Mastering FIFA politics yet again, amid calls to step down immediately, Sepp Blatter is set to stay atop world soccer for seven more months after FIFA agreed Monday on a Feb. 26 election to replace him.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph fondly remembers the summers of his youth, when his parents would wake up early in the morning and haul him to youth sports camps, whether it was football, baseball or basketball.
That was why Rudolph had a big smile of his face Monday morning when he kicked off his two-day youth football camp at Kuhlman Field in Edina.
“I probably get more out of it than the kids do at times, running around with these guys,” Rudolph said. “You just see the energy and enthusiasm that they have for the game of football and just to be out here, whether they have a little group of friends or are out here by themselves and they’re meeting a bunch of new friends, the kids have a ton of fun.”
More than 250 kids ranging from first to eighth grade registered for the camp, which is led by Rudolph and area prep and college football coaches. The camp, back after a one-year hiatus, also got an assist from The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities and Northwestern Mutual.
“We’ve got a bunch of great kids out here,” the 25-year-old said.
Also making appearances at the camp Monday were teammates Chad Greenway and Harrison Smith, two Vikings players who already held their own youth football camps in Minnesota and Tennessee, respectively.
The kids were split up into stations across Kuhlman Field, some of them chucking footballs while others learned how to run different routes.
They also had plenty of questions for Rudolph in between the whistles.
“Kids are funny,” he said. “I think one kid asked if I lived in a mansion and am I rich because I play football? Is my contract up next year? Who’s my favorite player on the team besides myself? Who’s our worst player on the team? I tried to explain to him that you can’t really have a worst player, because if you’re the worst, you’re not going to be there anymore. They’re kids. … You’re never really sure what you’re going to get from them.”
Rudolph will be back on the field Tuesday for the final day of camp. But it only took a couple of hours Monday for him to get his own juices flowing.
“You come out here and see them running around, it gets me excited for Saturday when we get to go to [training] camp [in Mankato],” he said.
There are some contenders for biggest local surprise this summer, up to and including the Wolves being legitimately intriguing and my inability a couple of weeks ago to finish a helmet full of nachos at a baseball game. (Seriously, anyone who has ever watched me eat, and particularly ever watched me eat nachos, knows that when I’m finished all that usually remains is shame. But this helmet — a regular-sized helmet, not one of those mini-helmets — was so large and teeming with ‘chos that I couldn’t do it. Or at least I didn’t do it. Either way, it was a surprise to everyone).
But let’s be real: the nachos aside, the biggest local surprise this summer has to be the Twins. In spite of losing their last two games in Oakland, Minnesota is 50-42. If the Twins went 20-50 the rest of the way — which they are not going to do — they would finish with the same record they had a year ago. They are on pace for 88 wins, which would mean going 38-32 the rest of the way — hardly an absurd thing to consider.
Since 1996, no MLB team has claimed a Wild Card spot with fewer than 88 wins. That is the magic benchmark, and it has become an even more magic number since the expansion to two wild card teams per league in 2012; in that time, the “second” wild card team, out of a combined six total (three in each league), has had exactly 88 wins.
But every year is different; this particular year in the American League is very different because it is filled with so much mediocrity. The Twins, with their 88-win pace, are currently the first wild card team; the Astros are essentially tied with them (fractions of a point behind with one more win and one more loss) as the second wild card. And literally every other non-division leading team — 10 of them — is somewhere between 3.5 and 8 games behind in the chase for one of those two spots.
So the simple question is this: what are the odds that the Twins make the playoffs this year?
We’ll start with the place we should probably stop: the math. According to Baseball Prospectus (via MLB.com), the Twins currently have a 38 percent chance of making the playoffs — an 8 percent chance of winning the AL Central and a 30 percent chance of being a Wild Card.
That tells us that the math is crouching in a corner hiding, not unlike pessimistic Twins fans, still waiting for the other shoe to drop on what has, so far, been an unexpectedly nice season. (The math likes Houston as a playoff team at a full 67 percent, though part of that comes from a better chance to win the division).
The math also tells us that it’s not so much a lack of belief in the Twins as it is a logjam of teams within striking distance since so many still have a puncher’s chance. Even if the Twins keep up their pace, it wouldn’t take unreasonable efforts from other teams to overtake them.
