Lurtsema's Reaction: Defensive Disappointments

After a 27-16 win over Kansas City Friday night, you might think a positive guy like Bob Lurtsema might be gushing about the Vikings' preseason opener. Hardly. While he liked some of what he saw on offense, the former Vikings defensive linemen found plenty of flaws in their defense.

VU: Can you just start out with your general impressions of the game from Friday night?

It was truly exciting to see the first touchdown scored this season without Randy Moss on a Nate Burleson second-effort type situation. I don't think Randy Moss would have continued his route the way Nate Burleson did. When the play broke down, Daunte Culpepper rolled out to his left, so your routes are no longer exactly the same routes that were drawn up on the play. You kind of ad lib with that, but you work off the quarterback's situation. You locate him and then you try to go to the open spot to give the quarterback an opportunity to find you. I know Randy Moss wouldn't have created that situation last year. So that was kind of exciting to see the first touchdown scored by Nate number one, and then number two on a play I know Randy Moss wouldn't have made because of his effort and his overall personality.

VU: The one thing that kind of struck me was, when you look at the stats and see who was in the game and how things were executed, Michael Bennett gets two series and he only gets 5 yards on four carries. And then you've got backs like Ciatrick Fason and Mewelde Moore carrying and getting very high averages. They were running behind the same offensive line, so do you think it was just a matter of a lesser defense being out there?

What Coach (Mike) Tice is trying to do is he's trying to run a little power football. In other words, he knows when they're stacked against the run, but he wants to try to power the ball. He's saying, ‘I know you're set up for a run, but we're going to do it.' By doing this, it gives him a better overall picture of how the offensive line can execute – how strong are they, how fast do they pick up the reads. And, of course, Kansas City sometimes throws you that three-man line, which not every club uses, so that can be confusing. Now is not the time to say if Michael Bennett should be first-team or Mewelde Moore because of the play selection against the defense. That was kind of getting a grade on the players that Mike (Tice) has to work with.

VU: Because it's a preseason game you can do this, but do they go into a series like that and say, ‘We are going to run the ball. Daunte, you cannot check out of this call.'

Yes, they will do that in certain situations. Now, once the season starts, of course, Daunte has all the freedom to change it. Right now they're saying stick with this play. We're going to run it. We're going to find something out. That's the good part of preseason, when you have that luxury. They know now there are certain things they can't do. They'll scratch those during the regular season with that same personnel against that situation.

VU: Anybody surprise you on the offensive side of the ball, kind of the pleasant surprise of that game?

Marcus Robinson just kind of hangs around. He got the key block on the touchdown run. You look for those things after the fact, but I didn't get enough of a chance to see him. I saw him constantly in practice last year. He won't stand out with a reception time in and time out, but when you see a person like Burleson or Travis Taylor make a big play, look for 87 (Robinson) in there throwing a block. That was kind of exciting. The defense I was disappointed in.

VU: OK, let's switch it to defense because I know you had some comments about the defensive line during the game.

To watch the defense not even being in their stance when the ball is snapped, that's inexcusable. Then sometimes I watch the body language of the defensive linemen and there's no urgency. I don't care if it's preseason or you're playing for Burnsville High School's junior varsity, hey, there's urgency in football. Once your body language takes you away from urgency, you're not as aggressive, you get beat on the pass rush and all of the sudden you're not working upfield with that second effort. I even asked the coaches afterwards if they had a spy technique on. By spy, that means a guy stays at the line of scrimmage and kind of picks up the garbage, looks for the draws or screens. They said, ‘There is was no spy technique.' Well, that tells you how poorly that defensive lineman is playing because he's taking a step and stopping. Either he's so far out of shape or he has no urgency and no awareness or doesn't really care. That disappoints me. The old Budderism (Bud Grant philosophy) was you go as hard as you can until you pass out. I was very, very disappointed to see that.

VU: I talked to Kenechi Udeze after the game and he was saying he and Darrion Scott were both just dragged-out dead tired. They said their conditioning isn't there. Does that surprise you that you're coming out of two weeks of training camp and you're not in football shape?

Very much so. It surprises me that they'd admit that. You never tell the media that you're out of shape. When you tell them that, you're telling them that you're not giving full-out effort. They should drag you off that field. Nowadays, they say they're trying to control the number of plays that they work hard at. They're saving themselves. Save yourself? For what? The game can be won or lost on any particular play.

VU: On to the linebackers, what did you think of their play when not one starting linebacker from last year is starting in the same position?

The linebackers made some big mistakes. There was one play where Priest Holmes broke out and picked up about 23 yards. He broke out to his left. I thought the linebacker was running a stunt with the defensive end, but that's why the media and myself, myself especially, you have to watch when you criticize because I'm thinking it was a stunt. But Napoleon Harris went in so far to the inside that there was no containment to the outside. I said that it was impossible to have that much of a defense with no containment. I said they had to be caught in a stunt and I just kind of logged it. I found out afterwards that it was not a stunt. Napoleon got washed to the inside. You're going to make mistakes, but that one was a little bit huge. The linebackers themselves, you don't see them making a lot of tackles. You don't see them and the front four working in unison up and down the line of scrimmage. Somebody is always running upfield or they're breaking containment. That front seven should move up and down the line of scrimmage with them playing off of each other. Don't give a back an opportunity to fill an empty hole because a linebacker either didn't do what he was supposed to do, over-pursued to the point of making a total breakdown in the defense. You've got to work within the framework of the defense. Don't try to do something more than how things are drawn up for you to do.

VU: It sounds like the front seven, for all the hype and all the changes and all the maturity has a lot to prove to you yet.

From what's already been said, you can see I'm a little bit down. I rip on them because I played that for 12 years. I kind of watch the other situations, but I've been through every dance they're going through and I see them raising their hand to be taken out. You'd never think of that – ever – when we played. If they say an extra 10 or 20 pounds, that makes a difference, that's why they have limited time, well, lose the 10 or 20 pounds if you're that good of an athlete. You don't have to be 320 to be a good athlete. You can be 300 and be in such tremendous shape that you're moving people around. You can be just as strong, your arm strength and leg strength, you can be just as strong. There is a breaking point in today's game because there are 350-pound offensive linemen, but these linemen are carrying too much weight. They could drop 10 or 15 and be just as good with more endurance and a little more quickness.

VU: OK, let's finish this up. You're positive Benchwarmer Bob. What did you take out of the defense that you liked?

(Long pause). Huh! If you look at the defensive backs making a couple of plays … I know they won the game, and winning is a habit, but I really can't find anything positive on the defensive side. I just saw too much body language that was so negative. If anything is on the plus side, I'll give the defensive backs some credit from Ralph Brown picking off an interception to Darren Sharper making a really good defensive play (on a pass defensed in the end zone). There were some good coverages at times. Petey Positive here was really excited for the win, but disappointed in body language, and more importantly the thing that gets my craw was what I thought was a total lack of effort from the front four and front seven.

VU: So if you can change anything from last Friday to this Friday against the Jets, it's mainly a difference in effort?

Yes. Getting mentally prepared that you want to create a good habit on each and every play. As I've said many times, when you're tired you go to a habit – well, make that a good habit. I think right now, when they're going to their habits, they're going to bad habits. They've got to clean that up.

  • 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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