Q&A: With RBs Coach Hargrave

When Michael Bennett returns from injury it will be a tough decision on whether to go with him or Doug Chapman, and the Vikings aren't saying yet which way they are leaning.

Carl Hargrave has been coaching running backs for the Vikings since 1995. He started with the Vikings as their tight ends coach and offensive assistant in 1994, and a year later moved to the backfield. Since, he has coached nine different starting running backs (Doug Chapman, Michael Bennett, Robert Smith, Jim Kleinsasser, Leroy Hoard, Charles Evans, Robert Green, James Stewart and Amp Lee).

Hargrave joined the Vikings after two seasons at the University of Iowa coaching tight ends. He attended the Vikings' training camp in 1992 and '93 as part of the National Football League's Minority Coaching Intern Program.

Q: What was the key to the success of the running game in the Week 6 victory over Green Bay?

We felt that we would have to come out and concentrate and really get an opportunity to run the football. We did that. We ended up calling 37 runs throughout the day. A couple of those were Daunte (Culpepper) just taking off. But we called a lot of runs, and I think we had success with it early. That allowed us to keep that rhythm going.

Q: Does an effective running performance such as the one against Green Bay set the tempo for the remainder of the season?

Early on (in the season) we were getting ourselves caught in some long-yardage situations, which took away from running the football. Hopefully, we have got all of those corrected. We had less penalties (against the Packers) and we had only one sack (against), which probably could have been avoided. We didn't get ourselves in long-yardage situations and we were able to run the ball. Hopefully, our line has gained a lot of confidence now, and I think that's one of the things we are going to have to continue with.

Q: Did Doug Chapman give you about what you expected in his first career start?

We didn't have any real big expectations one way or the other. I felt he is a competitor and he is going to come in and play and give us the best he can. I'm really happy the way he played. He's a north and south runner and he was able to find some holes and slip through them. He runs with power and he has ability to be elusive.

Q: Once Michael Bennett is healthy, will he and Chapman now share time?

We have never had a problem with understanding that Michael is Michael, Doug is Doug and Travis (Prentice) is Travis. Everyone has a particular role to play. Now, Doug's role may increase, and I'm not saying who is first and who is second. We are just going to take the healthy guys and go with them.

Q: Are you seeing progress in Bennett?

Tremendous progress. I'm looking at it, and you can't expect a young guy to come in and play like he is a seven-year veteran. That is just not going to happen. Especially a guy who has not played a whole lot of football — even at the college level. It's a long process to get to be the best in the business. Very few people come in and be the best right away.

Q: How much pressure does it add that Bennett also is following Robert Smith?

That's outside pressure. It has nothing to do with inside pressure. You have to remember when Robert first came here he had Terry Allen in front of him, Roger Craig in front of him, Barry Word in front of him. He had guys that were seasoned veterans, who he had the opportunity to learn from. Michael Bennett did not have that. We've got time. It takes patience. It takes a back to have patience, we as coaches have to have patience and the fans, they can have it or they don't have it. One way or the other, it doesn't matter.

Q: As a coach, are you just trying to take it slowly with Bennett this season?

A: He's a student of the game. He has tremendous speed and tremendous burst. He has to understand the patience of being the running back and understanding where the holes are and then exploding through the holes.

Q: Prentice's role has not been very big so far, but does he give you the threat of a bigger running back?

He does. He's a big, strong guy. He's about 225 pounds, he's strong, he's a head knocker when he runs. I think he gives us a definite change of pace. All three of those guys are different style running backs. I think that's a tremendous weapon you can utilize in the future. We didn't utilize big personnel on the goal line, and Travis is that guy right now.

Q: Jim Kleinsasser also gives you that option at fullback, right?

Sure. Jimmy did a tremendous job in running the ball. And I can't say enough good things about his blocking. He is the No. 1 fullback in the league, I think. He's a tremendous run blocker and he obviously catches the ball well. You saw him running the ball (against the Packers) and running after the catch. He's a big, powerful guy.

Q: Do you feel he also has improved from earlier in his career as far as securing the ball?

Oh, sure. He had a couple mess-ups early on, but that's just being a rookie. He played tight end then. We have got him in the backfield and he understands how to handle the football.

Q: What does the threat of Culpepper rushing the ball do for the running backs?

His ability to run the ball when the protection or something breaks down or they give you a certain type of coverage where you feel you can run the ball … for him to be able to pull it down and run really opens up the whole offense. Not just as a running back, not just the numbers. I'm not a numbers guy. His ability to run the ball, and we spread the field a little bit, he can get out in space and not a lot of guys want to come up and tackle him. VU

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