Q&A: With LB Coach Pete Bercich

The Vikings have been shuttling players in out of the rotation at linebacker, so we went to assistant linebackers coach Pete Bercich for his opinion on a few of his players, including those not always starting.

Pete Bercich joined the Vikings coaching staff in 2002 as a defensive assistant/quality control coach after playing for the Vikings from 1995-2000 as a linebacker and a standout on special teams. He has spent the last two seasons as the Vikings' assistant linebackers coach. This year he is assisting Vikings defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Ted Cottrell.

Bercich played collegiately from 1990-93 at Notre Dame, where he earned a bachelor's degree in finance. He was drafted by the Vikings in the seventh round of the 1994 draft and spent the ensuing season on the team's practice squad. Bercich was a teammate of head coach Mike Tice in 1995.

Q: Injury aside, are you seeing the benefits of having E.J. Henderson play last year behind a veteran like Greg Biekert?
A: It's an invaluable experience for a starter to get a year under his belt and to have a guy ahead of him like Biekert, who's a smart player that does the little things right — that there is invaluable. For him, it's a great experience It's going to ease the transition.

Q: Earlier this season Keith Newman, a six-year veteran the Vikings signed in the offseason, went from being a healthy inactive player one week to a starter the next. How is his role evolving with the Vikings?
A: Right now he's our veteran leader with the other guys hurt. Keith's going to have those responsibilities put on him, too. One of his roles is being a veteran leader for the group. He has that stigma attached to him. Keith has to go out there and set the tempo and do the things that he does best. That's his role.

Q: In a matter of weeks, Raonall Smith has gone from being a potential training-camp roster cutdown victim to an asset on the Vikings special teams. Is that accurate?
A: Smitty's been in a situation where he hasn't been able to stay on the field because he fought injuries the first two seasons. He's has a lot more experience in the training room than the field. Now that he's had the opportunity to play and stay healthy, he's gotten better and better. If he's going to be a linebacker he has to be one of the leaders of special teams. It's been pleasant.

Q: Is it more frustrating when a player you drafted doesn't appear to be panning out, given you've invested a valuable draft selection in him?
A: We got frustrated with him because he's a third-year guy. We draft a guy because we like him. When you draft guys and they go out there and play well it makes a bunch of people look good. We've known all along that Raonall Smith is a good football player and he has the potential to be an excellent football player. Now, if he doesn't reach that potential you have to ask yourself why. The jury's still out on Raonall Smith, so we'll wait and see.

Q: Mike Nattiel is in his second season. Last year he carved a niche for himself on special teams and excelled in pass coverage. Has he hit a plateau this year?
A: Mike's doing all right. He's doing just fine. We've been asking him to do more and more. He's struggling a little bit at times. He needs to improve in base defense. He's been playing nickel for almost a year and he's doing just fine there. If he wants to play every down he has some things that he has to work on. The thing that these guys have to learn is you have to prepare like you're going to play every down because you never know who's going to get hurt.

Q: Last season, you worked under linebackers coach Brian Baker, who then moved to defensive line when then-Vikings defensive coordinator/defensive line coach George O'Leary returned to college coaching. Now you're working under defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Ted Cottrell. What's been the biggest difference for you?
A: My role has not changed that much, just who I'm working with. It's really nice to work with the coordinator. You hear everything from the coach's mouth. God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. I try to listen as much as I can. It's been a pleasure working with Ted.

Q: Most position coaches have goals of becoming coordinators, then someday head coaches. As an assistant position coach, what are your aspirations for the future?
A: That's why I'm here, to hopefully become a position coach someday. I'm enjoying everything. I hope to step up to the next level and become a position coach. I love where I am. I love coaching for Mike [Tice]. The guys on this staff are excellent coaches and, above that, excellent people.

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