Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Battle survives Vikings' first cuts

The Minnesota Vikings made four roster moves Tuesday to get to the 75-player limit, and former Minnesota State lineman Adrian Battles was not one of the victims.
The Vikings put receiver Sidney Rice, who recently had hip surgery, on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list, meaning that he's not eligible to return to the roster for at least six games.
The team also put linebacker J Leman on the injured reserve so he's done. Receiver Marko Mitchell and tackle Bill Noethlich, who is from Southwest Minnesota State, were both released.
The next cuts come Friday, and Battles, who is listed at third-string guard, is almost certain to be waived. However, the fact that he's made it this long bodes well for his chances of being added to the Vikings' or some other team's practice squad or be invited back to the organization next season.
Battles has not gotten much playing time during the preseason, though with the starters unlikely to play in Thursday's home game against Denver, he has a good chance of seeing extended minutes in that game.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vikings could really use another preseason game

A couple of observations from the Minnesota Vikings' preseason game against Seattle on Saturday.

If the proposed 18-game schedule were in effect now, meaning only two preseason games, the Vikings would have been opening the season Saturday. This team seemed ill-prepared for that, playing a sloppy game injected with a few big plays.

The offensive line didn't open many holes, nore did it protect Brett Favre very well.

Favre had his moments, but he also threw two interceptions, one of which was more Bernard Berrian's fault than his. But Favre also fumbled twice.

You probably shouldn't have expected him to be sharp, given that he's only been here for less than a week.

New receiver Greg Camarillo may be an unexpected asset. The trade, which sent cornerback Benny Sapp to Miami, didn't seem like much of transaction earlier this week, but he got open and held on to the ball, which can't be said for all the receivers.

The defense looked good, though that unit will get tougher tests in the regular season, especially that opener at New Orleans on Sept. 9.

The Vikings looked like a team that hasn't practiced together much, which has certainly been the case. There seems to be plenty of work to do before the season begins, if this team hopes to achieve its stated goal of getting to the Super Bowl.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One week until high-school football begins

In just a week, local high-school football teams begin the season, which seems to fly by faster every year.

In case you haven't been scouting the area practice fields, here's a few things to look for on the gridiron.

Mankato West should have another strong team, led by quarterback Philip Nelson, receiver Nick Kaus and linebackers Drew Weber and Adam Athey. It would be a surprise if West doesn't contend for the Big Nine Conference and section championships, and a deep run in the playoffs is possible.

Waterville-Elysian-Morristown won the Class AA championship last season and has most of its roster back. Conrad Masberg is a talented quarterback who really blossomed.

Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton seems like a program on the rise after a few down seasons.

Le Center fullback Mario Arroyo is an all-state candidate.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Three weeks until MSU football team opens season

The Minnesota State football team went through its first practice Thursday night, artfully dodging the area storms to get nearly three hours of work.

 As coach Todd Hoffner always asks after that first workout, "It looked like football, didn't it?"

It's tough to say how the squad will do this season, though the national poll has the Mavericks at No. 21 and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference coaches have picked Minnesota State to win the South Division.

The strength of the team appears to be the defense, with the top three tacklers returning. Linebackers Dan Fehlberg and Matt McQuiston and safety Jesse Hamilton, who has gotten some preseason accolades, give the Mevericks some strength up the middle.

On the line, Don Thomas, Bryan Schmid and Michael Robinson should be stout, and defensive backs Bryce Kinniry and Troy Jones provide good experience against the pass.

The offense seems to be the question mark, with only four returning starters. Quarterback Steve Pachan had some moments as a part-time starter last season, but he was inconsistent. The strength of this unit appears to be running back, where Jake Aberg and Chris Echols are back, bolstered by Northern Iowa transfer Taylor Brookins.

The receivers lack marquee names, but Hoffner said he was happy with the group that includes Omaar Balton and Adam Thielen.

Of course, the offense goes nowhere without a solid line, and four of those five have graduated. Right tackle Jeremy Clark is back, and if that first practice revealed anything, the rest of the linemen are big. We'll see if that translates to good.

The schedule seems good early, starting with a nonconference game against Northern Michigan on Sept. 2. After that road games at Northern State and Minnesota Crookston better be winnable, as well as the home game against Concordia St. Paul on Sept. 25.

Then its Winona State and St. Cloud State in the first real conference tests, and consecutive roads games at Wayne State and Augustana in late October will determine this season's success. If the Mavericks survive those games, the season finale is at home against Minnesota Duluth.

It seems unlikely that the Mavericks can get to 10 wins again, but that's the standard that's been set and anything less will be disappointing. Once you've been to the national playoffs, you don't want to take a step back.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Axe finally falls on MSU programs

Back in 2004, when Minnesota State was trying to figure out how to overcome gender-equity violations, there was talk of eliminating programs.

A couple years later, when the North Central Conference dissolved and the debate was to move to Division I or take a step back to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, there was talk of eliminating programs.

Finally, budget cuts over the last year and expected reductions for the next two years appear to have forced Minnesota State's hand. On Tuesday, athletic director Kevin Buisman announced that he had made a proposal to the higher-ups to eliminate men's and women's tennis, men's swimming and women's bowling as part of a 5 to 7 percent reduction in the athletic department's budget.

Minnesota State offers 23 sports, which is more than any Northern Sun school and more than most Division II programs. In these challenging economic times, that's too many, if you want to be successful across the board.

The hard part is deciding which sports will remain and which will go. Why men's swimming over men's golf? Why women's bowling and not women's swimming?

There are no easy answers. The university will likely have to cut some personnel and scholarship budgets as well, and those won't be simple decisions.

The final decisions on the athletic budget won't come until March, and folks at Minnesota State hope the economic outlook will be better and these worst-case scenarios won't come true.

But you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in state government that sees any meaningful recovery in the next six months. Instead, future cuts could still be necessary.

It might be true that we've witnessed the peak of Mnnesota State sports over the last two years. Several programs were competitive nationally, including the women's basketball team that won the national championship in 2009.

Budget cuts are certainly going to come at a price, and those schools who make the right decisions will be better positioned to have success in the future.

Will these cuts allow the remaining sports to maintain their competitive success? That's not an easy one to answer, either.