Lurtsema's Reaction: Preseason Analysis

From running backs to wide receivers to the center situation, former defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema gives his assessment of the Vikings to date. Three weeks ago, he wasn't too pleased with the new-look defense, so what does he think now, and who are a few veterans he sees as roster-bubble players?

VU: Let's start with Daunte Culpepper. Without Randy Moss, it doesn't seem like Culpepper's lost a beat and maybe even improved. Are you kind of surprised with how quickly that's come for him without his lead receiver?

Remember, it takes three to five years to groom an NFL quarterback. But the thing that's really helped Daunte is having Randy gone, from the aspect of a lot of times Randy wouldn't finish his route if he was the third or fourth receiver. If Daunte is reading his coverage and he goes to his third receiver and Randy is not working his route properly, then all of the sudden you see him start to get happy feet and all that. It's not what people are thinking: Oh, there's Daunte who can't see. He didn't have a supporting cast that was giving 100 percent on every play. I think the neatest part of all that can back up what I said was in the first game on that touchdown, Daunte scrambled and finally found Nate Burleson coming across the middle of the field for a nice touchdown scamper. Randy Moss never would have done that. That came from effort and trying to free yourself up.

VU: What about Burleson? He had an incredible game on Friday, I thought. Are you surprised by how quickly he's come on?

The thing with Burleson is that he's a disciplined player. I hate to always refer back to the Bud Grant days, but disciplined players who are predictable are your most consistent performers in the National Football League. Now if you combine predictability along with talent, that's a huge jump. That's why Nate's fit in so well with Daunte, because he's always had great talent … Randy Moss was the best wide receiver I've ever seen, but that doesn't make him the best or greatest player I've ever watched because there's more to the package. I think Nate bring a little bit more to the table for Daunte in a scheme like what Mike Tice wants, and that's discipline and predictability.

VU: With all the injuries, although they look to be minor, what do you think is going to happen with the running back situation ultimately? It sounds like Ciatrick Fason is going to start Friday because of injuries to Mewelde Moore and Michael Bennett.

That Fason can hit the hole awfully quick. The (NFL) life expectancy at running back is only like 2.4 or 2.5 years, whereas an NFL player is around 3.6 or 3.7. So at running back, you need a lot of backup legs. There are not a lot of stable, durable running backs in the National Football League. Unfortunately, injuries are going to happen. When they're healthy, I don't think there is anybody better than Mewelde Moore. He's outstanding, but you've got to be healthy. It goes back to what I said earlier, predictability and consistency and all that.

VU: What is your analysis of the center position. With Matt Birk out for the year, what do you think is ultimately going to happen there and what's their best move there?

I think they're downplaying the importance of it. To have an All-Pro center and then lose him and go with Cory Withrow, who is an adequate backup, and then Adam Goldberg, trying to groom him, you're going to see Coach (Steve) Loney and the type of job he can do. He'll prove out that he's a very, very good offensive line coach along with offensive coordinator. But I think they're underplaying it. We had Mick Tingelhoff all those years. It all starts up front when they make the call, and I don't see our running game busting balls anyway. I'm going to watch it very carefully.

VU: Any fringe or bubble-type players as we're entering the second round of cuts that impressed you from last Friday's game and you'll really keep a particular eye on this Friday?

On the defensive line, with Steve Martin, he makes a couple of nice plays and they pull him out. With how versatile Darrion Scott is and brining in Pat Williams, I just wonder if that puts Martin on the bubble. With linebackers, Raonall Smith. His situation, if these linebackers are improving and you've got two linebackers in trades – Napoleon Harris and Sam Cowart – that definitely puts Smith on the bubble, and he's got to stand out in special teams to the point that everybody in the stands will recognize his name on special teams. He has to make that big of an impression on special teams. I think Smith is on the bubble. And, of course, Ken Irvin as far as defensive backs, I'm not sure if he's come on that strong from his injury or if there's some hesitation on the coaches' part to continue his career with the Vikings.

VU: Now that we've had three games in the preseason, what's your assessment of the whole defense, from what you saw in minicamps to training camp to preseason games?

The part I like is that I see the defense continually getting better each and every week. I was a little disappointed in the first game or so, not only from the conditioning standpoint, but how the front seven was working together. There were just too many mental mistakes. I was concerned. But then in the game last week, I saw a lot of good, strong, positive defensive plays. The improvement from the first to second to third preseason game was substantial, and I know they're going to improve more from there. This veteran club, they have the confidence and they have the swagger. I like it.

VU: How do you think Jermaine Wiggins' role is going to change? He had a tremendous year last year, but now with Jim Kleinsasser back, without Moss, there is a lot of change on offense – probably more than we expected when you consider Birk is down.

Wiggins won't be as big of a factor, I don't think, because Daunte, with everything basically slowing down in front of him as far as his reads go, I think he's going to hit a third and a fourth receiver more often than he did last year. Last year he went to Wiggins a lot quicker, so I'm just guessing that unless he's a first or second read he won't get quite as many passes, but that will be determined by how the other four receivers are coming. You have to spread the ball around more. You have too good of receivers. This Travis Taylor, he's a pleasant, pleasant surprise. So when you've got somebody like that, you want to get the ball to him as well. To have Wiggins get fewer catches, it's because the whole game has slowed down for Daunte. He's grasped everything and he's just having a helluva camp.

  • 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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