Q&A: DL coach Brian Baker

Brian Baker was brought in to work with a revamped line, and he is doing that with a new technique and some new personnel.

Brian Baker joined the Vikings as their defensive line coach after spending four years with the Detroit Lions defensive line. He also coached the defensive line with the San Diego Chargers in 1996.

Baker's coaching roots run deep, with five years of NFL coaching experience and 12 years coaching at the college level, despite only being 38 years old. He started at the University of Maryland coaching linebackers in 1984-85, then coached fullbacks at Army in 1986, then served for nine years at Georgia Tech under Bobby Ross. His connection to Ross also brought him to San Diego and Detroit. He is also an active member of the American Football Coaches Association.

Q: How has Chris Hovan looked?
A: Very good. I'm very, very pleased with Chris. I challenged him with one thing back in minicamp and that's to play under control. I was a little apprehensive about doing that because I didn't want him to lose his aggressiveness. But he has been able to do both. He has been able to play very much under control and, if anything, he has increased his explosiveness and aggressiveness.

Q: What is the key for getting a player to play under control but remain aggressive?
A: Maturity, I think. Chris wants to be a great player as bad as anybody I have ever been around — but without saying it. He has never said to me, ‘Baker, I want to be great.' He shows me everyday in practice he wants to be great. He shows me everyday in the meeting room he wants to be great. He listens, he asks questions, he tries to do what you ask him to do on the practice field. I think because of that we have brought out something I don't know whether he has heard before or not — I have got to believe he had — but for whatever reason it's starting to sink in: play under control and see what the offense is doing because it will take you to the ball faster. He's starting to do that, and he's starting to play a little more productively.

Q: How has the move of Talance Sawyer from right to left end gone?
A: We felt like with the addition of Lance Johnstone that both of those guys are our top two ends and they need to be on the field at the same time. I call Talance my warrior. He's a guy that will chew off your foot before he lets you beat him. That is just his mentality. You like to have that guy over to the side where offenses typically run the ball. You like to have the guy who is not afraid of getting hit in the face, who is going to hit back and do those kind of things over there. And coming from the back side you like to have a guy that can be a blur, and Lance Johnstone has that kind of explosiveness and speed. So right now, I like what we have got. Nobody has heard of half of them, and I like that, too. They are all hungry. As a defense we are hungry. We don't have many name guys, but we have a lot of guys who know how to win and right now they know how to play hard.

Q: How aggressive do you want the linemen to be?
A: As aggressive as they can absolutely be. Everybody has been giving me grief about the sled. The little purple sleds we hit in practice and when we get over there it seems to draw a crowd. But all those are are ways to get them to tee off. That's absolutely what we want them to do. When their hand gets on the ground and the ball moves, I expect an explosion from four guys every snap. There is no exception to that. Whatever happens after that we can live with, as long as they are doing that at the snap of the ball. That's where it all starts. It's an attitude, a frame of mind and whatever other term you want to put to it. But that's the way we are going to play on defense. We are going to play hard, we are going to play fast and we are going to play physical.

Q: Are you looking for Johnstone to bring a veteran presence to the line?
A: I'm just looking for Lance to bring us his best. He has shown some (leadership) already. This is a defensive scheme that he is familiar with. He played under Willie Shaw in Oakland when Willie was the defensive coordinator there. So, he's familiar with a lot of things we are doing because our package is kind of a mix of a couple different thoughts and ideas. Lance is very comfortable in it and I think he does bring a settling ... because he's not a really high-intensity guy until game day. That's just not his personality. He settles them because I am kind of high intensity. Between the two of us we kind of keep the group somewhere in the middle.

Q: Are the younger players more of the high-intensity types?
A: Chris (Hovan) is definitely high-motored. We have some high-energy guys in the room and, like I said, Lance does a nice job of keeping everybody focused and keeping everybody in the fold like you expect experienced players to do. Have I asked him to do that? No. All I asked him to do was give me his best. But I think leadership and a feel of what is needed, he has that. VU

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