Give Kevin Love this: Even if he didn’t always make Minnesota fans happy when he was here, he does understand them pretty well. And he has a good sense of humor.
A day before his first scheduled game against his old team, Love spoke to reporters in Cleveland about the type of response he expects to get at Target Center on Saturday. Per ESPN.com:
“Truthfully? ‘Booooooooo!’ That [will be] probably more of that and then a mix of cheers,” Love said after Cavs shootaround Friday in preparation for their game against the Sacramento Kings. “It’s tough. I think of going back to Portland that first time when I did not choose to go to University of Oregon and went to UCLA, it was very mixed, more boos than cheers. Over the years, it slowly became more cheers than boos. But we’ll see. [Saturday] will be one of those times where they can tell me how they really feel.”
We’ll be curious, too, to see/hear the reaction. Our guess: polite applause from the masses, with some lusty boos from the die-hards.
By the way: Love also said he watched “The Return” video the Wolves promotional staff put together and said it was great.
“That’s hilarious,” Love said, taking the high road when asked about the video. “I thought it was really funny because Mike is one of those guys that every day wakes up and it’s like sunshine and blue skies, so for them to do that, it was pretty good.” Love credited the Timberwolves’ public relations staff for coming up with the bit. “More often than not, I have a pretty dry sense of humor,” Love said. “So, it was pretty funny. I saw it, I was waiting for it, waiting for it: ‘The Return of Mike Miller.’ That was pretty good.”
He’s only had six starts, so it’s far too early to proclaim Devan Dubnyk any type of savior for the Wild.
What we do know after six starts, though, are these things:
*He gives the Wild a chance this year that it flat-out wouldn’t have had without him. Minnesota had a 9 percent chance of making the playoffs at the All-Star break, according to their record and a simulation of the rest of the season from Hockey Reference. Since then, Minnesota has 2-1 and 1-0 wins on the road. Dubnyk was solid in the first; he was spectacular in the second, a blanking of Calgary on Thursday in which me made many tremendous saves — including a third-period breakaway and an underrated pad stop in the final seconds. The Wild would have earned, at most, one point in those two games had either Darcy Kuemper or Niklas Backstrom played. Instead, they got the full four — in regulation, which was particularly huge against Calgary — and have nearly doubled that playoff probability to 17 percent already. It’s still a long way to go, but it’s a good start.
*Though he’s a free agent after this season, he’s the kind of goalie that has found a long-term home in Minnesota before. Manny Fernandez was 26 and in search of playing time when the Wild picked him up. Backstrom was playing in Finland before the Wild grabbed him at age 28. Dwayne Roloson was an undistinguished journeyman before finding a home in Minnesota at age 32. Those three goalies have the most wins in Wild history. Dubnyk, 28, has put up respectable numbers on bad teams. Maybe this is the right fit for both the short and long term?
Even if this is just a rental, though, Dubnyk has proven — so far — to be a smart acquisition. There’s nothing like good goaltending to give a team hope, and that’s what the Wild (finally) has this year.
In his last days as a “rookie,” Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was making his rounds up and down the Super Bowl’s Radio Row when he paused long enough to consider what it would be like if the Vikings were to play in this game for the first time since Jan. 9, 1977.
“I can envision it,” Bridgewater said. “That’s the plan. This right here is what you play for. Not 7-9. No one is satisfied with a 7-9 season. The ultimate goal is to be on this stage and be here.”
This is the second time Bridgewater has been to the Super Bowl to partake in the festivities.
“I went to New York last year for some reason,” he said. “I get very excited when I look about about our chances of playing in this game one day. You play for these moments and to have memories like this with your teammates.”
Bridgewater is in town mainly because he’s one of five finalists for the Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award, which is selected by a fan vote. The vote won’t be announced until about 9:15 local time (8:15 central), but there is speculation that Bridgewater has won the award because of a post on NFL.com that contained a headline saying Bridgewater won the award.
Pepsi representatives on Radio Row this morning said the winner hasn’t been announced, revealed or confirmed by anyone. Teddy was cool with that when he talked about being a finalist along with Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill and Bills receiver Sammy Watkins.
“It would be a huge honor,” said Bridgewater, who fell from the projected No. 1 overall draft position to No. 32 a year ago. “Especially when you look back last year at this time and all the scrutiny that I was under. It also speaks volumes about the support I have from the fans because they make all of this happen.
“I know it’s a special group of talent that was up for the award. I’m just thankful that I have the fan base that I have to even be considered for this award. They’re the reason I’m here.”
Bridgewater threw for 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while completing 64.4 percent of his passes, third highest by a rookie in NFL history.
Beckham caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. Evans had 68 catches for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns. Hill ran for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns. And Watkins had 65 catches for 982 yards and six touchdowns.
