Lurtsema's Reaction: Defensive Changes

As an old-school player in the NFL for 12 years, former defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema knows a thing or two about defense. After watching practices this spring, he has extra insight on what to look for on defense during training camp.

Q: Defensively, we had about four weeks of camp to watch this spring. What did you see out of Kevin Williams that you like, and what do you think he has to improve on?

Kevin Williams is a very intelligent ball player. That's the way Mike Tice drafted last year -- number one for intelligence -- and more importantly if you've got great character in the locker room. He'll talk to you, he's a hard worker and he's respectful. That shows a lot of character to begin with, because a lot of times players will come in and they're in their own world. They're better than everyone else. That's not the way Kevin Williams is. He knows he has to work hard and listen to other people. Watching him in practice, he's got real strong hands. I think he's more of a defensive tackle than a defensive end. I watch his feet and he has a powerful move, but his feet aren't as soft. By soft I mean that a lot of times as a defensive end you have to be a little quicker afoot rather than being just a strong-handed and straight-ahead type of player. He's got a great work ethic, and that was definitely a great draft pick for the Minnesota Vikings.

Q: Overall on the defensive line, what do you think fans will be able to see different this year versus last year?

The thing they're going to find out is that when you get a group of ball players that don't make mental mistake after mental mistake after mental mistake and can get lined up properly, you're not going to have as many big plays against a unit like this. Everybody is going to get beat at the line of scrimmage -- you can't shut down an offense to zero yards -- but you can shut down mental mistakes that enable the opposing team to pick up 7 yards when they should have been stopped at 3. You watch the defensive backs, where we picked up Denard Walker and Ken Irvin, and they're on the line of scrimmage and they're chucking the receivers. In that first 5 yards, they're hitting them. They're tearing them up. As a matter of fact, Mike Tice had to pull them off during minicamp because they were grabbing maybe a little beyond 5 yards. Well, since nobody has grabbed anybody for the last 10 years, it was something we haven't seen. The corners are really up front chucking them, and you can jam more if you get a little stronger defensive rush. Maybe Williams will get double-teamed and maybe Chris Hovan can get one-on-one, and they feel Lorenzo Bromell is coming on a lot stronger. He finally developed at the end of the season the way they expected him to start last season. It took him a while to get used to the system. So now if you have more of a pass rush there, you have more of a luxury of jamming the receivers. Without a pass rush you don't jam because you can't stay with the receivers.

Q: Obviously this is the best set of cornerbacks, maybe the best defensive backfield, the Vikings have had in three or four years. How far back would you say you have to go before you say, ‘This defensive backfield is as good as they've had since …'?

They had a lot of talent, but they just had a lot of problems with the defensive backs coach, who didn't teach them anything and had them totally confused over and over, with Richard Solomon. There are a lot of stories where we could go on and on how he didn't communicate well with the players. But you could go back to the Carl Lee days. It's been a long time since they've had a good four-man unit. I can't say they're good and strong right now. I like the additions they made, but I can't really say this is the best group they've had in 10 or 15 years until I've seen them all play together. We really don't know who is starting at safety, but I like they're attitude. And this Kevin Ross they brought in from Kansas City to work with the players is doing a good job, as is Chuck Knox Jr. Much better than we've had in the previous 10 years.

Q: That brings us that fourth spot in the backfield with Willie Offord. What can you tell us about what happened to him last year and where do you think things will shake out with that spot this year?

Willie has all the tools to play really well, but when you're reading different routes, different formations, different flexes, motions, you can be confused. There was a lot of confusion in the backfield last year, and it came from inexperience with Brian Williams and Willie and Jack Brewer coming in there. That's a lot of young ball players. It's up for toss who's going to be there. Whoever makes the least amount of mental mistakes is going to win that job. The best athlete might not make it, but the smartest athlete will. Brian Russell will be in the mix too because he's a smart kid. I would much rather have a smarter football player than one with all the tools. I would always kid people that I was terrible and would get my butt kicked all the time, but I was always in the right spot when I got it kicked. They would say, ‘I know what Lurtsema is going to do on this play.' It's the same thing with the defensive backs. I know how they're going to react on this play. So once you get a consistent ball player, then the coach can create defenses around each player's strength. Don't coach defensive backs to their weakness.

Q:Do you think they will go looking if there are some veteran defensive backs cut loose at the end of training camps, or are the Vikings' purse strings too tight?

The Vikes will be looking all day long if they come out in that first week and make a bunch of mental mistakes after all the work they've done with minicamps. They won't hesitate to make a move. The thing you have to realize there is you can have a great ball player, but with a different system he's got to come in and learn all the different terminology and who he's playing next to. It's no different than playing defensive line. You have to know how the guy next to you is going to react in a certain situation. A veteran can also pick up a half a step because they know what's going to happen before a younger ball player who is just playing the defense.

Q: What do you think about our linebackers? They were one of the weaknesses last year, but it seemed like the whole persona around the linebackers changed with the addition of Chris Claiborne and Greg Biekert having another year to run the defense.

They absolutely stole Claiborne. He came in the best shape, and his weight is down a little bit. And he's talking to the coaches all the time. He wants to learn. He wants to be perfect on the field. That's a big positive. Once again you go back to the intelligence aspect. You have an athlete that's very bright and we have him here. That was a very weak link last year. When you play a second-year veteran linebacker and he plays 30 plays and he has 16 mental mistakes, you have a problem. And Biekert, there is your team leader on defense. In Oakland, Biekert was not allowed to call timeouts. So sometimes last year on timeouts he was looking around and it looked like confusion on Biekert's part. It wasn't. It was just that he's never done it and didn't know he could do it, and that's part of the adjustment they had to make at the start of the season. It's amazing the little things you have do with people they bring in from other clubs, it's a catch-22.

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