Coaches Q&A, Part I: Dalton Talks Bennett, Moore

Head coach Mike Tice said that "there wasn't much there" for the running backs in Sunday's opener, when Moe Williams and Michael Bennett combined for 14 yards on 12 carries, so no one lost or gained a starting spot off that performance. Vikings running backs coach Dean Dalton talked about what Michael Bennett and Mewelde Moore each have to show this season and why it is a big season for both of them.

Dean Dalton is in his seventh season in Minnesota, his fourth as running backs coach, after spending his first three seasons with the Vikings working primarily on the offensive side of the ball alongside Mike Tice on the offensive line.

Last season, Dalton oversaw a running backs corps that had four different starters. The Vikings set an NFL record for consecutive games with a team rushing average of more than 4.0 yards per carry with 19. The previous NFL record was 14 straight games held by the 1975-76 Pittsburgh Steelers featuring Franco Harris and the 1964-65 Cleveland Browns featuring Jim Brown.

In 2003, Dalton helped the offense to achieving their first NFL No. 1 ranking in team history. The Vikings finished second in the NFC and fourth in the NFL in rushing.

Prior to joining the Vikings in 1999, Dalton spent four years as the managing editor of War Room Publications and the president of The Red Zone Interactive.

Dalton also worked as the Dean of Students and Director of Athletics for the Delavan-Darien School District in Delevan, Wis., from 1996-98. He was the athletics director, administrator and head football coach for St. Michael's Academy in Austin, Texas, from 1995-96.

Dalton last coached collegiately at Purdue, as receivers coach (1990). He coached running backs at Texas Southern (1988-89), wide receivers at Wisconsin (1986-87), and defensive backs and running backs at Western Illinois (1984-85). Dalton played college football for Air Force Academy in 1981-82 and for Western Illinois in 1983-84.

Q: Mike Tice has said he wants the 2005 Vikings to increase their focus on running, something that might have been out of whack in comparison to the passing game last year?

Part of it was situational because we had the same offensive coaching staff and most of the same players who three years ago were here when we led the NFL in rushing. We want to get back into balance. We had 106 less carries last year than the year before. But we were still 4.7 yards per carry, which was second to only Atlanta. I'm not a big stat guy and I'm not hanging my hat on stats — I don't care who's in the game or what stats they'll get as an individual. If they play a key role contributing to our success and winning, they'll be looked upon well.

Q: What does Michael Bennett need to do this season to help the Vikings?

Michael needs to stay healthy and go out and do the things that made him special. For him professionally, it's a huge year because it is the last year of his contract. Ultimately that's a big part of this. You want to put yourself into the best position and make the best money and get the best contract available to you.

Q: Does Bennett need to be the featured back?

Michael's the kind of kid who wants to be the star. He feels good when he contributes to helping the team win. He will focus on us winning more than focus on his contract, but you know it's there and it's been discussed with him and his agent away from the football part of it.

Q: Mewelde Moore says he could be a featured back in the NFL. But he said he would patiently wait his turn whether it's here or somewhere else. I would assume you want all your players to have that kind of hunger, but how long can you keep them happy?

Mewelde is a kid who's had tremendous success and was a star at Tulane for four years. He's been such a great athlete and was drafted in baseball and played summer baseball while he was in college, but he also was a double major. His intelligence in athletics showed up. Last year, Matt Birk would tell me that you look in the huddle and look into Mewelde's eyes and you don't see the wide eyes of a rookie. You see the eyes of a veteran. And now this year he's even more mature and confident. The maturity will be key to his development. He's smart enough to get everything. He's very intelligent and intuitive and understands the game, not just his assignments, but what we're trying to do in the scheme.

Q: It was well documented that a coach or two was frustrated with Mewelde's ability to heal last year. What part of Mewelde's game needed to improve the most from his rookie season to this year?

What he needed was maturity. He had never been hurt before so he took some time to come back. Did he take longer because he didn't want to rush because there were other quality running backs? You'd have to ask him that. But it seemed like he was cautious in his return before he could go full speed. Did that put him in bad graces? No, he just wasn't available.

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