We had a good chat with former Twins pitcher and new bullpen coach Eddie Guardado today on a number of subjects for a future Page 2 story, but one nugget stood out as relevant for both amusement and news:
Guardado is spending Thanksgiving in Texas with old teammates LaTroy Hawkins and Torii Hunter. Guardado and Hawkins have remained close for years, and both are clearly still pals with Hunter. The interesting thing, of course, is that the Twins are said to be in pursuit of Hunter in free agency. So we naturally had to ask Guardado if he would be doing any recruiting while he was hanging out with his old teammate, and he didn’t shy away from the notion.
Said Guardado: “I’m trying. I’m trying. All we can do is try, right?”
Hunter’s defense has slipped in recent years, leading to questions about how much bringing him in would help (or hurt even more) a team that struggled mightily with outfield defense a year ago. It would clearly be a move based on offensive production and that intangible of clubhouse leadership.
“We have to start with the foundation,” Guardado said of the Twins, after talking about how much it hurt him to watch the team lose 90-plus games each of the past four years. “We have to get some leadership in that clubhouse — maybe a little bit more vocal. I’m not saying go in there and be a correctional officer, but what I’m saying is we need a couple of vocal guys. … That’s how you get better. It starts in the clubhouse. With a young team, it starts on the inside and works its way out. That’s how we did it.”
That sounds a lot like Hunter, we mentioned to Guardado.
“Oh, he’s definitely all about that. We’re trying to get him over here to be vocal, too. … Absolutely. That’s what we need.”
The Kalil family obviously isn’t quite as appalled as some that Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil flipped the hat off a heckling fan after Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Packers.
On Monday, Matt Kalil himself said it “wasn’t a big deal.” Today, Kalil’s older brother, Ryan, the starting center for the Carolina Panthers, joked about the incident that became a popular video on TMZ.
“I was a little disappointed,” said Ryan, whose Panthers play the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. “I would have actually liked him to go with the, ‘You spilled something on your shirt’ and then throw the finger up into [the fan's] chin. I think that would have been a funnier move.”
Ryan said he was on the phone with his father, Frank, at about the same time news broke that Matt had confronted a fan outside TCF Bank Stadium. Frank, a former center, was drafted by the Bills in 1982 before playing in the USFL.
“I asked my dad if he heard what happened,” Ryan said. “He said, ‘Yeah, I heard the whole thing. It was an ugly deal.’ He said the guy called Matt over and said he was big fan. Asked for his autograph. [Matt] went over there and then the fan continued to start saying some pretty ugly stuff to him. So I think my brother just kind of reacted.
“It’s probably my fault for picking on him when he was little. Flipping his hat off, I think, was the go-to move for me.”
On a more serious note, Ryan said Matt’s struggles and Sunday’s incident are learning experiences.
“Everybody goes through it,” he said. “You try to remind yourself that that’s part of it and you got to fight through it. That’s part of the profession. That part isn’t going to go away and the quicker you can realize that, the more you can be mentally tough and drown all that out the better off you’ll be.
“When you’re not winning, that’s the hardest thing. Everything is worse when you’re not winning. I know that frustration personally. Nobody is immune to hecklers. We get them daily here, too. We get them on social media and there are times when I’ve had to bite my tongue. It’s hard. It’s not easy to deal with. Yeah, I think it’s a lot of different frustrations. And I think it’s also an individual who doesn’t represent the Vikings’ fan base who was being pretty ugly.”
Matt’s play on the field, meanwhile, has been a bigger issue. He has given up 11 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus, and was penalized three times in Sunday’s loss.
Ryan said he watches every one of Matt’s game tapes and talks to him after every game. He said this is “absolutely” the most frustrated he has ever seen his brother.
“I think he’s his hardest critic,” Ryan said. “I think it really weighs on him when he doesn’t play well. I think for the most part, he has played well. I know he’s been struggling with his knee,” which underwent arthroscopic surgery during the offseason.
“Confidence is everything in this league,” Ryan continued. “The hardest thing is to sort of drown out the criticism. Some of the criticism is fair and a lot of it’s not. But that’s part of the game and that goes for everybody. It’s frustrating hearing bad things written about Matt because I know what a good guy he is and how hard he works and cares. That’s frustrating, him being my brother.”
Ryan thinks Matt will learn from the experience this season.
“He’s going to continue to grow and he’ll bounce back from that, but I think for the most part, he’s played fine,” he said. “He does a lot of good things. I think late in the game, being down and in a lot of passing situations, it’s hard. It’s not ever one thing that happens. Not making excuses for him.
