Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Vikings drafted Southern Cal offensive tackle Matt Kalil with the fourth pick in the NFL college draft. The team traded down one notch to pick up extra picks. The Vikings chose Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith with their second pick and Central Florida cornerback Josh Robinson with their third pick. How did the team do?

-Dorr: Kalil appears to be the real deal and, barring injury, should give them a good left tackle for years, although he’ll still be a rookie this year and rookies often struggle in the NFL, no matter how good. I had never heard of the other two players but if you listened to GM Chris Spielman over the weekend, the Vikings have added quality players. Of course, no GM is going to say he made a bad pick. I know so little about those players that it’s hard for me to speculate on how well the team did in the draft. Check with me next December, or maybe in 2013.

-Marxhausen: The Vikings came into the draft knowing they had to address special needs and get some ripe young talent to fill the holes on defense and offense. I assumed that the Vikings were going to go with Morris Claiborne because the NFC North has big-name receivers on each team, with Calvin Johnson (Detroit), Brandon Marshall (Chicago) and Greg Jennings (Green Bay). The offensive line has been a main concern for years. Five years ago the Vikings had the most expensive offensive line the NFL could buy, and now they have to build that structure back up. Kalil is going to make an immediate impact for the Vikings and is going to protect Christian Ponder’s blind side. The Vikings showed ambition in this draft, which has been absent in many years past. Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson were arguably the best defensive backs at that time in the draft, so you can’t argue with picking the highest talent per position that is available.

-Larson:  Not much to argue with here and draft analysts say the Vikings did “pretty well.” With so many holes to fill any quality players should be an improvement. Kalil and Smith should become immediate starters and Robinson, who had the fastest “40” at the pre-draft combines, looks like he will at least see action on kick and punt returns. After the third round, the Vikings, as are the rest of the teams, are hoping to get lucky.

The team drafted a pair of Arkansas wide receivers but neither appears to be the down-field threat the team needs. Jeff, my friend in Texas, who is an expert on the Vikings, says the 900-pound gorilla in the Vikings camp is the running back position, where Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are coming off knee injuries. Right now that position looks a little thin, with the team crossing its fingers that both Peterson and Gerhart will be ready to go.

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•Question:  The University of Minnesota has hired Virginia Commonwealth University Athletic Director Norwood Teague to take over for the retiring Joel Maturi as Gophers AD. Some have complained that Teague comes from a school that did not have football. What do you think of the hire?

-Dorr: Again, I know nothing about Teague so it’s hard to make a guess on how well he will do. He’s  good at raising money, they say, and that’s a big part of being an AD these days, right or wrong. He claims to be a big hockey fan, which is a good thing, with hockey being as big as it is at the U (both teams in the final four of their sport this season, the women winning).  I don’t see any problem just because VCU didn’t have football. Either you can raise money and be a good AD, or you can’t and you aren’t. I didn’t think Maturi deserved all the criticism he has received. Now, will that bunch of critics also be critical of Teague? Stay tuned.

-Marxhausen: The main argument behind why Teague should not be here is because he did not work directly with football as VCU athletic director. Although I doubt we would see a difference in performance or record for the football team whether the Gophers had Maturi or no athletic director at all. Teague has worked with the programs at North Carolina, Arizona State and Virginia, all of which have a football team. For those who doubt he will be able to work with the football team, there is one statistic that I would like to make a reference to, and that is Minnesota has not been to the Rose Bowl in 50 years. It seems not many athletic directors have had much success with Gopher football. While at VCU, Teague more than doubled the annual athletic fund-raising and he has been part of the reason why VCU broke all-time basketball attendance records at Verizon Wireless Arena. At this point any change is a good change for the Gophers and they seemed to snag a commendable AD in the process.

-Larson:  My choice would have been either Gopher wrestling coach J. Robinson or Gopher baseball coach John Anderson. Both have been at the University a long time, both have been successful and both are familiar with Minnesota athletics. But, what does a sportswriter in Milaca know compared to a nationally-acclaimed firm paid to find a new University athletic director. You might think someone at the school would have been able to handle that task.

Would an automobile repair shop bring in a supervisor who is great with mufflers and tires but has never worked on an engine? I know, that’s a stretch. Also, VCU is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, a far cry from the Big Ten. Quick, name three schools who are members of the Colonial Athletic Association. Teague may prove to be a great fit. He comes in with a solid reputation as a hard worker who made big strides at VCU. But, we all know his success at Minnesota will be judged on the success or lack of success of the football program.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Timberwolves finished the season 26-40. After a promising start (21-19 when rookie guard Ricky Rubio went down with a knee injury) the team lost 13 of its last 14 games. What about this past season and what needs to be done before 2012-2013?.

-Dorr: Rubio and Kevin Love have to be healthy, Derrick Williams has to prove he was worthy of his lofty draft status, and the team needs to find a shooting guard. Also, get rid of Wes Johnson ($4 million salary), a bust as a high draft choice, and keep Michael Beasley ($6.2 million) because he can score. The team was definitely better until the late-season skid, prompted partly by the loss of Rubio. Things appear to be improving but there needs to be a breakthrough season in 2012-13 to prove the improvement was real.