The math liked the Twins a lot more (48 percent) just two days ago, before the two losses to Oakland, so we also know this is a very volatile thing. If I had written this post on Saturday instead of today, the glass would almost be exactly half-full with math only.
But what about beyond the math? Is there such a thing? This is loosely defined as, “Does this feel like a playoff team?” The answer to that question, too, is volatile. At a lot of points this season, the Twins have felt like a playoff team — good starting pitching depth, hot stretches that have boosted the record and the requisite resiliency both within games and within dry spells to not fall apart.
Other times, you wonder if it might be next week before they score another run, and you still hold your breath when the game is close and late and anyone other than Glen Perkins is pitching. Those are the times you remember to be thankful, at least, that the Twins will almost certainly be playing meaningful games deep into the season even if there’s a voice that says “this is the current group’s version of 2001,” a season with a great start but a wilted finish that nonetheless paved the way for postseason to come.
The intangible nonsense, in my mind, tempts me to arrive at a conclusion that is slightly higher than what the math wants to say. It tells me Paul Molitor will keep stealing a game here and there by dialing up a nice combination and that the offense will find a rhythm again (at least when Miguel Sano stops stepping on baseballs).
I’ll put the odds squarely in the middle: 50 percent. Maybe that’s too simple, Chuck Klosterman math — Everything is 50-50. Either something will happen, or something will not — but in the case of the Twins I also believe it’s real.
And we have 70 games to find out if it is or if it isn’t.
Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson will snag most of the headlines from the Vikings offense, but the offensive line will be the most important position group to watch during training camp.
The Vikings have all the pieces in place on offense but will need consistency from the offensive line this year. The unit suffered a number of injuries and had to use just about every backup last season. It resulted in poor performances in the trenches, particuarly in pass protection, for a team operating with a rookie quarterback in Bridgewater.
The unit heads into Mankato with a fairly healthy group and a few new faces hoping to win a starting job. We continue our training camp preview by analyzing the offensive line.
SAFE BET STARTERS: Matt Kalil, Brandon Fusco, John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt
The offensive line returns four starters, though one will likely play a new position. Fusco shifted from right to left guard during the early portion of the offseason to work on the left side with Kalil. The Vikings released left guard Charlie Johnson during the offseason, and Fusco appears to be his replacement unless something changes during training camp.
Fusco and Loadholt each suffered torn pectoral muscles during the season and landed on injured reserve. They were both limited during OTAs and minicamp, but they’re expected to be full participants once training camp begins.
Kalil and Sullivan were the only two starters on the offensive line that played every game. Sullivan received a one-year extension and a raise during the offseason. He provided stability along the offensive line when the Vikings lost three of their starters during the season and has been of the best centers in the NFL over the last few seasons.
BACKUPS: T.J. Clemmings, Tyrus Thompson, Austin Shepherd, Babatunde Aiyegbusi, Joe Berger, David Yankey, Zac Kerin, Tom Farniok, Bobby Vardaro
CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: It started as an opening at let guard, but it appears Fusco will shift into that starting role. So now the Vikings’ most significant starting position up for grabs during training camp will be at right guard. We saw the Vikings mix in rookies T.J. Clemmings and Tyrus Thompson with the first team unit at right guard during OTAs and minicamp. Clemmings and Thompson both exclusively played offensive tackle at Pittsburgh and Oklahoma. The two rookies appear to be in competition with second-year offensive lineman David Yankey and veteran Joe Berger, who will enter his 12th season. The extra preseason game will give the coaching staff five opportunities to see all four players in pads against different opponents, and it appears to be a camp battle that will drag well into late August.
THE BURNING QUESTION: This will be a make-or-break season for Kalil, who has been inconsistent at left tackle over the last few seasons. He will still be used as the starting left tackle, and there were signs of progress late last season. Still, there’s plenty of room for improvement for Kalil, who hasn’t been the same dominating player we saw as a rookie.
Kalil reportedly underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees during the offseason. It’s the second straight offseason he’s had the procedure performed on one of his knees. The Vikings still picked up his 2016 fifth-year option during the offseason, worth $11.1 million. It’s not guaranteed until the new league year starts or Kalil suffers a significant injury.
So there’s a big incentive for Kalil to play well to receive his fifth-year option salary and possibly parlay his play into a contract extension. If he continues to struggle, the Vikings will likely have to move on from their fourth overall pick in 2012.