“At the end of the day, you got to block. But I think the biggest thing I’ll say about Matt is he works hard. I know he’s very talented. I know the knee thing bothers him. I think he’ll be fine though. I think he’ll be good player for a long time.”
Here’s today’s injury report …
Did not participate: TE Chase Ford (hamstring/foot), FS Harrison Smith (shoulder/ankle), WR Cordarrelle Patterson (knee), RB Jerick McKinnon (low back) and DT Sharrif Floyd (knee).
Limited participation: RB Matt Asiata (concussion), LT Matt Kalil (knee) and LB Anthony Barr (knee).
Full participation: TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen/groin), WR Jarius Wright (hamstring), WR Greg Jennings (rib) and RT Mike Harrison (ankle).
Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but at 4-7 and residing in the NFC North, the Vikings sure have a lot less to play for than the 3-7-1 Panthers do in the NFC Worst South.
So we asked Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to name the No. 1 thing he’s looking to improve on during what presumably won’t be a playoff push, regardless of how many games the Vikings win the rest of this season.
Here’s what Bridgewater said:
“Just take advantage of those easy completions when they present themselves,” Bridgewater said. “There are times in the game when there could be a five-yard out route or just something that gives you consistency, something that gives you rhythm. Taking every completion and not try to force throws and be smart with the football.”
At first, it seemed odd that he would mention improving on the “easy” throws and the “five-yard outs” as his No. 1 goal. Seems like he might have picked the deep balls he hasn’t been able to hit consistently or the throws outside the numbers that have given him some fits and caused some to question his arm strength and ability to be a starter in the NFL.
But, upon further thought, the “rhythm” he’s searching for would, presumably in his mind, lead to more consistency on deeper throws, more third-and-short situations and some more time on the field instead of standing on the sideline. And, of course, Bridgewater also has been missing a lot of those easy throws. Throws he says he “completes nine out of 10 times in practice.”
Slow starts followed by strong second-half play have been the consistent theme for Bridgewater as he’s compiled a 3-4 record as a starter.
Asked again today about the slow starts, Bridgewater said, “When we were at halftime [of Sunday's 24-21 loss to the Packers], coach Norv Turner came into the locker room and told us that for some reason for the first 10 minutes of the game we were trying to feel our way through. We’re trying to see if we can play with our opponents. That’s been the issue, like coach Turner says, that we’re trying to feel our way through those first couple of possessions. But we just have to bring it to our opponents right away.
“We have to have that mindset and go into each game with confidence and know that it’s going to be a long day for our opponents.”
After Bridgewater spoke, coach Mike Zimmer joked that he needed to find a way to convince Bridgewater that the Vikings are trailing at the opening kickoff.
In other news, Zimmer:
Said the team won’t be practicing outside today, but should have all of the equipment in place to practice outside possibly later this week or next week.
Hinted that defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who missed Sunday’s game because of a knee injury, would play this Sunday. The team’s first injury report of the week comes out after practice today. That’s when Zimmer said we’ll also find out if running back Matt Asiata has passed the league’s concussion protocol.
Admitted that receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is “probably a little frustrated” by his lack of production this season, but added that the frustration is “a good thing, to be honest” because it will motivate the young receiver.
Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt spoke for the first time since the Vikings placed him on injured reserve with a torn pectoral in the 24-21 loss against the Packers on Sunday.
Loadholt said it occurred on a pass play during the Vikings’ final drive in the game. He attempted to block a defender rushing inside and extended his arm too far, causing the tear.
“I wouldn’t have wanted anything more than to help my team out these last five games, but I’m going to do what I can to stay involved in meetings, help Mike [Harris] and the guys prepare as much as possible,” Loadholt said. “Hopefully we can continue to build and win these last five games.”
He’ll remain around the facilities like right guard Brandon Fusco, who was also placed on injured reserve earlier this season with the same injury. Loadholt will have surgery on Friday and expects to be fully healthy for training camp in July.
Harris will likely start at right tackle on Sunday against the Panthers, but the Vikings signed offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb off the street to fill the team’s open spot on the roster. Webb spent last season with the Vikings but hasn’t been on an active roster this season. He spent training camp with the Chiefs but was one of the final roster cuts after the preseason.
“It’s always good to be back with a team that you’re loyal with and have fun playing with,” Webb said. “I just got to think positive, learn everything I need to quickly and as fast as I can to help this team out as quick as possible.”
Webb, in his fifth season, was asked if he thought his career was over as he sat in Austin, Texas waiting for a team to call.
“Nah, I didn’t think I was done,” Webb said. “I just turned 26 years old (in August) and I’m still a big boy and ready to rock and roll. That thought never crossed my mind.”