Wide receiver Adam Thielen said that while expectations are sky-high for the Vikings, who are coming off a difficult end to last season when they lost 38-7 to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, the coaching staff has the team focused only on Week 1.
“We have the same mind-set [as last year],” Thielen said. “Coaches do a great job of going back to the basics and making sure we’re getting better every day. There’s not much different; [we] just have to go out and execute.”
Thielen said the preseason gave the team a chance to get used to new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.
“Now we have an understanding of how he’s going to call a game in certain situations, and we have a better understanding of how he goes about things going into Week 1,” Thielen said.
How has he liked catching passes from Kirk Cousins compared to Case Keenum last season?
“They’re different. Every quarterback has things they do really well and things they do different than other quarterbacks,” Thielen said. “[Cousins] is no different. He’s a guy that is really talented and loves the game of football and wants to win. That’s the guy you want on your side.”
Thielen finished last season eighth in the NFL in receptions (91), fifth in yards (1,276) and eighth in receiving first downs (59). Pro Football Focus rated the Vikings receiving corps No. 1 in the NFL heading into the season, writing that, “The Vikings’ 1-2 punch is simply unrivaled across the NFL at the moment. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are both top-notch route runners with exceptional ball skills.”
Was Thielen happy to see Diggs sign his five-year, $72 million deal?
“A guy who works that hard and loves the game of football and is such a great teammate, you root for those guys to get a big deal, a long-term deal,” Thielen said. “It’s obviously going to be awesome to have him around for a long time. I couldn’t be more happy for him. Hopefully he goes out there and continues to do the things he has been doing.”
49ers’ upset potential
While the Vikings are 6½-point favorites against the 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, everyone knows San Francisco was a different team after they acquired Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots last October and ended the season 5-0 after starting the year 1-10. Over those final five weeks, the 49ers were fourth in the NFL in point differential with 144 points scored to 99 points against.
“Their defense has been playing really well,” Thielen said. “They’re a fast group, they play the system extremely well and they know what they’re doing. They don’t make coverage mistakes. It’ll be a good test for us, especially in Week 1.”
Does he think the Vikings can rebound from their final six quarters last season, when they were outscored 62-19?
“I think we’re just excited to get back and play a full game,” he said. “It has been a while since we got out there and played 60 minutes of football. That’s the biggest thing is we have to make sure we have a good week of practice. Coach [Mike Zimmer] talked about that [Wednesday] making sure we’re preparing and going out and having really good practices. Then the game just kind of comes as you go.”
Fleck on Fresno State
The Gophers football team started slowly against New Mexico State in its season opener last week before scoring 28 second-quarter points in an eventual 48-10 victory.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said that can’t be the case Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium against Fresno State, which went 10-4 last year and beat Houston 33-27 in the Hawaii Bowl. The Bulldogs defeated Idaho 79-13 in their season opener last week.
“They are very, very talented,” Fleck said. “They’re loaded offensively, defensively and the special teams. Very good football team, very well coached. Coach [Jeff] Tedford is a tremendous football coach and that’s well-known all over the coaching world. When you develop people like [Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers [who Tedford discovered at Butte Community College in Oroville, Calif., and brought to Cal] and Trent Dilfer [who played under Tedford when he was quarterbacks coach at Fresno State in 1992-1993] and have the success he did at all levels, it is really impressive.
“They have a great quarterback, three dynamic wide receivers, they’re good up front, they use their tight ends well; defensively they’re very aggressive, very stout, they have a great secondary, front seven is very good, their middle linebacker might be one of the best middle linebackers we play all year.”
While some have tried to diminish Fresno State’s opening victory because Idaho was playing their first Division I game, Fleck said he is not fooled.
“Fresno State is one of the best teams in the Group of Five [conferences containing smaller Division-I schools],” he said. “A lot of people have picked them to be at the New Year’s Day six bowl games, to be the representative of the Group of Five like we were at Western Michigan. Very, very good football team.”
Smith excited to lead
Gophers senior running back Rodney Smith, who carried the ball 24 times for 153 yards against New Mexico State, was impressed by the play of the team’s collection of freshman.
“We have a lot of young players and a lot of growth, but I think that overall if we keep the heads up and keep them motivated, the ceiling is high for them,” Smith said.
Smith added that while Shannon Brooks’ leg injury is healing, the Gophers’ depth at running back will bridge the gap until he returns.
“We are a resilient group, and we come to work each and every day like no other,” Smith said. “We have to keep those young guys on board and keep pushing forward.”
That showed against the Aggies. Freshman Mo Ibrahim rushed for 101 yards, including a 74-yard gain. Freshman Bryce Williams had nine carries for 31 yards and a score.
Smith had high praise for the offensive line.
“They did a tremendous job, very proud of them,” he said. “It was a couple of runs where I went untouched all the way to the third level. Anytime a running back can get to the third level untouched, that means the offensive line is doing a pretty good job.”
And what has Smith been able to see from the film on Fresno State?
“They are a very good team, a formidable opponent,” Smith said. “Their defensive flies around. They have a lot of older guys returning, a senior-led team. They will be a good opponent. I think any team is tough to beat, you have to humble yourself in practice or you’ll be humbled in the game. Any week any team can beat you and we know that. We prepare for every opponent that we face [with that in mind].”
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • email@example.com