Q&A: With TEs coach John Tice

The Vikings only have two active tight ends, Andrew Jordan and Byron Chamberlain, and Chamberlain is struggling with a knee injury. But position coach John Tice is confident he has versatile players in the wings.

John Tice is in his second season as tight ends coach of the Vikings after spending a year as an unpaid offensive assistant in 1999. But that doesn't mean he entered the NFL coaching scene without experience at the tight end position.

Tice played tight end for the New Orleans Saints for 10 years after being drafted in the first round in 1983. He caught a career-high 37 passes for 330 yards in 1986, his best season in the NFL. A shoulder injury sidelined his career in 1992 and he spent a handful of years away from the pro game as an insurance salesman; however, he did coach high school and youth football during that time.

John's older brother, Mike, the offensive line coach and assistant head coach, has been a Vikings coach since 1996 and also had a 14-year career as an NFL tight end. They are the first team of brothers to ever coach with the Vikings.

Q: Can you assess the play of the tight ends in recent weeks?

A: The guys have been doing pretty good. We've been contributing in both the running game and the passing game. Byron (Chamberlain) has a knack for getting open. He has a great set of hands and he always can make a little extra yardage after he catches the ball, which is really encouraging. A.J. (Andrew Jordan) is doing a good job backing him up. We do some two-tight end things, and he's doing a good job blocking. He hasn't had a lot of opportunities to catch the ball but he's catching the ball well in practice and he's ready to go whenever he is called on.

Q: Do you have any concerns about Chamberlain's right knee, which has locked up a couple of times in recent weeks?

A: You are always concerned when somebody has something like that. It's one of those things that could flare up at any moment. But he has a high tolerance for pain and he's going to continue to go as long as he can. He probably will have something done on it in the offseason. But, like I said before, A.J. is prepared and ready to go, God forbid something did happen.

Q: What type of things is Jordan doing to stay prepared, so if something does happen he can step right in?

A: He's getting snaps in the games in our two-tight end sets. (Against the Giants) he got some in a single-tight end set, spelling Byron a little bit. I think in the long run, A.J. has a little bit more strength than Byron does just because he weighs 25, 30 pounds more. He brings a little bit more beef to the position. But as far as getting him prepared, he's a pro. He has been around the system for a long time. Mentally he's on top of everything and he stays on top of everything. He's a tremendous player team-wise with his contributions in both being prepared to play tight end and also contributing on scout teams when you ask him to. He's always ready to step up and lend a hand. He's a pro and he's ready to go.

Q: How important is it to have a veteran such as Jordan in that role?

A: When you are someone like A.J. and you have the team experience … you know he wants to play just as bad as Byron does and just as bad as everyone out there. But he does have the game experience, where he could sit for a quarter, go in for one or two plays and it's not all new to him. It's not all happening so fast. That's the comment you get from younger guys. It's so much faster, even than in practice. And, of course, it's a faster game than the college game. But A.J. has an understanding of the game, he has played in enough games and been around enough years that you can plug him in at any spot. He can sit for a quarter, boom, put him in and he's ready to go.

Q: The tight ends seemed to really contribute in the blocking schemes against the Giants. As a coach, are you almost as proud or more proud when the tight ends contribute in that way as opposed to catching passes?

A: I am because it's all part of the position. The tight end has to block, has to catch the ball and, of course, you look at the stats and see how many balls they caught or how many yards and what were the productive plays. But part of being a tight end is the blocking part. You do probably 75 percent blocking and about 25 percent routes and catching the ball. But that's all part of the position, and to have the guys contributing in the running game is just as important. It's not as featured or out-front as in the passing game, but to have them contribute in the running game, contribute in the pass protection part of the game just makes things go. It makes it easier for the line, makes it easier for the quarterback and opens up all the guys downfield where they can chip and help and do one-on-one pass blocking.

Q: How good is the blocking aspect of Chamberlain's game?

A: He's very good. He's got the quickness and he's got the awareness as far as not getting himself in trouble. He does, of course, give up some weight to some bigger guys, but his athletic ability gives him the ability to stay in front of guys and shield them off and keep them out of the quarterback's face. He did a great job on KGB (Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila) against Green Bay where he was matched up one-on-one a number of times. Gbaja-Biamila came into the game with a tremendous number of sacks and he shut him down all day. He was matched up three or four times on him and shut him down. He did a great job there.

Q: How is Matt Cercone progressing?

A: Matt would be right behind A.J. and he is another guy that has been around here a couple of years and knows the system. Matt also has another feather in his cap, where he also can play fullback. In an emergency, he could run (H-back) out of the fullback position, which we did with him last year against Dallas when some guys were banged up. He was activated for that game and he was a fullback. He has that athletic ability and he has been around the system long enough where he understands and he actually does some scout team fullback for us. Right now, we just have two guys active. But if we went to three guys active Matt would be the guy up. Matt's a good blocker and understands the system, understands the offense. He does a good job in the passing game, running routes and catching the ball.

After Matt is Jeff Kostrewa, a young guy who played at (Wisconsin)-La Crosse, a small school. He is coming along really well. He's really athletic and can catch the ball really well. We are working hard in his blocking. He had some poor techniques that he picked up in college. We are working hard on his blocking. He's improving rapidly in that area and getting a lot of reps on the scout team.

Q: Do you enjoy the opportunity to work with some of the younger players who might need more attention?

A: It's tremendously fulfilling to have a guy come in like Jeff and be able to work with him. He has the athletic ability, and that's why he is here. He has tremendous athletic ability. It's no fault of his, but at smaller schools they just don't have the number of coaches that they have at bigger programs and nobody is keeping an eye on him. He was getting by with pure athletic ability, running and catching the ball. He wasn't asked to block a lot. You like to see a guy, which Jeff has done, accept coaching. Being able to tell him something, work on it a little bit and then it is done. As opposed to a guy that keeps making the same mistakes technique-wise. Poor steps, poor hand placement and then blocking. But he's picking it up, he's working on it and he's very conscientious of the things we are trying to work on.

Q: How far away is Cercone from being a member of the active roster?

A: Right now, it's just a numbers game really. He would be active right now, but we need some other guys in other positions. So, numbers-wise we are just carrying two active tight ends. But he's ready to go at any moment's notice whether it's at the fullback position or the tight end position. He's ready. He knows it. He could get his call at any time and prepares himself to play every week. VU

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