Mike Tice’s Blind Spot

Okay, I was wrong. When I said yesterday that the game against the 49ers wouldn’t be a test of anything at all, I was wrong. I admit it. It was a test for kicker Aaron Elling, and he failed.

I feel for the guy; even moreso as he sounds like a stand-up guy, which the Strib’s Mark Craig pionted out in his piece today by saying that "Elling didn’t duck any question after the game." That’s getting rarer and rarer these days. Still, the guy is having problems and there’s no reason they need to be our problems.

Mike Tice didn’t want to answer questions about his inaccurate kicker after the game but he had to acknowlege that Elling was an issue, saying "we can’t continue to go down this vein." Or keep opening that vein. Tice voiced his annoyance with Elling but did pull his punches. VikingUpdate appeared to be charitable by appending a question mark to their Elling on the bubble headline cause I’dve figured that after that performance, Elling was a sure-fire goner. Again, I’m wrong because ESPN has reported that Tice is going to give the guy another chance:

"If he comes back and nails his kickoffs and hits his PATs, then I’m just chalking (Friday’s performance) up as, he had a bad week," Tice said.

[You can throw your hands up now.]

It is time for Tice to look in the mirror and face the fact that he has a blind spot when it comes to evaluating kicking talent. It’s okay–Dennis Green‘s blind spot was much more damaging; he couldn’t evaluate defensive talent–just recognize the fault and address it. By finding a replacement for Elling.

The Vikings do have rookie kicker Dan Orner on the roster who has kicked a 46-yarder. But apparently, the coaches aren’t convinced in his leg-strength for kickoffs. But it’s not like Elling could possibly be any better; one of his kickoffs landed at the twenty on Friday.

Dominance & Submission

It was nice to see the Vikings completely dominating the 49ers. Not that it wasn’t expected but so often in the past we’ve seen the team struggle against teams they should beat. It has also been a long time since I’ve seen the Vikings look so crisp from the opening kickoff. If they play that way against poorer teams in the regular season, we’ll be just fine.

Looks like Tice was prescient by insisting on holding on to all his running backs when Ricky Williams left the Dolphins because it now appears that Michael Bennett‘s sprained kneee is worse than originally thought and he’ll be out from one to three weeks. It is enormously reassuring in retrospect that Mewelde Moore has looked so good this preseason.

Online Buzz – Vikings vs. 49ers

Don’t expect this game to be a test of anything, least of all our depth at secondary. The 49ers were a bad team when they had Tia Streets, Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens. They are a worse team now that they’ve lost them. Add to that the fact that they are a injury-plagued team right now (minus the frontline quarterback, center, defensive lineman and their one recognizable star, linebacker Julian Peterson). It is what it is and we’ll find out what it is tonight.

Online Showdown – Most Popular Searches

The Vikings are far more popular online (according to search popularity) than the 49ers, with 1906 searches related to the Vikings being performed over the past sixty days versus 1624 for the 49ers. (Read my methodology here.)

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Click for larger version of Most popular searches - Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers

When it comes to player-versus-player searches, Brock Lesnar is again the hands on favorite for the second week in a row, beating out not only Randy Moss, 1651 to 739, but also just edging out the entire 49ers team. Ouch! Daunte Culpepper beats both of the 9ers QBs and the only area where the 49ers beat the Vikings is on searches for the teams’ first round draft choices, with San Fran’s Rashaun Woods beating out the Vikings’ Kenechi Udeze 53 to 11:

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Click for larger version of player searches - Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers

Vikings Back Up Centers

The importance of depth at center became apparent to the Vikings during the Falcons game when, with Matt Birk already out with an injury, Cory Withrow suffered a concussion on the first play of the game, forcing third-string center Billy Conaty into the game. As the Strib‘s Kevin Seifert points out in his piece today, the Vikings didn’t miss a beat with Conaty manning the line.

Seifert goes on to report what a pleasant surprise Conaty has been to Tice and the other coaches and says that the center could become a nice piece of trade bait, possibly commanding a conditional late-round draft pick.

Or, maybe, a back-up corner? That’d be nice.

But how ’bout this scenario that, surprisingly, Seifert didn’t broach?