Bridgewater also talked about his offseason plans when it comes to furthering his development and the progress of the team’s offense as well.
“I’m just going to study all of my mistakes and also the good plays that I made as well,” he said. “I’m working out in Florida. And we’re going to try and get something going here in the near future where all of the receivers, the tight ends and me get together for some workouts.”
Asked if that would take place down in Florida, Bridgewater smiled.
“It’s a secret,” he said. “It may be florida. It may be California, Texas, maybe Minnesota. It’s a secret.”
Bridgewater didn’t offer a Super Bowl pick, but he did comment on the two quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.
“Not only two great quarterbacks, but two great competitors,” Bridgewater said. “Two guys who just have that will to get it done and win football games.”
As his time on Radio Row inside the Phoenix Convention Center was winding down, he was asked if he enjoys that experience and is looking forward to walking the “red carpet” at the Phoenix Art Institute for tonight’s awards ceremony.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s fun getting my brand out there and walking the red carpets and smiling for the camera. But I’d rather be playing in the big game than partaking in the event.”
Over the next two weeks, we will take a position-by-position look at where the Vikings stand heading into the offseason after their 7-9 season in 2014. Today, we conclude this series with special teams.
Highlighted by the big plays of rookie kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings had one of the NFL’s most explosive special-teams units in 2013. Patterson averaged a league-high 32.4 yards per kickoff return as he took a pair of kickoffs to the house. Marcus Sherels ranked second in the league on punt returns with a 15.2-yard average, and he scored on one of those, too. Kicker Blair Walsh backed up his strong rookie season with another steady season.
In 2014, Patterson and the Vikings lacked touchdowns in the return game (they did score twice on blocked punts while beating the Panthers) and Walsh was uncharacteristically inconsistent. But the Vikings were much better covering kicks and punts, which played a large part in the team actually improving in the most notable (make that the only notable) special-teams rankings around.
Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News reviews all facets of special teams when compiling his annual cumulative rankings of special-teams units, and according to his calculations, the Vikings rose from 17th in the league in 2013 to tenth this past season.
Still, despite the improvements the Vikings made in some areas, the special teams were far from perfect in 2014.
ONE REASON FOR OPTIMISM: In 2013, only seven teams allowed more kickoff return yards than the Vikings. Only the Broncos allowed a higher average on kickoff returns. And the coverage teams allowed both a kickoff and a punt to be returned for touchdowns. Things were much different in 2014. Thanks in large part to Walsh’s booming leg on kickoffs, the Vikings allowed just 579 yards on kickoff returns — which was roughly half as many as in 2013. While punter Jeff Locke’s punts sometimes left more to be desired, the Vikings only allowed 6.5 yards on punt returns. That is significant improvement from the coverage teams.
ONE REASON FOR CONCERN: Walsh was one of the NFL’s most accurate kickers in his first two seasons, missing just seven total field-goal attempts over that span. This past season, though, Walsh missed nine and his 74.3 accuracy percentage was dead last among qualifying kickers. Four of Walsh’s misses were from beyond 50 yards. But five came within 50 yards and three were within 40, which is alarming. Can Walsh bounce back in 2015?
GRADES WITH A GRAIN OF SALT: Since the Vikings (understandably) won’t make their player grades public, we turn to Pro Football Focus, whom some players and coaches have been critical of. For context with these grades, a grade of 0.0 is considered average. Positive grades are good. Negative grades are not. Despite his struggles trying to kick the ball between the uprights, Walsh, due to his touchback total, led the way with a plus-8.2. Adam Thielen was a plus-7.8. Everson Griffen, Jabari Price, Audie Cole and Patterson were also in the green. Long snapper Cullen Loeffler had the lowest grade at negative-18.5 (a grade I don’t quite understand). Locke was a negative-10.7. And Shaun Prater, Matt Kalil, Sherels, Antone Exum and Gerald Hodges were also in the red.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT: 38.7 — net punting average for Locke, 21st among NFL punters.
POTENTIAL DEPARTURES: Loeffler is a free agent. It wouldn’t cost much to bring him back, but the Vikings must decide whether they want to stick with him for another season or go young there. Joe Berger, Matt Asiata, Jerome Felton and Corey Wootton are free agents who had roles on special teams, but none of them were core special-teamers.
OFFSEASON LEVEL OF NEED: Moderate. There is constant turnover on the special-teams unit — that’s how it goes in the NFL — but special teams coordinator Mike Priefer and the Vikings groomed a bunch of rookies and young players to help out in that phase this past season. Their return games could use a boost, but that won’t require anything drastic. And then there are the specialists. They may replace Loeffler. And while Locke, who struggled in the first half of the season but was better down the stretch, is still under contract, the Vikings should consider bringing in someone, whether it is a veteran or an undrafted free agent, to push him during offseason workouts and training camp. Then let the best man win.