Q: Do you think the Vikings concentrated so much on cornerback in free agency because the defensive end market wasn't that great or just because they thought they needed cornerback more?
A: If you have a good defensive back in one-on-ones, you can do more blitzing. It gives you more options on how you set your blitz. You can send your safeties or do more corner blitzes and not feel that you're going to cost yourself a big play every time you run that. I'm telling you, once you get your corners and safeties blitzing, oh, does that put the offensive tackles in the confusion state. And once they're a little bit confused and the backs are staying in, it just opens up everything. It's more bullets for your gun.
Q: When we talked to defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell about the linebackers, he didn't mention Henri Crockett. He mentioned E.J. Henderson, Chris Claiborne and it didn't sound like he was depending on Greg Biekert coming back. But Crockett wasn't a guy he mentioned.
A: Henri Crockett I think made too many mental mistakes last year, and Mike Tice is a very bright coach. He's going to be an outstanding coach, and he's going to bring in all of his type of people. With his type of people, it's like Bud Grant's type of people — don't make mental mistakes. There were some mental mistakes made by three defensive players quite often last year and those players have a slim chance of making the team, no chance of starting whatsoever. It's just a matter of how much depth they actually need and are they lucky enough to hang around because of injuries, etc. Tice is getting his type of people.
I always kid people about how terrible I was and I'd get my fanny kicked on every play, but I was in the right spot. Once you know how a player is going to react every time, then you can create a defense around him, you can cover for his weaknesses. You don't want to take away his strengths, but you don't want to coach him to his weaknesses. It's much easier to surround him with other players' strengths covering his weakness. That's what makes an average coach a very, very good coach when he can do that with personnel. That's what Bud did all the time. He knew everybody's strengths and weaknesses. We were predictable, and he knew how we were going to react on each and every play. Once you can do that, you can adjust your defense around the player.
Q: Can you do that now with players moving around so much that maybe you only have five years to really get to know a guy?
A: Well, make sure you put that statement in just the way you asked it because that's what makes the difference between winning and losing. That's why Bill Belichick is doing so well — discipline, discipline, discipline. You've got to learn about them fast enough, then once you have the security and flexibility you can dump your guys. It takes a couple years to do it, and this is Tice's year. He knows what his players can do, he knows what he's looking for and he knows who he's going to dump.
Q: Do you feel comfortable with E.J. in his second year becoming a starting middle linebacker?
A: One thing about E.J. and young athletes: You're going to make aggressive mistakes. If you make them aggressively, you're still disruptive. E.J. has this great speed and he has tremendous awareness, and the reason I know he has awareness is you watch him on special teams. He knows exactly where the ball is, he knows his angles, how to get to the ball quicker, how to come off the blocks. He's a learner, he's a listener and he's a smart football player. You're always scared with a first- or second-year guy staring at middle linebacker, but his speed is too great and his ability is great.
Q: Brian Russell obviously had tremendous interception numbers last year, but is it a for-sure that he is one of your starting safeties this year? It seemed like there were times he was out of position to help stop the run.
A: He got a few lessons last year. He made some mistakes trying to help somebody else out. He got a little bit carried away for a few weeks there. He studies the game like Corey Chavous. They're bookworms. He started getting interceptions and he thought he had to have one every game. It's almost like Chris Hovan. Hovan's no longer playing anything but the pass rush. Well, that just devastated the number of tackles he had on runs. You don't go three games without a tackle unless you're not reading. I think Hovan went through a big learning step as far as linemen go, and Russell did the same thing for a few games. …
He (Russell) basically explained to me that he was trying to make things happen rather than let things happen with your responsibilities. That's a growing experience that 95 percent of NFL players will go through, whether you are reading press clippings or whether you think that you've got to carry the team. Once you get through that, you're going to have the longevity and consistency that Mike Tice is looking for. He's a smart kid.
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