Seifert reports that Conaty is also a long-snapper. In the article, he says that Tice could keep as many as 10 lineman, but carrying three centers is luxury few teams can afford. Tice has complained about incumbent long-snapper Brody Lilliard, whom he says has a hitch in his snap. And, in order to spur Lilliard to fix his hitch, he brought in Cullen Loeffler to compete with Lilliard.

Well, if you’ve got a guy who so far has cost you nothing, who’s proven to be a quick study in picking up the offense, who’s proven himself capable of handling the duties of a center during much of a preseason game, and who is a long-snapper, why not have Conaty compete for the long-snapper position?!? If he wins the job, you’ve got your long-snapper (minus the hitch) and you’ve got an emergency center you can feel confident about. And you’ve got an extra roster spot to boot!

Is it just me, or is that a no-brainer?

Marcus Robinson Hurt, Again

Kevin Seifert‘s piece in the Star Tribune today is headlined "Injury talk irritates Robinson." Well, that’s funny cause it sure as hell is irritating me and I’m sure plenty of other Vikings fans. Especially the injury talk coming out of Robinson’s own mouth, the talk that says he needs to be 100% before he can play. The Pioneer PressBob Sansevere properly tears into Marcus Robinson for his primma donna attitude over what Coach Mike Tice calls a "mild, mild [hamstring] strain." Sansevere quotes Tice’s dripping sarcasm regarding his new number three receiver:

"He’s one of those gifted athletes who I guess needs to be right all the time. I’ve never been right, so I don’t know what it would be like to be 100 percent. I guess he feels like in order to have his great abilities come through, he wants to feel better than he’s feeling.”

Robinson, however, seems oblivious to Tice’s obvious irritation , telling Sansevere "When I go out there on Sunday, I need to be 100 percent. If you can’t run 100 percent in this offense, you’re not going to make it.”

Dude, you just signed a four-year, $9 million contract. You’re playing opposite the most talented receiver in the world–a zillion times more talented than you–and who will make you better by the mere fact of his presence on the field. Not to mention that Moss himself is playing through the pain of planter fasciitis. Get out on the field and play!

Super Freak Randy Moss Video

You gotta just shake your head in amazement when you think of teams like the 49ers who, through some cruel cosmic joke on the rest of the league, are able to field two Hall of Fame quaterbacks one right after the other, Joe Montana becomes Steve Young, without missing a beat, or, shall we say, pass.

Vikings fans have some inkling of what it must be like because we have had the great good fortune of watching one certain future Hall of Famer and another who, if he remains healthy, will almost equally certainly be a Hall of Famer. If you’re a bit slow on the uptake, I’m talking about recievers Cris Carter and Randy Moss. It’s not comparable to having two Hall of Fame quaterbacks, but it’s the next best thing.

Randy Moss Video

The reason I was thinking of this is that I stumbled across a Randy Moss highlight video on a Viking fan site called Purple Dawgs. The Purple Dawgs are Viking tailgaters who party in a purple van.

While clicking around on the site, I found a QuickTime video of highlights from Moss’ rookie season that is phenomenally well done. I don’t know if someone connected with the site created the video, or if they found it and are just hosting it at their site. I’ve sent an email inquiry but to date I’ve had no response.

You do have to see the video. It’s set to the song Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down. The video uses a comic book theme in which Moss is the superhero and morphs from comic-book like animation to live action. It’s worth the download wait both for cleverness of the artistry as well as for, of course, all those astounding Moss catches.

The Plan – Psycho Suzi’s

The plan was to go to Psycho Suzi’s for a few beers and then head somewhere to watch the Vikings/Falcons game. That was the plan, anyway. And as you know, the best laid plans of mice and men…

The game started early at 6:30 and because I knew this, I was very careful to point out the fact to anyone who would listen. Though plenty of people listened, I very much doubt anyone heard me because three or four pitchers of Summit later, there we still were, not watching TV forty minutes into the game.

I beg your indulgence while I digress…

Psycho Suzi‘s: If you’ve never been, you must. It’s located in Northeast Minneapolis at Marshall and Lowrey. Think of an old A & W drive-in restaurant converted into a bar with a goth/tiki theme, park Billy Idol out front as the doorman/bouncer, and you get an idea of what Psycho Suzi’s is all about. They sell beers like Schmidt and Schlitz and Blatz by the can, they serve deviled eggs as appetizers, and the descriptions on their drink menu often describe everthing but the ingredients.

