Q&A: With OL Coach Steve Loney

With the signing of Mike Rosenthal, the offensive line will see some shuffling, but the depth appears better and more certain than in recent years. OL coach Steve Loney gives his thoughts on the individual talent in the trenches and how he sees it shaping up for 2003.

Offensive line coach Steve Loney is entering his second season with the Vikings. He has 27 years of coaching experience at the college and pro level.

He was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Iowa State from 1995-97 and 2000-01. In 2000, his Cyclones offensive line allowed only seven sacks, the second lowest total in the nation.

Loney also has coached at the University of Minnesota (1998-99), Connecticut (1994), Arizona Cardinals (1993), Colorado State (1989-92), The Citadel (1984-86), Morehead State (1979-83), Leavenworth (Kan.) High School (1977-78) and Missouri Western College (1975-76).

Q: With Mike Rosenthal signing as a free agent, it sounds like the plan is to move Chris Liwienski. Talk about those plans.
The plan is for Chris to go to left guard and have Mike at right tackle, Matt (Birk) at center and Bryant (McKinnie) at left tackle. You start out with Dave Dixon (at right guard) … but you create a competitive situation. Dave, Everett Lindsay, Lewis Kelly, Cory Withrow and those people can be either starters and/or backups the rest of the way.

Q: You were looking to move Liwienski to left guard, correct?
A: I think (Mike) Tice would be the first to admit that prior to the Korey Stringer tragedy, the thought was that Chris was going to be at guard. But the situation presented itself, and so Mike moved him to tackle and he has done well there. This was a situation that to make ourselves better in free agency we had to either acquire a guard — which would have allowed us to leave Chris at tackle, which would have been fine with us — or, as it turned out, to get a tackle and then move Chris. I do believe it plays into his strengths. I think that the thought initially was that Chris was going to be a guard. He has done very well at the tackle position, but now he is (going to be playing) what I hope and what everybody thought all along was going to be his strength.

Q: What will Rosenthal bring to the line?
A: There was initially some question as to his quickness. But he came in and demonstrated that he has got good foot quickness. I think he's going to be able to handle wide rushes and things like that. I think that right now we are not going to fall off from what we had a year ago, and because of the strength of Chris being inside you have to think initially that we are a better unit. Mike obviously is experienced, but he is only 25 or 26 years old. (He will turn 26 on June 10.) He's young, but yet he has had excellent experience. He started for quite a few years at New York (for the Giants) and he comes in a veteran, but a veteran who is still young.

Q: The Vikings came close to getting a deal done with Jerry Wunsch before he decided to re-sign with Seattle. Was there a preference there with Wunsch and Rosenthal?
A: From what I knew coming in, I thought Wunsch's best position was at guard, so I never viewed those two as competing for the same position. I think they were guys we evaluated to see how we could best help the line. But I didn't view them as both right tackles. I thought Jerry Wunsch was best inside.

Q: How much competition will there be for spots on the line in training camp?
A: I think you can look and say you have a solid starter in Chris Liwienski, you have a solid starter in Matt Birk, you have a solid starter in Mike Rosenthal and you have a real talent in Bryant McKinnie. … He started the last six or seven games of the year, so it's just a matter of him gaining the experience. So, you have a solid starter there.

You have got Dave Dixon, who has started a lot of games. But I know that Dave Dixon has got to … because of the talent that's behind him in Everett Lindsay, you've got Lewis Kelly, who we are going to give a real serious look inside, Adam Haayer, you've got Mike Early, you've got Cory Withrow. You have definite inside players. So it's not a situation where Dave can just rest on his laurels and go. He's a guy that has started a lot of games around here, but I feel good that we have got that depth in the people I mentioned.

When I first came here there was some question. ‘Can Brian Crawford play? Can Bennitte Waddell play?' And it's obvious what our decision was. But if you asked me that question this year, ‘Can Cory Withrow play? Can Lewis Kelly play? Can these guys play?' My answer to you is ‘Yes, that's a thing we know.' I think that's the reason it becomes more solid for us.

Q: Have you seen McKinnie much this offseason?
A: No, and I hadn't planned to. He is going to be here when the off-season program starts. He had a funeral for a friend in Miami that he had to attend (on March 29). From that standpoint there has been a little delay, but that's obviously something unforeseen.

Q: How have you gone about preparing for the draft?
A: Here is the approach I take. I have prepared myself so if they come to me in the first round I can say, ‘Here are the guys that are worthy of being first-round picks.' If they come to me in the second round, if they come to me in the third round — no one has stated to me, ‘Hey, this pick is going to be when we are thinking about offensive linemen.' I don't know that, and I'm not sure us position coaches are ever aware of that.

But I think what your job as the position coach is, is to be well-prepared so that if they come to you and say, ‘Hey listen, we have a pick here in the third and we had anticipated taking a player at such-and-such position, who do you think is a good value at that spot?' Then I have to be prepared to give them a good answer along with Scott Studwell's staff. Would I like for us to take somebody? Yeah, and I think as a position coach you have to sometimes be a little bit selfish and that is a selfish thought. But obviously if they said, ‘No, these are the guys you are going to go with,' then I feel good about this crew. But you always like to have an influx of young players, and I think there are some out there this year.

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