Former NFL running back Darrell Thompson, whom the Packers selected 19th overall in the 1990 NFL Draft, played five seasons in the league. He now mentors younger players, including fellow Rochester native and Golden Gophers alum Marcus Sherels. Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote about Thompson's observations of Sherels:
"I noticed at [the University of] Minnesota that he had the ability to close," Thompson told Souhan. "Closing speed is hard to describe, but he had the ability to accelerate when most people don't."
Thompson also noticed Sherels' intelligence and some unique emotional qualities that make Sherels stand out.
"As a mentor, you're there for everything,'' Thompson said. "If he had life problems, or lady troubles or academic problems, I was there for him. Marcus actually had none of those. I had other athletes that were or are troubled. Not Marcus."
Thompson had a friend who worked on the Vikings coaching staff. The coach invented a test for defensive backs. The cerebral Antoine Winfield registered one of the highest scores, in the high 90s.
According to Thompson, Sherels received a perfect score on the same assessment, further demonstrating his high football I.Q.
"I don't know if people understand how important that kind of intelligence is," Thompson told Souhan. "In the NFL, coaches are only going to tell you something so many times. They're not going to keep correcting you. You tell Marcus something one time, and he's got it. He'll line up in the right place and understand the situation. That's not as common as you might think."
The 2016 season will mark Sherels' sixth with the Vikings, and Thompson is not surprised by the longevity of the cornerback who got his start as a walk-on with the Gophers.
Thompson has been mentoring young people for a long time. He considers Sherels one of his easiest assignments.
"I'm proud of him," Thompson told Souhan. "With the right attitude and work ethic, you can achieve great things. And he is."
Teddy remembers former teammate
Over the weekend, Teddy Bridgewater used his personal Instagram account to post a tribute to his former high school teammate, Ravens cornerback Tray Walker. The Ravens announced Friday that Walker had passed away from injuries suffered in a motorbike accident Thursday night.
Bridgewater and Walker played together at Miami Northwestern Senior High School, both graduating in 2011. While Bridgewater went on to play collegiately at the University of Louisville, Walker played at Texas Southern University. Walker stayed at the college level one year longer than Bridgewater and was selected 136th overall by Baltimore in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Consistency key for Vikings defense
Minnesota's defense has thrived in the two years since Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer took the reins in 2014. Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com delved into the team's focus on consistency within the defensive unit. He wrote:
Keeping that core together has been one of General Manager Rick Spielman's main priorities this offseason. During the roster overhaul when Mike Zimmer and his staff took over in 2014, they made the defense younger and have since focused primarily on drafting and continuity. While they've made five additions in eight days of free agency this month, including three on defense, even more deals have been made with their own players.
Of the 11 Vikings players scheduled to hit free agency or who became a free agent on March 9 that have re-signed, six are defensive players: linebacker Audie Cole, defensive end Kenrick Ellis, cornerback Terence Newman, safety Andrew Sendejo, cornerback Marcus Sherels and defensive end Justin Trattou.
Last year, the Vikings led the league in defensive snaps retained (94 percent). The strategy seemed to work, as the defense – which included six former first-round picks – improved to one of the league's best in key situations like red zone and third downs.
As it stands, Krammer pointed out that the Vikings have secured 91 percent of their defensive snaps from 2015.