There is outdoor seating, which is good because many of the customers are smokers. And there are plenty of suicide girls [don’t go here during work hours] on staff and as clientel.

So, as I said, I didn’t get to see the first part of the game. In fact, I didn’t get to see the first two touchdowns. But I did see the replay on Moss‘ touchdown bomb and who did he beat but Falcon’s first-round pick, Cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

Dude, Onterrio Smith Got Busted

Mike Tice says that the Vikings’ starters may play into the second quarter and Falcons coach Jim Mora, while non-committal about Michael Vick, has indicated that his starters will probably play into the second quarter as well.

That will be nice because it will give Vikings fans plenty of time to watch running back Onterrio Smith, whom it looks like will be joining Kenny Mixon in exile for the first four games of the season. KFAN broke the story that the sophomore back faces a suspension for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy. The KFAN story points out that it is the third violation that triggers the four-game suspension. They speculate that Smith may have entered the league in the first phase of the policy due to substance abuse problems in college.

The violation? He tested positive for marijuana. Smith was tossed out of the University of Tennessee after testing positive for pot and, in 2001, was arrested for drunken driving. This all explains why the guy fell into the fourth round to the Vikings. It’s a bit hard to complain, considering that at the time he was widely considered among the top three tailbacks in the draft. It’s the price you pay, I guess.

Kevin Seifert of the Star Tribune reports that if any appeal fails, Smith "will be ineligible to play until the Oct. 17 game at New Orleans. He also will forfeit four game checks, worth $71,764." [My emphasis.] Well, O., I hope it was good ganja, ’cause that’s one mighty expensive joint! In the same story, the Strib also reports "Second-year player Larry Ned, who likely would have been a final cutdown casualty, now almost certainly will make the team. "

Hmmm….currrrrious. I wonder if Ned and O. hang out together?

Finally, from the Dubious Declaration Department, this: Viking Update‘s Smith story closes with this doozie of a sentence, "Smith remains with the team in Atlanta, but his long term future has come into question."

Really?!? I guess that’s true in as much as any player’s long-term future is in doubt in the NFL. The Vikings passed on a chance to sign a replacement for perennial trouble-maker Kenny Mixon during the offseason, knowing that he’d be suspended for the first four games, so why would the Vikings abandon O. Smith? They paid a clearance sale price for the guy by drafting him in the fourth round and if he continues to perform the way he has, there’s no reason to think the Vikings will all of a sudden dump him because of his first suspension, especially when you consider how deep we are at running back.

Falcons’ top pick (eighth overall) DeAngelo Hall will get a major test today lining up against Randy Moss. The delightful benefits of the mismatch created by making a rookie cover Moss usually accrue to Vikings fans, but you never know; I seem to recall expecting the same when Moss first lined up against one Mike McKenzie, who, at the end of the day, didn’t do such a bad job against Super Freak.

Speaking of cornerbacks: As the Strib’s Seifert points out, with Brian Williams out, tonight’s game will be a good test of the Vikings’ secondary depth.

While reporters interviewing reporters smacks far too much of journalistic incest for my tastes, it nevertheless provides some context to the great videos of the team at training camp that the Star Tribune hosts in their multimedia section. The video features sports editor Willard Woods interviewing beat writer Seifert as the voice-over that accompanies the pictures.

Lastly, another annoying journalistic idiosyncrasy is the way that media outlets handle swear words. I understand that kids will be reading the paper–especially regarding the sports section–and you’d get an avalanche of criticism if you printed those swear words. but it does beg the question of who, exactly, they’re fooling.

Last Wednesday, the Pioneer Press had a textbook example. In a story about Tice’s goofy attempt at instilling the power of positive thinking in his team, the paper printed this quote by Coach Tice: "I told them, if you walk around telling yourself you feel like (junk), you’ll feel like (junk)."

He’s saying "shit," right? I mean, that’s what I’d say. The word gives the sentence a natural feel: "I told them, if you walk around telling yourself you feel like shit, you’ll feel like shit." It is, I’d hazard to guess, a fairly frequently used word from Tice’s lexicon. Do you really think the kids reading that don’t get what word he’s really using?

