Lurtsema's Reaction: Offensive Preview

After 12 years in the NFL and with strong connections still maintained with the Vikings, Bob Lurtsema weighs in with his insights on a number of on-field topics as the Vikings get ready to open training camp this weekend. Today, his thoughts on the offense.

Q: With Michael Benentt's return from injury, is midseason realistic? And who do you see taking control of that position in Bennett's absence?
A: The funny part on Michael Bennett is that he broke a screw that was placed in his foot. That took me by surprise. What else surprised me is that if he could potentially come back for the last six games of the season, maybe eight, they waited a week to do the surgery. One week obviously breaks down to one game, and I thought they could have made his season a little longer. I'm not real optimistic. I just think this is a temporary fix and when the season's over next year they'll go in and operate again. My guess is that they're just hoping they'll get something out of Michael Bennett, and it's lucky of course with our draft pick and Larry Ned and Doug Chapman that we have enough in reserve to cover for Michael.

People are going to say, ‘Oh, the All-Pro is down. His season's over. It's terrible.' No, no, no. The offensive line has improved and that's who breaks those holes and that's what makes it happen up front. Not to say that Michael Bennett hasn't improved or isn't the best back, but our offensive line is stronger than it was last year, especially with Chis Liwienski moving to guard.

Q: There is a possibility that Bennett won't play at all this season after they get the walking boot off and look at it. What do you think the possibilities are of him playing at all this year?
A: With a cast and I know they're taking something from his hips to make the bone growth quicker. Mr. Optimistic here, I'm a little pessimistic. I don't think he's going to be back. He'll be lucky to get three or four games. I'm very negative on this one. I shouldn't be, but I've talked to a few doctors and they seem to agree with me -- if he comes back, he's beaten the odds.

Q: What do you hear about Onterrio Smith, and how do you think that whole competition between him and Doug Chapman, Moe Williams and the crew is going to shake out?
A: I get a kick out Onterrio Smith. They're talking about him having a great opportunity. He said, ‘I had a great opportunity when Michael was healthy.' That's really refreshing for a draft choice to come out and thrive on competition. Even with Larry Ned, we've watched Larry Ned and his work ethic during minicamp. He works really hard. And Chapman, there's your sleeper. Chapman kind of jumped my case because I was a little negative on him as far as hitting the play book because he has all the ability in the world. He was rattling my cage over at the locker room. But with him hitting the books the way he is and knowing and understanding it, Chapman can play some football. We're lucky enough that we've got great depth.

Q: Last year Bennett started off slow early in the season and came on strong in the second half. How much of that do you think is Bennett improving and how much of that is Bryant McKinnie getting in the lineup and the offensive line starting to mesh?
A: It wasn't Bryant McKinnie; it was Michael Bennett. Michael Bennett was not running to the right holes -- how he attacked the holes, his quickness to the line of scrimmage, hesitation, no confidence. It was 95 percent Michael Bennett improving and working with his game. And I think Dean Dalton, the backfield coach, work hard on it and did an excellent job bringing Michael up to his potential. So no, it wasn't Bryant McKinnie.

Q: So we go to the offensive line. You've got the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL, which is supposed to have a better offensive line. What are your expectations for the offensive line in putting up yardage on the rushing end and protecting Daunte Culpepper?
A: They always say stats are for losers. You can make stats look favorable any way you want. You can play games.with them, but I think they'll be in the top two or three next year. Michael Bennett had some big runs, and when you break an 80-yarder or 90-yarder that does help your yards-per-carry immensely. I think they're going to want to control the clock a little bit more because of an improved defense. I think they're going to toy around a little bit and slash it out three or four yards a crack with the strong offensive line. I know Mike Tice being an offensive line coach for all those years -- and he was a great line coach and put a lot of people in the Pro Bowl -- he showed the excitement of having Liwienski go to guard and having Mike Rosenthal come in there at right tackle. That really makes things exciting for the entire backfield. When you have a line like that, you can block for a speed rusher or a just a grind-‘em-out Bill Brown type of fullback. So this line is very adjustable to different styles of running backs.

Q: At receiver, obviously Randy Moss is No. 1, but is there any prediction from you on who is going to grab that No. 2 spot and No. 3 spot? Will Derrick Alexander finally show some of his potential?
A: D'Wayne Bates, I still like him. Alexander, they all say he came back hungry and I watch him over there working out and he's hurt a little bit -- he's a big-time question mark in my mind. But when you play the game as long as he has, and even myself being around the game that long, you get away from it and then you understand how much you actually love the game rather than just playing for a paycheck. When you get benched and back off it, then all of the sudden you say, ‘Hey, I love this game' and you get a wake-up call. Athletes throughout their career, if you're going to play 10, 12 or 15 years, at some time in your career you're going to get a wake-up call. I got one and then you sit back and say, ‘Holy mackerel. I ain't never going to complain again. That's the greatest life in the world.' They seem to saying that that's the way Derrick Alexander feels right now, that he does love the game and he got his wake-up call. I haven't seen it yet, but that's what I'm going to look for.

It's a funny thing, until you've played the game and been through that type of situation … myself, I retired at 36 and sat out one year. I called them and wanted to come back because they wanted me to play my 13th year. I didn't play, and then I called them a year later and said, ‘I'd like to come back for another year.' They said, ‘Lurtz, you've been out for a year, you old fart.' I knew Jack Patera real well, so I didn't get back. But you really realize how much you love it. Be hurt, get benched, sit out five games, whatever -- then it's hello, darlin'.

Q: For that No. 2 spot then, you think Bates will end up with it? Or will Kelly Campbell push him for it or Alexander?
A: Well, Alexander has to show me a lot. Kelly, if he can stay healthy, he's a little extrovert that is type A, a lot of energy. He has to become a little more disciplined as far as his routes, because a lot of times quarterbacks will throw to a spot, not to a receiver. If a receiver is running an 8-yard route to 10 yards, it's an interception, incomplete, or who knows what's going to happen. So he has to get a little bit tighter on his routes, but he's got a great vertical and tremendous coordination. Moss and Bates are a slam dunk, with Nate Burleson in there and Cedric James, it's wide open for those (additional) spots. Then you have Nick Davis, the punt returner, who was starting to add something before he got hurt.

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