Lurtsema's Reaction: Defensive Tells

In poker, players look for "tells" from other players, a sign of what is real and what is an aberration. In Vikings training camp, former defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema thinks the confidence of the new defenders is telling him what he wants – that this defense should be very good. And find out who Lurtsema thinks will make the biggest impact defensively.

VU: How does this training camp for the Vikings compare with recent ones?

This camp, there is so much confidence out there by the ball players. You can tell there are fewer mistakes already this early in the season, but I just think the confidence level has really been a tremendous upgrade. Then I watch Coach (Mike) Tice coming into his fourth year and how he seems more relaxed and having total control of the entire package. It takes a lot of years to develop good habits, coaching habits, and when Mike was thrown into that pot so quick he did a tremendous job starting off, but he's growing. You can just see that right now, he's maturing. They have stepped it up and they will win the North. Can I say that again? They will win the North.

VU: You've been on four different teams in your NFL career (Colts, Giants, Vikings, Seahawks). The Vikings have a lot of new defensive players, so how difficult is it for a defensive player on a new team to get used to his new coaches, new teammates, new surroundings?

A lot of media people will make the statement that players make the plays and not the coaches. Well, they are totally wrong. When you come in here, a coach can actually take away your aggressiveness, destroy your confidence, and a lot of times they might even coach to your weakness. Having gone from team to team, the thing that worked out is, once I got over the rookie, first- and second-year mentality – and it does slow down, as a veteran when you're with a different team you will talk to other veterans on the team and work with the players to work out stunts. If you have a tendency to do a certain thing, you communicate that with your fellow teammates. When it happens on the field, the group, whether it's two guys or three guys, will direct their problem to the coach. The coach will have them make the adjustment. And if a coach doesn't listen to the guys that have been together, then he's just done – over – and the team is shot.

VU: So it's more important that new veterans get used to the new players more than the coaches or environment?

No, it sounds like that, but some of the time the signals (are different). The odd side might be the right side on one team and on another team the odd side is the left side. It's a combination. The thing that I guess I assumed when I answered the previous question was that when I moved around like that, I learned the book right away. I didn't make mental mistakes. So does a coach get involved then? No, that's the structure of the coordinator, not your position coach. It sounds like a lot of vacillating, but it does vacillate because a coach has to hit your hot button and stay away from what is going to totally destroy you. It's like any other business – you can't just constantly dwell on somebody's negative when that's not his strength, so don't work him at the office to his weakness. Work him to his strength and then surround him with somebody whose strength is the other person's weakness.

VU: This is probably a loaded question, but in your opinion which new guy is going to make the biggest impact on this defense?

Pat Williams. I know he's a little overweight right now, but if he can bring it I know he's a great person in the locker room already. He's got a tremendous attitude, and he's already learned the book. He's set that way. Everything on defense, you work off the front four. So many times we've had to take out seven people, the lead blocker, get off your block and take out the fullback – whatever you can do to free up the linebackers. That's the thing that works with the linemen. So many times a young ballplayer will go to a spot and say, ‘I've taken my man.' But when you close that trap, it's not over. Take that man out and try and get a piece of the running back and shrink the hole. The play doesn't stop with just responsibility. The play stops on the continuation until the whistle blows.

VU: Even if Chris Hovan had been more productive, would the Vikings still have looked for a guy like Pat Williams, a plugger in the middle? Did they just need that stout guy?

Yes. The easiest thing I compare it to is the Purple People Eaters. You had three guys that could just fly all over the place, and then you had the cleanup man – you had Gary Larsen and you had Doug Sutherland. They put me in there at defensive tackle in pass-rush situations, but even then I was the flyer. I wasn't a guy that was going to clean up and cover the run. That's the easiest example you could ever give. You had these three guys flying and you had this one guy just sitting back there spying – not really spying, but his technique because of his strength puts him in a spy position without telling them it's a spy.

VU: What would be a good year for Pat Williams or are there really no stats by which we can judge a guy like him?

Number one, the sack is overrated. People will say, ‘Oh, we got a big play,' but then he got his butt kicked in the next three games. The easiest way to judge is if a defensive lineman can have three to five tackles a game. If you watch their production and they're getting one sack and nothing else, that's not a total package. Then they don't have second effort and they're not getting off their blocks. These people that play a whole game and never make a tackle, I'll never, ever understand that. There are exceptions to the rule, but how can you play a whole game and not get a tackle? Were you sleeping? On the defensive line, it should be 2-3 tackles from an end and 3-5 from a tackle.

VU: Bringing it back full circle then, with these free agents not being completely familiar with the coaches – although some are familiar with Ted Cottrell – and you talked about confidence. Doesn't that kind of surprise you that they are that confident that early into a new system and new surroundings?

Fred Smoot talks all the time, but a lot of these players have played for Cottrell before, so when they step in there, that makes a big difference. The part I said earlier is that they went to the book. We didn't have the minicamps that they have now. That's your book time, that's when they go through all that stuff. So now they've done the learning process and they've gone through the talking process – see we didn't have all the stuff. Seven to 10 days before the first game is when we came in. We never worked out in the offseason. We did nothing. The younger players, sometimes when they are over-coached, they are given too much responsibility. The veterans understand the priorities of their responsibilities. In other words, the easiest example that we've talked about is with a linebacker who has the second back out. If you have outside responsibility and are rushing on a blitz and have the second back out, what they were doing was looking for the second back out first, which slowed them down on their blitz ever so slightly. But that's all you're ever talking about, you people in the media, you're talking about inches and the smallest of things to make you better. You've even covered it with your questions on how quickly they're confident. Well, it's the camps and the veterans – Pat Williams talking to Kevin Williams – they're in the locker room together, talking about what's up. That could take a couple, three games into the season sometimes in the old days.

VU: What's a realistic expectation for fans for ranking of this defense?

Top five. They have some horses and they've got the speed.

  • Bob Lurtsema was a 12-year veteran defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins for a weekly Q & A session, and his column appears in the magazine.

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