Like many of the Vikings' assistant coaches, quality control and assistant offensive line coach Dean Dalton has a previous connection with head coach Dennis Green. Dalton worked with Green's son, Jeremy, at War Room publications, which evaluates football player personnel.
Dalton became a Vikings assistant in 1999 after four years at the War Room. He was also dean of students and athletic director at Delevan-Darien School District in Delevan, Wis, for two years before going to the War Room. Previously, he worked in other capacities in high school athletics and in sports broadcasting and publishing. Collegiately, he has coached at Western Illinois (1984-85), Wisconsin (1986-87), Texas Southern (1988-89) and Purdue (1990).
Q: Have you been pleased with the play of the offensive line?
A: Over the course of the season, Mike (Tice) has a very time-tested and proven evaluation system, a grading system. Our offensive line, as a group, has actually graded out pretty well. Mike is pretty strict. We go through the film, and I'll step up and try to make a pitch for a guy on a certain play. Other times I'll be the devil's advocate for Mike. But Mike's grading system is very specific. It's about production and performance and it's very tough. He grades hard. Our guys as a group have graded out pretty well. A couple of guys have graded out exceptionally well and shown some consistency. But what we need to do is continue to improve on that consistency, all five guys at the same time. Any breakdowns we have had have not been wholesale. They have been some individual battles here and there.
Q: Who has graded out well?
A: Matt Birk has been exceptionally consistent. Surprisingly, for a first-year starter, (right tackle) Chris Liwienski has graded out very consistently. (Left tackle) Brad Badger has really come on of late. His grades have really come on strong. Corbin (Lacina) and Evvy (Everett Lindsay) have had to rotate a little bit in the last couple of weeks because of getting dinged up at the left guard, and Dave (Dixon) at the right guard probably hasn't had his highest grade to date that he has had to this point in previous seasons. But Dave's played at a high level.
Q: How pleased have you been that Liwienski has graded out so high considering he had to move positions?
A: Coming into the year he was at left guard. It was a position he had actually started a game back in 2000 and played a bunch, spelling Corbin. But then with (Korey Stringer's) death and that tragedy, he was thrust into a really tough situation, personally, emotionally, and physically because it's a whole new position. He has really met the challenge. I think the reason is because he has been a truly dedicated hard-working guy who is a product of the system. After getting cut by Detroit, he spent three years working with Mike through the season, through the offseason and developing his technique and skills. He's a lot like Todd Steussie was. He's a very good technician and he has to be. Plus, he's a big man (6-foot-5, 321 pounds). You can't coach big, and when he gets his big paws on people he stones them. That's an asset he will always have.
Q: Continuity along the line is obviously important. What does it do to a line when you have a guy like Lacina, who has been in and out this season because of injuries?
A: It makes it tougher for the guys because they have to line up next to each other every snap and get a feel for each other's moves. Get a feel for how each other handles certain situations in the trenches. When you get a certain line stunt or a certain linebacker dog. Guys get a feel for working together, and that's where veteran lines become solidified because they are comfortable with each other and spend a lot of time working together. They know what the other is going to do as they do it, instead of having to counter-react to your teammate's reaction to a defense. … Or you have mental errors where a guy thinks someone is doing something else.
Our system is such we have some very specific rules so we don't have too many mental errors, where ‘I thought you were going to pop for the linebacker instead of pass off down the line.' We have some specific rules that alleviate those mental errors, and that is one of the reasons over the years that our lines have been relatively error-free in comparison to the rest of the league. It's a good, sound philosophy we adhere to on a daily basis.
But yes, the offensive line continuity makes a line better, and the fact we have lost some veteran guys who have been there for a lot of years on both edges and replaced those guys (has hurt that). Then we had some changes on the inside, with Chris moving out to right tackle and Corbin moving in to left guard. Corbin getting hurt, Evvy playing left guard. Having Calvin Collins coming in as another veteran who is learning the system on the run. All of these guys are still feeling each other out. Mike has rotated guys over the years to keep guys fresh but not to the extent we have to do it now. Right now, the continuity is getting better, but it's a challenge with both our guards kind of hurt. Dave Dixon has a bad leg and Corbin is out with a bad leg. Evvy just coming back into the system early in the season and Calvin coming in during the middle of the season. We are playing a little catch up on the inside.
Q: How valuable has Lindsay been since being obtained from Cleveland?
A: Evvy is a leader of this team and he had been gone for a couple of years. He is a veteran leader; he's done most of the things you can do in football. He has been on a team for a number of years and played a number of roles on that team, meaning us with the Vikings. He was able to go and make some big money, have a nice big contract. He played for Baltimore and then went to Cleveland with their expansion deals that they were trying to shore up their line.
Finally, with the new change in Cleveland, he had an opportunity to get out and come back home. His wife is from here; he loves it here. What he does is he walks through the door and instantly brings veteran leadership. He knows our locker room, he knows our guys and our guys know him and respect him. On the field, he's tenacious. He's a hustler. He's peeling guys off the pile, he's down the field, he's a guy that helps up the level of intensity and he's a guy that with his play makes everyone around him play harder and play better. Evvy is invaluable for his intangibles, and plus he's a good football player. VU
Q&A: With Ass't OL Coach Dalton
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