him and said, ‘I have no life here. I am here to play football for the Minnesota Vikings. I don’t have a whole lot else going on. You let me know. I’ll be here.’ I found that to be true on my birthday as well. I sit around, I have the free time but I don’t really know what to do. I haven’t really built that much of a life here yet so it was kind of funny.”

Kind of funny but also a little sad. Maybe circle next Aug. 19, 2019 on your calendar. Don’t let Cousins sit around the house. Go find him and make sure he’s properly celebrating 31 since his 30th fell during the period where he is a football-playing robot for the Vikings.

Also: Be sure to listen to the new Access Vikings podcast, which just went live earlier this afternoon.

Lynx can survive post-Whalen era, but they need more from Moore

The dominant storyline at the end of this Lynx season — and rightfully so — has centered around the retirement of all-time great Lindsay Whalen.

She’s been in many ways the heart and soul of four WNBA championship teams, and her retirement — announced last week and then hastened by a first-round playoff exit Tuesday against Lost Angeles — is significant on multiple levels.

Not only does it leave the Lynx without one of their cornerstone players for really the first time since this dynasty started in 2011, it also invites even more questions about the future. Will Rebekkah Brunson follow Whalen into retirement? How much longer will 34-year-old Seimone Augustus play, and at what level?

Those are important questions that strike at the heart of what the Lynx will look like going forward and whether they can remain legitimate contenders.

But for as much as the age of the Lynx and the inevitable questions of when time would catch up with them have dominated the discourse, perhaps the more pressing and potentially troubling question is this: What was wrong with Maya Moore this season?

For whatever reason, Moore never really found a groove this season — a rut punctuated by a subpar performance in Tuesday’s 75-68 loss. She finished 6 for 15 from the field and missed all her field goal attempts in the fourth quarter while also missing two crucial free throws that might have changed the outcome. The Lynx were outscored by 10 points when she was on the court. With a standout performance from Moore, the Lynx might still be playing.

It was a microcosm of the season, which saw Moore shoot 42.3 percent from the field and 83 percent from the free throw line (both three points below her career average) and slip to 2.6 assists per game (tied for lowest in her career with her rookie year).

Moore’s advanced numbers were even more damning: Her net rating — the difference between the points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions while she was on the court — was just 3.1. Each of the last two seasons, she was above 17. Her true shooting percentage, which factors in free throws and three-pointers, was a career-low 50.8. She was at 56.1 last season and has been as high as 62.4 percent in her career.

Moore was still good and arguably the best player on the Lynx. Along with teammate Sylvia Fowles she was named to the all-WNBA second team — meaning she was still one of the 10 best players in the league. But that was after five consecutive years on the first team and a league MVP award in 2014.

Moore played in every game — she’s only missed one in eight seasons — but perhaps the WNBA’s condensed schedule this season wore her down? Maybe she was fighting a behind-the-scenes injury? Perhaps defenses were able to key on her more with older teammates contributing less?

Those are all valid potential explanations for why a 29-year-old who should be at the peak of her otherworldly abilities had what was, for her, a down year.

Everything about Moore’s makeup and work ethic suggests that whatever happened this year will be erased — and then some — in 2019. If Moore comes back better than ever, she and Fowles can still carry a rebuilt Lynx squad to new heights.

But we saw what happened this year when Moore was merely good and the supporting cast wasn’t as consistent. The Lynx were still good enough to be a playoff team, but flawed enough to make an early exit.

Going forward, the Lynx will need Moore more than ever.

Columnist: Football training deaths are college problem and coaches are ‘killers’

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Let’s get to it:

*Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins came out with some strong words about the culture in college football that led to the death of Maryland’s Jordan McNair. She praises the NFL for learning from the tragic death of Vikings lineman Korey Stringer in 2001, noting the league hasn’t had any heat exertion deaths since then. Jenkins then writes:

Heatstroke didn’t kill Jordan McNair; the berserk excesses of coach DJ Durkin and his staff did. … You know how many kids NCAA football coaches have killed with conditioning drills in that same period? Twenty-seven. I say “kill” because that’s what it is when tyrants force captive young men to run themselves to death out of their own outdated fears of weakness. Why is the NCAA tolerating this kill rate, which is unmatched at any other level of football?

Now, at this point it’s fair for me to point out — which Jenkins did not — that there are close to 700 NCAA football teams across Division I (FBS and FCS), Division II and Division III. There are more than 20 college football teams for every NFL team. So this could be as much of a math problem as a culture difference when comparing the two.

