Q&A: With Ass't LBs Coach Pete Bercich

The linebackers may have landed the biggest free agent of the offseason in Chris Claiborne, but we also delve into the reserve linebackers' progress in our Q&A with assistant linebackers coach Pete Bercich.

Pete Bercich joined the Vikings coaching staff in 2002 as a defensive assistant/quality control coach after playing for the Vikings from 1995-2000 as a linebacker and a standout on special teams.

Bercich played collegiately from 1990-93 at Notre Dame, where he earned a bachelor's degree in finance. He was drafted by the Vikings in the seventh round of the 1994 draft and spent the ensuing season on the team's practice squad. Bercich was a teammate of head coach Mike Tice in 1995.

Q: Obviously, signing free agent Chris Claiborne immediately made the linebacker group stronger, but what does he bring to the table?

A: Chris brings to our group a unique combination of things. He's a young football player, he's only 25 years old, but at the same time he has NFL experience. He brings that unique combination to our group. The other thing is he's an NFC North guy, so he's very familiar with Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago. I think having that immeasurable, that comes into play when you get a guy from an NFC North team. His greatest strength is the feel for coverage. He has a very good feel for what offenses are trying to do against him.

Q: How important is it to have an experienced middle linebacker?

A: Your "Mike" backer is really the quarterback of the defense, so he needs to know the most about the defense. Your strong safety is going to direct the coverage. There are only two chiefs on the field — the one is the "Mike" linebacker, who sets the front, and the strong safety sets the coverage. That's why Greg Biekert is so valuable, because he's so experienced. That kind of poise and level-headedness is a rock the defense needs to build around.

Q: That being said, it had to be difficult for Biekert to sign with the Vikings a week before their season opener a year ago, then play in Week 1?

A: He and Willie Shaw had a history, so he knew the system as well as anybody else did. A lot of times you heard him and Willie talk about things they had done in Oakland that we hadn't done yet in Minnesota that we're going to get into. Another thing that makes Greg so good is — the young guys, when you come in as a rookie in the NFL, it's amazing how much you don't know. A guy like Greg Biekert will teach, and if a rookie is smart he'll learn from Greg Biekert. Those young guys really have to sit down and watch a guy like Biekert 24/7.

Q: Was it difficult for Henri Crockett move from weakside to strongside linebacker?

A: I think it was easier for him to go back there because that's where he came from in Atlanta. We play a strong and weakside. He'd spend most of his time on the line, so where he's out at strong, he'll spend more time on the line then he would at weakside. Technique-wise, he knows how to play on the line of scrimmage over the tight end. He's happy to be back home.

Q: After spending the entire season on injured reserve last year, how is Raonall Smith doing?

A: Raonall is probably a little ahead of a rookie right now. He doesn't know physically what a whole season will entail. A guy can only learn so much watching film or practice. He's basically like a rookie again. He's progressing. We just have to get him lined up right and turn him around and let him go and destroy something.

Q: Nick Rogers was afforded plenty of playing time last season during his rookie year. Are you seeing that pay off this year?

A: George O'Leary wants to get as much talent on the field as often as he can. Nick Rogers is very, very talented, so George is constantly trying to find ways to get Nick on the field. A guy like him, you want him to line up and play fast. You don't want him to think, you want him to play fast.

Q: The Kansas City Chiefs recently played three straight teams that ran 3-4 defenses. What are the pros and cons of 3-4 vs. 4-3?

A: The cons of the 3-4 are the size of offensive linemen. ... When you play a true 3-4 defense you're asking your defensive line to two-gap and you're asking a 290-pound guy to two-gap a 360-pound tackle. The other downside is your linebackers have to be fantastic pass rushers and those guys are pretty rare. A 3-4 defense really values a guy like Nick Rogers, who can play both defensive end and linebacker. The good thing about a 3-4 is, because it's a balanced look, it allows the defense to blitz more effectively.

Q: Let's say you could build the perfect linebacker. What would the blueprints entail?

A: For a middle linebacker, mentally you'd want a guy like Greg Biekert who's smart, intelligent, savvy and a true professional. You want a guy who can run like Brian Urlacher, a guy who could run sideline to sideline who is explosive. I'd probably have the coverage and work ethic of a Derrick Brooks. That's kinda how I would build it.

Q: How would you assess the linebacker corps as a unit?

A: As a group, we're very productive. I think we are more of a foundation on this defense than we were a year ago. We're asking the linebackers to do more mentally and physically than we did last year. By George demanding that out of these guys, we're getting it out of these guys. We're more experienced and we're more comfortable with each other, and I think we're getting more production.

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