Online Buzz – Vikings vs. Falcons

Online Showdown – Most Popular Searches

If the frequency with which people are searching online for Vikings versus Falcons information is any indication, the Purple should crush the Falcons tomorrow. How do I know this? It’s my job to know; it’s what I do…[FADE IN TRIUMPHANT MUSIC]…I’m a search engine marketing expert! And so, having such highly-valued skills, expertise, and knowldege, I thought I’d put them to work for Vikings fans worldwide. (That’s how much I care.)

The following graph (see my methodology below) shows just how much more popular Minnesota Vikings related searches are versus Atlanta Falcons searches. Most people using general phrases to find information on the team (e.g. "minnesota vikings") or they are looking for team-related merchandise (e.g. "minnesota vikings seat covers"). Among the Vikings-related searches is one that Vikings fans will find particularly painful: "minnesota vikings vick 173 highlights." Ouch. That was the December 1, 2002 game in which Michael Vick rushed for 173 yards while beating the Vikings in overtime.

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Click for larger version of Most popular searches - Minnesota Vikings vs. Atlanta Falcons

But if you go by individual player searches, the Vikings don’t fare too well. Michael Vick-related searches (3,634) outnumbered searches for all the Vikings players I tracked combined (2,948). Poor Daunte Culpepper: There were only 266 searches for information on him. With the exception of Michael Vick, Randy Moss gets more searches than all other Falcon players I tracked combined. But he’s not the most-searched-for Viking: That honor belongs to professional wrestler cum defensive tackle Brock Lesnar. Marcus Robinson edges out both Falcons receivers Peerless Price and Dez White combined. But the Falcons beat the Vikings on head-to-head matchups between running backs (Warrick Dunn gets 108 searches versus Michael Bennett‘s 64) and first round picks (DeAngelo Hall gets 55 to Kenechi Udeze‘s 15).

Michael Vick Is Gay Rumor

Searches for information on Michael Vick were inflated somewhat due to the Internet hoax that Vick had come out of the closet (he’s denied it on a radio show): Of Vick’s 3,634 searches, 438 were related to the gay hoax.

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Click for larger version of Popular searches of football players - Minnesota Vikings vs. Atlanta Falcons

Methodology: I’ve compiled searches from the Wordtracker.com database, filtered the searches for irrelevent search phrases, and the resultant charts are based on those phrases. The numbers cited are a compilation of related searches; so, for example, for "Minnesota Vikings" searches, I add all related searches together (e.g. "minnestoa vikings" and "mn vikings", etc.) to arrive at a total seach number. These numbers were compiled today, August 19, 2004 and reflect the number of times people have searched during the past 60 days.

Behold, The Bright Football Player!

The Pioneer PressJason Williams runs with the obligatory "smart athlete" story today with his article "Scholar-athlete Moore seeks a less hectic lifestyle." Moore is definitely a very impressive young man but I always get a kick out of these stories because it’s like, hey! the guy’s smart! You’ll recall that we had the same stories when Robert Smith was our running back. I guess it must say something about say something about your average professional football player if having a smart guy on the team is such a novelty story to reporters. Still, it seems awfully stereotypical.

Vikings For Sale…Again?

The locals all focus on the nascent investor group from Arizona looking to maybe buy the Vikings. It’s a story I’m not that interested in, frankly; having watched and commented on the stadium battles over the years, it ain’t something I get all worked up about anymore.

I very much doubt the Vikings are going anywhere, regardless of who owns them and not because of their "iron-clad" Metrodome lease. I don’t think they’re going anywhere because at the end of the day, the Vikings (and, for that matter, the Twins) aren’t just another business. They’re an emotion. They’re are our memories.

John Holler‘s piece at Viking Update illustrates what I mean. The title of the article–"Et Tu, Red?"–betrays Holler’s emotions. In the article, he talks about his memories around which the Vikings revolve. And there’s the rub. Professional sports teams are perhaps the only type of business to which ordinary people have such an intense emotional attachment.

Finally, though, I believe the Vikings will eventually get a new stadium for purely pragmatic reasons: If we let them leave, five years from that date we will be clamoring to bring the NFL back to town and we will be promising to build a state of the art stadium to lure a team here.

