Q&A: With RBs Coach Dean Dalton

Running backs coach Dean Dalton talks about the dream running back, how the Vikings judge their running backs, and the many assets Moe Williams provides.

Dean Dalton enters his fifth season in Minnesota, his second as running backs coach after spending his first three seasons with the Vikings alongside Mike Tice coaching the offensive line.

Prior to joining the Vikings in 1999, Dalton spent four years as the managing editor of War Room Publications and the president of The Red Zone Interactive.

Dalton also worked as the Dean of Students and Director of Athletics for the Delavan-Darien School District in Delevan, Wis., from 1996-98. He was the athletics director, administrator and head football coach for St. Michael's Academy in Austin, Texas, from 1995-96.

Dalton last coached collegiately at Purdue as its receivers coach (1990). He coached running backs at Texas Southern (1988-89), wide receivers at Wisconsin (1986-87), and defensive backs and running backs at Western Illinois (1984-85). Dalton played college football for Air Force Academy in 1981-82 and for Western Illinois in 1983-84.

Q: Let's dream for a minute and say you could construct the ideal running back. Who would you use as models?

A: I'll be a homer and take Michael Bennett's speed. I'll take Barry Sanders' change of direction. I'll take Walter Payton's mental toughness. I'll take Emmitt Smith's durability. I'll take Marcus Allen's versatility as a receiver and a great runner and a short-yardage guy. Combine those five guys and you have a super back. If you look at each of those five players, they were all great players during their careers, and great leaders. They were model players. I would say that at some point and time, each of those five guys was the best and was the guy that you would really love to coach.

Q: When evaluating talent, what do the Vikings look for in a running back?

A: We look for smart football players. What we're interested in is a football player that can learn. The other intangible we look for is the maturity process. How are they going to handle going from college to the pros? I used to joke that players go from scraping together money with their friends to order a pizza, to being able to be drafted and buy a pizza franchise. We look for how they're going to handle that change from college to pro. We evaluate skills and the measureables and the production, but the intangibles are what separate our team and make it so good.

Q: Obviously, you would rather have Michael Bennett healthy, but what are the pros and cons of having a "running back by committee?"

A: It goes along with the No. 1 goal with this group of men — to win a championship. If everyone keeps their priorities straight, they'll understand that being part of a championship organization is exciting and something that most people won't have the opportunity to do. As running backs, they all were "the guys." Of course, you have competitive egos, but you also have camaraderies and that's the type of people we have.

Q: How much can we expect to see from rookie Onterrio Smith as the season progresses?

A: Onterrio's role is to become a professional. Once he has a better understanding of it, he can go out and play. Ideal scenario? He could come in and be a change-of-pace guy who has the ability to be a future guy. He will get in there and be a physical runner. He has great hands and is a talented young guy who will be a threat in the passing game. Right now, our expectations are he'll be a great change-of-pace guy who can really wear down an opponent and still be a threat for a big play.

Q: How valuable is Moe Williams to the Vikings offense?

A: Not only has Moe been a great role player, but currently he's a great role model. He's showing the young guys how to be a pro. He's showing the young guys how to approach the game. The extra work, the extra film, the extra studying … we did fight to get him back from Baltimore. I told him that this is his home and that his year with the Ravens was a one-year vacation. His role has always changed here and he's always adapted to it. Currently, he is the guy.

Q: Do fans understand the true role of a running back?

A: Fans see the glory of it like most people. They see the big yards and long runs and touchdown runs and the hard, physical runs. But they don't necessarily see the hard details of the job, like picking up blitzing linebackers or sometimes picking up defensive ends. Those details are what allow backs to be complete.

Q: For the time being at least, 275-pound fullback James Lynch didn't work out. The Vikings brought former Giants fullback Charles Stackhouse in to fill his roster spot. What did the Vikings gain?

A: I liked Charles coming out of Ole Miss. I was interested in him last year as a free-agent fullback. As a Giant, he scored a touchdown last year against us. He's an athletic 250-pound guy. He's got good hands and decent feet. He has to learn some better technique in his lead blocking, but he has the ability to do that, and he's been working at that since he got here. What intrigued me about him was we had James Lynch here — who was doing some good things — but Stackhouse has played 16 games in this league. He brings a lot to the table and has excellent talent.

Q: As a running backs coach, it has to be a luxury to have a quarterback as mobile and as powerful as Daunte Culpepper.

A: There are a variety of reasons why our running game is going to be good. I have a lot of confidence in all of our backs. But the five guys up front are really playing at a high level. The other thing that makes the running game go is we have No. 84 (Randy Moss) at receiver, so defensive coordinators will rotate coverage to him. And then, with Daunte Culpepper under center, he scares defensive coordinators to death, especially now with the decision-making he's had all year. At any time he can tuck it under his arm and go, and that's a big man with a lot of speed, which is a big plus.

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