VU: Your overall impression of the Vikings draft is …
BL: To use a baseball term, I'd say the first-round draft choice (Iowa's Chad Greenway) was a home run. I'm really, truly excited. After that, beyond Cedric Griffin from Texas, I thought it was kind of a crapshoot, putting more pressure on the coaches' ability than the athlete himself. The project, of course, was the pick from Alabama State (Tarvaris Jackson)—which is a project for coach Brad Childress, and I understand his philosophy there. But what I don't understand is the fourth-round draft choice, Ray Edwards. When you have a fellow that was benched halfway through the season—I know he was only a junior and you learn from it—but he doesn't like real strict coaching and wanted to take plays off. Having played defensive line, I'll be watching him awfully close in practice because, from those indications, every time I've seen them they usually seem to have a lack of heart and not really a passion for the game. But I talked with Scott Studwell and they thought they could bring out his potential when they surround him with a better supporting cast. In other words, when he has Kevin and Pat Williams next to him, they think that's going to help him maintain his high level of how he can play. On that one, I'm going on record as saying that Edwards has a lot to prove to me because you cannot coach heart and you can never coach passion, and those are two things that you have to have.
VU: Chad Greenway, growing up in South Dakota and playing in Iowa, does it help the franchise that he's this Midwest guy or does it hurt that it might put more pressure on him with so much local interest in him?
BL: The average person who hasn't played the game, and sometimes even writers, when they talk about added pressure, there is really no pressure. When you played in the Big Ten, you've gone through it all. You're going to work, and if a guy can't handle what everybody calls pressure, he won't last for but for a year or two. If you watch the way he answers the media, he's very confident because he's worked so hard and he's a different person on the field. You cannot live football 24/7, especially during the season. You've got to be able to turn it on and turn it off. You can't lock in on it or it will drive you crazy and you'll have no life whatsoever. He's coming across that way, where he separates the two. When he takes the field, he can lock in. A lot of the players I was around, we were pretty much the same. We were good off the field, had a lot of fun, loved the fans—we loved everything about it. But when you step on the field, you have to have something in your makeup that allows you to turn it instantly on.
VU: People talk about how Greenway should come in and hopefully earn a starting job, but what do you expect out of Cedric Griffin, the cornerback-safety. What do you think his role for this year could be?
BL: He only had three interceptions, but sometimes stats are deceiving. So I have to watch his feet and his quickness and watch if he has the natural shoulder moves for a defensive back and maybe bring him in for the nickel package. I know before the draft, my No. 1 priority was a shutdown corner because I know that when you get a shutdown corner your defensive line suddenly gets better. It's so important that when you get a good, clean pass rush that you have someone that's good in coverage. With a shutdown corner, you can double up your other strong receivers. Stat-wise, I've got to find out how many times they threw at him, and with him I've got to watch how he turns and watch his shoulder and foot control in minicamp.
VU: There has been a lot of talk about people thinking they reached to get this center, Ryan Cook, and there was a lot made of his height. He's almost 6-foot-7. Is that too tall for a center?
BL: They're only going to dress seven offensive linemen, so I think they want somebody with versatility. He's going to have to learn how to play guard and tackle in case somebody goes down. For playing center, I think you need a little more weight and I think they weren't really happy last year with the size of Cory Withrow. Cory is a very bright center, but they questioned his weight. That's why this Greg Eslinger from the Gophers went so much later. You like them over 300 pounds. Myself, I'm 6-6 and I've seen some athletes at 6-6 that can't get down in their stance and I've seen others that they play a lot shorter. Brady Smith from Atlanta, he had that rare stance and he was 6-6 or 6-7. He got off so low and I don't know how he did it. Let's review it after minicamp and I can see how fast he can set.
VU: How many years do you think Matt Birk has left and what are your expectations for him considering the lack of game time he's gotten the last two years?
BL: It's tough to take a year off and come back. It's not so much repeating it, it's just that your body changes so much in a year off or almost a year-and-a-half or two years. With Birk, when you're at center and if you have any ability, which Matt does—Matt's a deserving All-Pro and he's the total package from getting to the outside to using his Harvard degree to read everything properly—the center spot gives you the greatest opportunity to have a longer NFL career, just from the way you take the hits. If he comes back and has no more operations, I'm looking for him to play another 10 years. If you're going to get longevity, you're going to get it from the center.
VU: I know you really want to look into the work ethic of Ray Edwards, but do you think that by the time you get to the second day of the draft that it's time to start taking risks on guys like this who show good talent but maybe have work ethic problems or other guys like Onterrio Smith, who had other issues. Is that the time to bet on their pure athleticism?
BL: I don't understand sometimes why certain pro personnel think, ‘No, I can handle him differently.' People don't change. Why address a negative that you really don't want to work with because, in all fairness, there were a lot better athletes than myself that were cut, even second-round draft choices like USC defensive tackle Art Riley. He was a better athlete than I was, but he didn't have the work ethic or wasn't smart enough. I think when you go into the second half of the draft, why give yourself a negative situation and say, ‘He'll change. I can get more out of him. I can do this or I can do that.' Get a guy with the right attitude. There are some guys that are awful, awful close to his ability, and if there weren't people that were that close they wouldn't max out the time between their next pick. There are guys that are equal with Edwards but with better attitudes, so I personally would go the other route, and in the long haul give me somebody that's going to be consistent, whether it's an A, B, or C in performance. As long as he's consistent each and every week, I can work my defense around a predictable player. Do not give me an unpredictable player because I have no idea where he's going to go during the defensive calls. I really believe that.
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 VikingUpdate.com for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.
Lurtsema's Reaction: Draft Reflections
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