But it’s also important to QUICKLY point out that even one death is unacceptable, tragic and preventable. And there is evidence cited by Jenkins to suggest the mentality of college programs and hyped up coaches are to blame. College coaches wield an immense amount of power — even more so than NFL coaches, who are dealing with older and well-compensated athletes — and where there is power there is bound to be abuse.

They get to dictate these things, and we get to keep burying athletes until we make definitive changes to the culture,” said Douglas Casa, a kinesiologist who serves as CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut.

*There were a number of Lindsay Whalen tributes as the final seconds ticked away and the Lynx lost 75-68 to Los Angeles in the playoffs on Tuesday, and judging by my Twitter feed there were a ton of people who stayed up to watch even as the hour approached midnight.

I’m not sure what’s left to be said about Whalen, so how about this: She is the single most defining Minnesota athlete of this generation, and the fact that she’s been successful in every phase of her career should give Gophers fans great hope. Nobody even has to pause when it comes to following her career. She’s immediately on to the next chapter, a rare treat for everyone involved.

*There has been a great deal of discussion and at least a semblance of progress regarding athletes and mental health. But there is still a ways to go if the default setting is to praise the likes of NBA players DeMar Derozan and Kevin Love for sharing their stories … while moments later scrolling through your news feed and dismissing (or laughing at) NFL lineman Richie Incognito.

Lynx fan asks for help buying ticket, gets one from Cheryl Reeve instead

So here’s a fun story that played out in a few acts on Twitter.

Act 1: A Lynx fan living in Los Angeles tried to buy tickets online for Tuesday’s playoff game between the Lynx and Sparks but ran into road blocks. So she asked for help.

It was a pretty simple request, but she definitely tagged the right people.

She received two replies: one from the Sparks directing her to where she could buy tickets … and one nine minutes earlier from Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, asking her how many tickets she needed.

And upon finding out the fan just needed one ticket, Reeve decided she would just take care of it herself.

We’ll see if there is any good karma awaiting the Lynx when they play the Sparks at 9:30 p.m. in a one-game, winner-take-all playoff opener.

Mariucci Arena opened 25 years ago today (and has aged nicely)

A nice find from Gopher Puck Live made me feel old and also sent me scurrying through the archives today: It was 25 years ago — Aug. 21, 1993 — that Mariucci Arena celebrated its grand opening with a Gophers men’s hockey alumni game.

It makes me feel old because I took an unofficial campus tour of the U of M between my junior and senior years of high school, right as the building was being finished. That doesn’t feel like 25 years ago — nor does Mariucci Arena look 25 years old. It’s held up quite nicely, albeit with some recent renovations and a name change to “3M Arena at Mariucci.”

Per the Star Tribune archives, there was a good deal of political arm wrestling that happened before the new facility was built. If you’ll recall, the Gophers shared Williams Arena with the men’s basketball team starting in 1950, playing in the half of the building formerly known as the Sports Pavilion (now the Maturi Pavilion). Their side was renamed in honor of Gophers legend John Mariucci in 1985, but as the program continued to grow a new space was discussed.

Per a 1990 Star Tribune story, there was a movement afoot to move both Gophers men’s hockey and basketball to St. Paul at one point.

St. Paul’s drive to capture big-time college athletics accelerated Thursday when city leaders announced that they will make a play to move University of Minnesota hockey and basketball to the downtown Civic Center. Mayor Jim Scheibel said he will tell university regents next week of plans to convert the 17-year-old Civic Center into a permanent home for Gopher hockey and basketball. The teams have played nearly all of their home games on the university’s Minneapolis campus for more than 60 years. “We believe it’s a good fit,” Scheibel said yesterday. “It’s good for the city of St. Paul and it’s good for the university. It opens up a lot of opportunities.”

By 1991, though, plans were underway for the new Mariucci.

Per another Star Tribune archive story: The goal for the new hockey arena that will be built at the University of Minnesota is to provide players with the finest facility in the country. And fans will be treated to the best sightlines in hockey, a major improvement from Mariucci Arena. The official design for the arena was unveiled Friday night. Fans will walk in and take escalators to the concourse level, which will circle the top of the seating area with an open view because concession stands and restrooms will be on the outer wall. There will be about 8,500 seats, with room for about 9,600 including standing room, but those in seats will steeper sightlines than Met Center, which is considered excellent by most standards.

When discussing the $17.5 million arena, which will be built across the street to the immediate north of Mariucci Arena and will be ready for the 1993-94 season, Gophers coach Doug Woog says: “It will be the best hockey arena in the country.”

Bigger and arguably better college hockey facilities have been built since then, but Mariucci remains among the best. And 25 years ago, it had a debut worth of its stature.