And that stadium will cost a hell of a lot more than a stadium we build to prevent the team from leaving in the first place.

God And Lawsuits

Today’s Strib has a good article by Mark Craig on the Vikings’ depth at cornerback, examining who might step up in the wake of Brian Williams‘ injury. Regarding the fifth cornerback position, Mike Tice is quoted as saying, "Somebody wants it bad. We’ll find out who." Do I detect a bit of desperate motivation there?

Great line of the day goes to Pioneer Press‘ Brian Hamilton for this beauty in his article Receiving corps catching on: "And then there was the Vikings’ receiving corps, careening around the learning curve at a fairly audacious speed in their exhibition debut Saturday night."

The great thing about the Vikings’ official site is that they post audio clips of news conferences. New Real Audio feeds were posted yesterday, including Tice talking about training camp practice and about the team’s win over the Cardinals, as well as Culpepper talking about playing against Denny Green.

Fantasy Interview – God Bleeds Purple

I have a fantasy interview I’d love to see because I love the absurd and the unexpected and, annoyingly, post-game interviews have almost become predictable. I’d love to see a post-game interview with an NFL football player that begins like this:

Q: You had six catches for 123 yards and four touchdowns in an overwhelming victory. How do you feel?

A: Well, first I want to praise the Lord our God for making this all possible. He obviously wanted us to kick their asses all over the field. Their evil was palpable and it is clear that God used us not just to smite them but to humiliate Lucifer’s minions.

You’ll understand my annoyance if you caught the interview by KSTP TV’s Joe Schmit with Mewelde Moore after the game Saturday.

The rookie running back was being interviewed, of course, because of his 39-yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter against the Cardinals’ second- and third-stringers. Moore was the beneficiary of outstanding blocking and mostly just ran down the field with a fighter-escort by the name of Nate Burleson to fend off any would-be tacklers. It was a nice run nonetheless.

The first thing out of Moore’s mouth after Schmit asked him about his run was the familiar refrain of I just want to take this time to thank the Lord Almighty for the blah blah blah blah. My friends and I instantly rolled our eyes and tuned out.

Remember the 1998 team with Cris Carter pointing skyward after touchdowns and slapping the viewer upside the head with God during his interviews; or Randall Cunningham spending most of his interview minutes evangelizing; the post-game prayer circles? I’d become so convinced that God bled purple and gold that I had a crisis of faith when the Vikes blew it against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.

O God, why hast thou forsaken us?

I wish I’d had the idea at the beginning of the season rather than mid-season, but I was going to keep a running tally of Christians and Heathens on the Vikings’ roster for that season. I was going to put halos next to the names of Vikings who had publicly praised God (Carter, Cunningham, Hitchcock) and horns next to the names of Vikings I suspected of Heathenism (Robert Smith–who, I might add, has subsequently confirmed my suspicions in his new book).

McKinnie’s Confession

Today is the first time I’d bothered to read the Star Tribune‘s Vikings Diary series written by tackle Bryant McKinnie. Call me crazy, but I calculated that the odds were not all that good that a young kid busy with a professional football career would 1) not have much time to devote to a weekly column, 2) very likely would be a pretty awful writer, and 3) as a current player, would probably not provide any insight into the game for fear of either tipping the team’s hand to opponents or saying anything potentially controversial.

Well, after reading the article I was right about the absence of any football insight. The article is pretty much as advertised: A diary. A personal diary. Meaning, I got up this morning and had breakfast and then had to go to a team meeting and after that, blah blah blah blah blah. Boooooorrrring.

There is one interesting thing in McKinnie’s diary and it is notable primarily because it demonstrates the kind of lack of forethought you sorta expect from a kid in his early twenties. McKinnie writes:

"I spent my time burning some new CDs. I’ve got a friend in Miami that sends me all the new songs that are coming out down there…He sends them to me on e-mail, and I put them on a CD so I can listen to them before a game."

Hmm. It seems to me that admitting that you violate copyright laws in a major metropolitan daily, explaining exactly how you do it, and then pointing straight at the evidence might run you afoul of the Recording Industry Association of America. I would even go so far as to suggest that as a high-profile professional football player, McKinnie might be a juicy six foot eight target for one of RIAA’s infamous subpoenas.