Players' Take On Cottrell

The Vikings defense has been through numerous coordinators in recent years, but there seems to be another level of respect held for this year's coordinator, Ted Cottrell.

Seems to happen every year in Vikingland.

Come January, the Vikings' defensive coordinator from the previous season either takes another job or is fired. Upon the hiring of the new coordinator, players voice their support and hope for the best.

But after going through George O'Leary (2003), Willie Shaw (2002) and Emmitt Thomas (2000-2001) since the turn of the century, there seems to be more sincere anticipation among Vikings defenders over Ted Cottrell, the newest defensive coordinator to patrol the sideline.

"I'm just ecstatic — the whole defense is," safety Brian Russell said after going through weeks of camps with Cottrell. "We all know what he brings to the table. He's had the No. 1 defense in the league. He's had great football players with Ken Irvin and Antoine (Winfield), who played for him, and the first thing they said is, ‘Guys, he's for real. Listen to him, do what he says and we'll be a great defense.'

"As far as the schemes he's put in already, they're very player-friendly. They play to our skills and let us do the things we do best on the field."

Experience was the theme this spring. The Vikings' defensive backs are more experienced (and probably more talented as well), and the experience that Cottrell brings with him sounds like it is weighing positively in players' minds.

Cottrell played two years as a linebacker with the Atlanta Falcons before beginning his coaching career as a defensive line coach with Rutgers in 1973. In 1980, he became a defensive coordinator at Rutgers and has held many different defensive coaching titles in the pros and with Rutgers ever since then.

He also coached Minnesota's biggest outside acquisition since the inception of true free agency in the NFL in 1992 — Antoine Winfield. Winfield signed a six-year deal after playing five seasons in Buffalo, two of those with Cottrell as his defensive coordinator. His relationship with Cottrell helped bring Winfield to Minnesota.

"He's a motivator. He's a teacher. You go in after practice every day and he corrects mistakes," Winfield said of Cottrell. "He's a jokester and he can make you laugh. Once you mess up, he'll get on you."

But personality won't get the players in the right position at the right time, so Winfield offered a little insight into what sort of defense he expects out of Cottrell in 2004.

"We're going to do a lot of zone blitzing and put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, play some cover two and just mix up a lot of coverages," he said.

According to some reports, one of the reasons Cottrell and New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards parted ways was because Edwards wanted a more aggressive style out his defense and Cottrell didn't feel he had the personnel in New York to be aggressive. He believes he has that personnel here, and Winfield is a big reason the coordinator can take more chances and rely on a cornerback to cover an offense's best receiver.

The defensive personnel are reciprocating that confidence back to the coordinator.

"I think we're just going to improve dramatically," Russell said. "We had a lot of guys that were young last year — I'm including myself in that — and now we've got some experience and we're ready to go be better, go play hard-nosed football. … We're ready to rock and roll."

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