Coaches Q&A, Part I: Bercich Talks Linebackers

Linebackers coach Pete Bercich talks about how the Vikings are using Keith Newman and the confidence and experience the second-tier linebackers are getting. Bercich's linebackers will have a big role against Atlanta.

Pete Bercich is in his first season as linebackers coach for the Vikings. Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell spent the past season overseeing the linebackers, with Bercich assisting.

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.

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: Is Napoleon Harris playing at the level you expected when he came via the Randy Moss trade?

Napoleon is a very smart, athletic guy. He can do some things out in space that a lot of guys can't. He's still growing in the system and we have him playing in the line of scrimmage where he hasn't played in a while, but he's accepting. It. He's still struggling with his injury a little bit.

Q: In a couple of games this season Keith Newman appears to be flying around. Has his playmaking abilities surprised you at all?

What Keith has done is he's played consistent enough to garner a role on the defense. He's definitely one of the smartest players I've been around. He's playing fast because he knows where to go and he's putting himself in position to make plays. What's great about Keith is he's smart enough to put himself in those spots.

Q: Tice jokes about him Keith being a D-lineman … Is he big enough?

We always joke he's a Diet Coke away from being a defensive lineman, but he's a damn good pass rusher. He definitely brings an attitude and toughness to the group. He's one of the biggest leaders we have on the defense. Keith knows life in the NFL is short and all he wants is to win.

Q: Raonall Smith was out there on the bubble at the end of training camp when roster cuts were being made. What did Raonall do to stick around?

His contributions on special teams and his ability to run and hit. He's another guy who we've started and won with in the past. He's another guy we know that we could plug him in there any time and we can go out there and he can give us a good game.

Q: Speaking of bubble players, what does Heath Farwell need to do for you on the practice squad?

Heath's one heck of a hard worker. He's one of those special teams guys who'll run through a wall for you. He's strong and he can run and he works really hard. All Heath has to do is mature physically and keep in touch with the schemes and how things are going. What's most impressive is his desire and effort. He gives 110 percent all the time. It's hard being a rookie free agent in the NFL. You get a lot of bad jobs and a lot of bad responsibilities, but he takes it all in stride.

Q: Against the Saints, the dogs were coming from the secondary. I'm assuming your linebackers will have a more active role in the game plan against a quarterback like Michael Vick?

The NFL is a game of match-ups. What we have to do now is watch the tape and see where we stand out and what we're going to take away and what match-ups we're going to try to exploit and we'll go from there.

Q: In his prime, where would Pete Bercich be on the depth chart with this linebacking corps?

Man, I probably would've been a special teams guy like I was before. The league has gotten faster since I've been in. A lot of the guys I coach are all great athletes. But there is still a lot of room for guys like myself who play special teams and know their role.

Q: Has Charlie Weis brought Notre Dame back to national prominence?

I enjoy watching them play. There's no doubt they're a well-coached team. We just need to see the same guys producing. It's nice to see those guys compete again.

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