Coaches Q&A, Part II: Defensive Linemen

Assistant defensive line coach Jim Panagos talks about the leadership of Lance Johnstone, the rotational players, the young talent being developed on the line and the mood of the linemen after a 1-3 start.

Jim Panagos enters his fourth season in Minnesota. He is in his first season as assistant defensive line/assistant special teams coach, where he assists coach Brian Baker with the line and coach Rusty Tillman with special teams.

Prior to joining the Vikings in 2002, Panagos spent four years teaching math and coaching football, as well as several other sports at C.R. James High School in Tampa, Fla.

From 1994-97, Panagos worked in sales for Safelite, an auto glass company based in Columbus, Ohio. Prior to four years at Safelite, Panagos served for one year as the assistant defensive line coach at his alma matter, Maryland.

Panagos was a defensive lineman for the Terrapins at Maryland from 1989-92. He holds the school record for blocked kicks (field goals and PATs) in a season with five, in 1992. That same season, he led the Terps in sacks (five) and tackles for loss (12).

Q: What is missing on your defensive line when Lance Johnstone is out with an injury?

A lot. Lance is a veteran player. What he does is invaluable, but it's a tough injury. He's a tough, tough person. His shoulder was ripped off the bone and I'm sure he would've wanted to play last week if they would've let him.

Q: How difficult was it for Lance a couple of years ago to accept playing less?

Lance accepted his role. He realized he wants to be an every-down player, but the less plays he has, the better he does rushing the passer. A lot of young players look up to him and he does things the right way.

Q: Is Darrion Scott playing as well as he was at the end of last season?

Darrion's playing good football for us. He's still a young player and he's learning, but he's playing really well for us. He's playing well and each week he's playing better and better and better.

Q: How valuable is Spencer Johnson's versatility when he can plug in a void for you at any position along the defensive line?

Spencer Johnson is playing all four positions along our line. He had a good game on Sunday, but with Spencer you know you'll get a player who can play all four spots. He's very valuable and the season's a long year and we know he is very, very versatile. He can do a lot of things for us.

Q: What have you seen the last two weeks from rookie Erasmus James?

The last two weeks we've seen his ability to rush the passer. As each week goes on, the performance gets better and better and better. As he gets experience, you'll see him getting better and better. As a defensive lineman it take s time. It's a strength thing, schemes are different, and it takes time to mature. … It's a long process for young defensive linemen.

Q: C.J. Mosley played some at Atlanta… What does he bring to the table for you?

We're really happy with C.J.'s performance. He did some decent things in training camp and he deserves a chance to play. We're happy with C.J. Just like Erasmus, as they get more experience you'll see them get better and better and better. It happened with Darrion Scott and Spencer last season.

Q: How would you analyze your defensive line's performance one-quarter of the way through the season?

As a group, we're trying to be one of the better defensive lines in the league. We're not there yet. With hard work we'll get closer to that goal. As the season goes no doubt we'll see better results.

Q: After a 1-3 start, what's the mood like in the defensive linemen meeting room?

Lance and Pat bring a lot of veteran leadership and they understand it's a long season. We're not worrying about the standings. We're worried about Chicago.

Q: That said, what's the key to stopping the Bears?

We have to stop the run and make them one-dimensional. When teams have to pass the ball it's easy for us to pass rush. It's the same every Sunday. Each game we have to stop the run.

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