While college seniors use the Senior Bowl as a test run to acclimate to NFL coaching, the defensive side of the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff is using its week in Mobile, Ala., to iron out the details of how things will work between them.
The Vikings, with a 3-13 record marking them as one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2011, were eager to coach at the Senior Bowl to get to personally know many of the incoming rookies. As it turns out, the coaches are getting to know each other, as well.
Head coach Leslie Frazier hired Alan Williams to be the defensive coordinator, demoted former coordinator Fred Pagac to linebackers coach, moved former linebackers coach Mike Singletary into an assistant coaching role with some linebacker responsibilities, moved former linebackers assistant Jeff Imamura to assist with the defensive backs, fired defensive line coach Karl Dunbar and hired former assistant Brendan Daly to take the lead role on the defensive line. That's a lot of change on the defensive coaching staff, which is why Frazier was happy to work it all out at the Senior Bowl this week.
"This is beautiful. I'm telling you, this is a blessing to be able to do this because it gives us a head start really on 2012," Frazier said. "This is like having that extra minicamp we didn't have a year ago (because of the lockout). This is it. This is big for our staff, big for our coaches. We need this and it kind of helps put the bad taste of 2011 out of your mind for a little bit because we have to be so focused on what we can get done here so it helps in a lot of ways."
It didn't start so smoothly. Some of the coaches were delayed in getting to Mobile, Ala., because of bad weather last weekend in Atlanta and were forced to drive the rest of the way.
Once they got on the field Monday afternoon, it was apparent things had change. Pagac and Frazier were each working actively with the linebackers while Williams took a more observatory slant with the initial day of practice.
Frazier didn't go into details on why he made the move to demote Pagac and hire Williams – saying philosophical differences weren't a major factor – but Frazier didn't seem to have any reservations about offering Pagac the opportunity to be the "lead guy" dealing with the linebackers. Greater experience in the Vikings' Cover-2 system gave Pagac the advantage there over Singletary, who was the linebackers coach last year.
"The fact that Fred has been in this system the longest and has the most experience in this system, he'll take the lead on a lot of things. Between he and Mike, they'll work out what we need to do from an individual standpoint and we'll divvy up duties when it comes to game-planning opponents," Frazier said. "The biggest thing is on the field, different responsibilities for two different guys, but having a lead guy really makes a difference. To have two guys who are very good coaches, and we have great minds working with our players, I've got to think it's going to be an advantage for our defense and particularly for our linebackers."
Frazier will use Singletary in a role similar to the one Frazier occupied in Indianapolis under Tony Dungy. There, Frazier assisted Williams with the defensive backs while helping Dungy with some global planning and agenda-setting. The difference with the Vikings is that Williams is in the coordinator's seat and Singletary is assisting with linebackers while consulting with Frazier on big-picture issues.
"I really want to utilize him even more with that position," Frazier said. "We didn't have a chance last offseason to do certain things because there wasn't an offseason. I was telling him (in Mobile) I really want to get him involved with some of the things in the offseason, which will be a big plus for me because he went through some of the same things I'm going through now."
While the Vikings coaching staff is set and the vast majority of those coaches were performing their duties in Mobile, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson was the exception. He had hip-replacement surgery last Friday and can't fly for several weeks because of that. The Vikings thought about asking him to delay to the surgery, but they wanted him to be available for the NFL Scouting Combine a month from now in Indianapolis and be ready to fly across the country scouting potential draft picks on the offensive line.
"He'll be able to get out on the road and work guys out. If we had pushed the surgery back beyond this date, it would have put in doubt his ability to be able to fly from city to city in March because they were not going to let him be able to fly after having the surgery," Frazier said. "… Now, he'll be set for the combine. He'll be able to get out on the road after we get out of the combine, so it works out pretty good."
Davidson had been walking with a cane as his hip became more of a problem throughout the past year.
"This is good for him. It was painful to watch sometimes. To come to the games, we even talked about getting him a cart for some of our games just to go down that ramp that we have (in the Metrodome)," Frazier said. "It's something that definitely needed to happen."
Likewise, Frazier is hoping that his surgery on the defensive staff will cure their aches of the past year.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Coaches using Senior Bowl as test run
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