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Zulgad’s Roundup: P.J. Fleck to USC rumors; a role for Kellen Mond; Cameron Dantzler’s future

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Minnesota
Sep 2, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Gophers head coach P.J Fleck looks on prior to the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Huntington Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

News, notes and a few hot takes:

    • Could Gophers coach P.J. Fleck be headed elsewhere? That became a possibility on Monday after Southern Cal fired coach Clay Helton only two games into the season. The Trojans lost 42-28 on Saturday to visiting Stanford to drop to 1-1. Associate head coach Donte Williams takes over on an interim basis. Fleck and Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell are the leading candidates to replace Helton next season at 13/2 odds, according to BetOnline. Several national media outlets also have mentioned Fleck as a potential candidate. Fleck, in his fifth season at Minnesota, makes $4.6 million per year and is the seventh highest-paid head coach in the Big Ten, according to USA Today. The next Southern Cal coach is expected to make at least $5 million so it would be difficult for Fleck to say no if he was offered the job, and it’s unlikely the University of Minnesota would match a salary that could be more than $5 million. Fickel already has denied having interest in the Southern Cal job, but USC athletic director Mike Bohn hired Fickel when he was the AD at Cincinnati.
    • Quarterback Kellen Mond was inactive for the Vikings’ opener on Sunday at Cincinnati after seeing extensive action in the preseason. That seemed like a good idea for the third-round pick, who isn’t ready to start in the regular season and should be allowed to use his rookie season learning behind Kirk Cousins. But as I watched how the 49ers used third-overall pick Trey Lance and the Bears used 11th-overall pick Justin Fields in Week 1, it occurred to me that the Vikings might be missing an opportunity to utilize Mond. What if there was a package of plays for Mond to run in order to give the Vikings’ offense a different look? Cousins is this team’s starting quarterback and the Vikings will sink or swim with him, but Mond’s athletic ability would give opposing defenses something to think about and, at first, it could catch teams by surprise. The only issue is that Sean Mannion was the backup Sunday, meaning Mond was inactive, so could the Vikings justify having three quarterbacks on their game-day roster? The Vikings likely would want Mannion to remain the backup in case Cousins was lost during a game. That makes sense. So does finding a way to get Mond on the field to keep teams off balance.
    • While Cameron Dantzler has to take a large share of the blame for his fall down the Vikings’ depth chart, it’s also fair to wonder what the team is doing to try to get the cornerback back on track. A third-round pick by the Vikings in 2020, Dantzler started 10 of the 11 games in which he played as a rookie as he dealt with injury issues. The Vikings’ decision to sign cornerback Bashaud Breeland in June bumped Dantzler into a backup role, but the plan was never for him to end up at the bottom of the depth chart in Week 1. Dantzler wasn’t active for the Bengals game, and The Athletic reported this week that the San Francisco 49ers called the Vikings to inquire about Dantzler’s availability. The Vikings didn’t deal Dantzler but that’s not good enough. Cornerback Jeff Gladney, the second of the Vikings’ 2020 first-round choices, was released during training camp after he was indicted by a Texas grand jury on a charge of felony assault. Giving up on Dantzler means two highly drafted corners from 2020 would be gone. Dantzler should be expected to eventually reclaim a starting role, considering veterans Breeland and Patrick Peterson are signed to one-year contracts. But for that to happen, Dantzler first needs to pass 2019 seventh-round pick Kris Boyd on the depth chart.
    • ESPN hit a home run with the debut of the Monday Night Football MegaCast featuring brothers Peyton and Eli Manning. The brothers proved to be a fantastic listen as they were joined by guests during the Raiders-Ravens game that was aired on ESPN2. ABC and ESPN carried the traditional telecast. The highlight of the night came in the second half as Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson joined the telecast for an extended period and offered incredibly candid insights for a current player. Between the stories Peyton, Eli and their guests told and the X’s and O’s football knowledge they dropped, it established what more and more sports telecasts should be like. Eli also proved to have more personality than expected. The MegaCast will be produced for 10 games this season, including the next two weeks. The remainder of the schedule will be released at a later date and hopefully will include the Vikings-Chicago game on Dec. 20 at Soldier Field.
    • Twins manager Rocco Baldelli sounds like a guy who would like veteran shortstop Andrelton Simmons to return next season. Simmons signed a one-year contract last winter with the thought he would improve the defense for a team that was looking to win a third consecutive AL Central title. That didn’t come close to happening as the Twins have had a miserable season. “With a young team and a young pitching staff especially, being able to put an elite shortstop out on the field helps the rest of the team,” Baldelli said over the weekend. “I know there have been some offensive struggles this year. But the defensive work that he puts in, it matters.” Let’s hope the Twins’ front office doesn’t agree with Baldelli. Simmons, 32, entered the Twins’ doubleheader against Cleveland on Tuesday slashing a career-worst .222/.285/.274 with three home runs and 29 RBIs in 120 games.
    • The Twins will face the hot-hitting Toronto Blue Jays seven times in nine games after completing a three-game series against Cleveland on Wednesday. Toronto, which acquired Jose Berrios from the Twins at the trade deadline in July, had won 12 of 13 games in September entering Tuesday’s game against Tampa Bay and led the American League wild card race. Toronto had outscored opponents 114-56 in September.
    • Berrios is not scheduled to face the Twins in a three-game series this weekend in Toronto. He entered Tuesday’s game against the Rays with a 4-2 record and a 3.63 ERA in eight starts with the Blue Jays. Berrios was 7-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 20 starts with the Twins.
    • It’s looking more and more like Wild winger Kirill Kaprizov won’t be on the ice for the opening of training camp next Thursday. Kaprizov has almost no leverage in contract talks with the Wild, but his agent continues to play hardball, despite the fact it might not be in the best interest of his client. Michael Russo of The Athletic has the latest on the situation (subscription).
    • Gus Johnson, Aqib Talib and Megan Olivi will be calling the Vikings-Cardinals game Sunday on FOX.
    • Three Vikings’ offensive linemen were among the team’s five lowest-graded players in Pro Football Focus’ ratings for Sunday’s loss to the Bengals. Center Garrett Bradbury had a 37.4 grade, left tackle Rashod Hill was at 49.7 and right guard Oli Udoh was at 57.9. Tight end Tyler Conklin (46.6( and wide receiver Dede Westbrook (56.2) were the other two in the bottom five.
    • Parting Thought: The Vikings’ offensive line is going to have to find a way to slow linebacker Chandler Jones, who tied a Cardinals single-game record with five sacks in Sunday’s win over Tennessee and also forced two fumbles, or Kirk Cousins is going to spend a good portion of Sunday afternoon picking himself up off the field at State Farm Stadium. An 0-2 start for the second consecutive year would only accelerate talk of coach Mike Zimmer’s job status.