-Marxhausen: Coach Rick Adelman needs to sit down with his players this offseason and make sure they are on the same page. I am not just talking about keeping in contact with players to see how they are doing, but to be actively involved with each individual player. The Timberwolves showed more progress than could have been imagined with the addition of Rubio and fellow rookie forward Derrick Williams. This young team needs to build some camaraderie and some stronger relationships so the team looks more sleek than it did last year. If there are any additions to be made, the team needs a shooting guard that can post up and shoot the ball on a dime. There were rumors of picking up Jamal Crawford from Portland, which would have been extremely beneficial had the Timberwolves not lost the momentum they carried with Rubio before his injury.

-Larson:  The team was entertaining the first two-thirds of the season and fans responded. And, I watched televised games right to the end. Was Rubio really so vital that the team went so deeply into the tank without him? Either way, there is still a lot of work to be done. Guard J.J. Barea, acquired from Dallas before the season, called out teammates for lack of effort and lack of focus at the end of the season. It’s likely his words were aimed at Michael Beasley, among others. Trade Beasley, even though he’s just 23 and can be dynamic. The perception is that he takes games off. Other teams may overlook his inconsistency. Experts feel the team need a shooting guard but it’s unlikely it will find one in the college draft.

The team made progress under coach Rick Adelman and general manager David Kahn should try to find players Adelman feels the team needs.

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•Question:  Make two picks as to which horse will win the Kentucky Derby Saturday?

-Dorr: I followed the Derby religiously for decades but don’t anymore. Gemologist is undefeated in five races but most of the early money is going down on Bodemeister and Union Rags, third in the Florida Derby. I’ll take Union Rags and Gemologist, in no particular order. For long shots I like the names Daddy Nose Best (16-1) and Daddy Long Legs.

-Marxhausen: My picks are I’ll Have Another and Daddy Nose Best.

-Larson:  I love going down to Canterbury Park at Shakopee and I hope to make a trip to Running Aces near Forest Lake this summer. Horse racing is such an exciting event.

My Kentucky Derby picks are Bodemeister and Daddy Nose Best. After the race I’ll Have Another.

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•Question:  Feel free to comment on the Minnesota Twins, who will begin a West Coast trip at Los Angeles tonight (Monday). The team managed to defeat Kansas City 7-4 Sunday to tie the Royals for the worst record (6-15) in the majors.

-Dorr: I was there for Sunday’s win and, like many others,  closed my eyes and hoped for the best when Matt Capps came in to pitch the ninth. Luckily, he directed two screaming line drives directly to left fielder Josh Willingham. Where do you start when commenting on the disastrous start by the Twins? I’d start with the team’s lack of situational hitting, led by the two highest-paid players, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Mauer has been especially lacking in that department, especially with a runner on third and no outs or one out. He takes fastballs to get behind on the count and then has to hit a curve or a change-up. Twice he left runners on third during the recent losing streak, the ball not leaving the infield either time. He rarely seems to try to hit the ball to the outfield, even when the situation demands it. And last week, on TV, Company Man Tom Kelly defended Mauer for taking pitches. Kelly knows baseball but believes in the 11th Commandment – you know, thou shalt not criticize Joe Mauer. (And someone should tell him he doesn’t have to make a comment after every pitch.)  The starting pitching has been horrible, of course, and how is that going to get better? Can those pitchers pitch like they did in 2010, and can the staff be as effective without Scott Baker? And, a bit off the subject, why did the team institute between-innings dancing contests and mascot races? If that’s the only way fans can be brought to the park, the team is really in trouble. Remember when the Twins, not playing well at all, lost three in Baltimore to open the season? Don’t look now but the Orioles are in first place in East, ahead of the Yankees and Red Sox. Maybe the Twins weren’t (aren’t?) as bad as we thought. Or, maybe they’re worse than we thought. One last thing: Why did the manager wait so long to insert the right-handed Josh Willingham between Morneau and Mauer, two lefties? That was a no-brainer when the season began. One more thing, at midnight Monday: Does this sound familiar” Joe Mauer missed Monday’s game with a sore knee and Justin Morneau left the game, after striking out twice, with an injury to his previously-injured wrist.

-Marxhausen: Can there be something said to Twins players other than the simple words “play better?” The addition of Josh Willingham seems to be panning out really well as he is currently leading the team in every offensive category except total number of hits, which is only because he has had less at-bats than Denard Span and Joe Mauer. Except for those three players, the Twins do not have much going on offense. The bullpen has had some positives with Alex Burnett, Jeff Gray and Jarod Burton, who all have played at least pitched in 10 games and have an ERA of 1.42, 1.86 and 2.70, respectively. Quality starting pitching has been hard to come by, with the starters being unable to go deep into games.

-Larson:  Twins TV commentator Bert Blyleven cut back his schedule for the 2012 season. Give Bert credit – he knew what was coming down the road. While we won’t hear him say it, he knew the team’s starting pitching was in dire straights. And, I never thought I’d be longing for Blyleven’s return, but hurry back Bert! Mr. Kelly’s commentary can be agonizing, especially the “Mr.” part (Mr. Mauer, Mr. Valencia, etc.).

Boston (11-11 after a bad start), Detroit (11-11 after a good start), the Los Angeles Angels (8-15 after tipping the Twins Monday) and Philadelphia (11-12)  are teams picked to be division winners/playoff contenders but so far have struggled. They have the tools to straighten things out. The Twins don’t.

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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