Q&A: With RBs Coach Dean Dalton

The Vikings drafting Onterrrio Smith in the fourth round opened up a number of questions for the offensive backfield. Running backs coach Dean Dalton addresses them.

Dean Dalton was moved from assistant offensive line coach to running backs coach after Mike Tice was named head coach. Previously, Dalton worked with former head coach Dennis Green's son, Jeremy, at War Room publications, which evaluates football player personnel.

Dalton became a Vikings assistant in 1999 after four years at the War Room. He was also dean of students and athletic director at Delevan-Darien School District in Delevan, Wis., for two years before going to the War Room. Before that, he worked in other capacities in high school athletics and in sports broadcasting and publishing. Collegiately, he has coached at Western Illinois (1984-85), Wisconsin (1986-87), Texas Southern (1988-89) and Purdue (1990).

Q: What was the thinking behind taking Onterrio Smith in the third round?

A: Because of our system we went with value. This was a guy we had rated going (earlier) in terms of ability and talent. We interviewed him at the combine. ... This was an exciting opportunity to add an excellent quality player, and we are thrilled we had the opportunity to add him. He will jump in here and compete. So right now we have the luxury of having an excellent player come in and compete for a spot in our backfield. Michael (Bennett) will be our featured running back, Moe Williams will be a Viking until he retires, Doug Chapman is a veteran. Then you have young guys who will all be competing like (James) Wofford, Larry Ned and John Avery. And this big Jeremy Allen, he was a free agent and he is a fullback. So I'm looking forward to those new young guys coming in.

Q: Would you say this will be an elite group competing for jobs?

A: We already felt we had great depth and great talent. We are excited about it. The group we had returning led the NFL in rushing with our offensive line and Daunte (Culpepper) making great decisions with the running game. But we felt like we could continue to grow and improve and get better. Michael Bennett will get better. Moe Williams really had an excellent year and is a great leader, and he feels like he can get better. Doug Chapman is healthy and back competing — he can get better. All the other guys have worked extremely hard in the offseason. Larry Ned is a talented young man. John Avery is a first-round pick who has played in every league but is still competitive. He has exceptional speed and excellent athletic ability. James Wofford has been our development guy that continues to show ability. I would suggest we have outstanding talent.

Q: How good will the competition be in training camp?

A: It's going to be fantastic. Competition breeds the best in each player and we'll be getting the best of the best with our final roster. It will be an exciting battle all spring and throughout training camp to see who lines up when we go to Lambeau Field in September.

Q: With the number of running backs you have and the addition of Onterrio Smith, what does this mean for Doug Chapman's future? Is this a call for him to bring his game up a notch?

A: I think that's exactly what has happened. Doug is going to have to bring his "A" game every day because of the competition. And he will. He's a competitive guy and is experienced in our system. So he's going to show up this spring with his "A" game. He will have a chance to compete to have his roster spot and have his role in our offense.

Q: How is Michael Bennett's injury progressing?

A: According to the medical folks, just great. He will be 100 percent when he gets back to it. We are frustrated because we would love to be working with him and enhance and refine his game. But he's involved in everything. He has been at the meetings and is helping the young guys in our offense. You're frustrated because you would like to be able to do some things to polish his game, but he's improving. His challenge now is to improve as a student of the game and learn the finer points of our offensive scheme and the details of our system.

Q: What does it do when a player can't be involved in the offseason program?

A: In this situation it was good because one of the things Michael needs to refine is becoming more (of a student of the game), understanding the details of our system. Understand everything better and make everything happen faster, if that's possible with him. It also opens up some repetitions for some other guys that's going to prove to be a fantastic battle for those roster spots. And so no one can be complacent; everyone will improve. There is great unity in our room as the group bonds and grows together. They will push each other, as competitors will. With Michael not being able to take those reps, it's a blessing for those young people that are competing for jobs that will have that many more opportunities to sign in the offseason.

Q: Were you always confident Moe Williams would return this offseason despite the fact he was a free agent?

A: As far as Mike Tice and myself and Moe were concerned, yes. Moe wanted to return a Viking, he wants to finish out his career here and help us get back to that championship caliber of football that we play here. He had opportunities in Baltimore and Buffalo, and some other teams were talking with him seriously because he is a great football player. When I talk to running back coaches around the league, they are thrilled he has evolved into the player that he is because everybody has seen him in his Kentucky days to his great special teams play here with the Vikings to maturing into an excellent running back in the NFL. For Moe to be back is tremendous for our program and what Mike has gotten planned for the franchise — to grow and go out and win our division and get back to the playoffs. We need internal leadership, we need leaders that are on the field, and that's Moe Williams. He's our leader.

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