Lurtsema's Reaction: Vikings Offense

As a 12-year veteran of the defensive line in the NFL, former Viking Bob Lurtsema has a few thoughts on what he likes to see from offenses and what he didn't like when playing against them. That's how he breaks down a lot of the Vikings' questions on offense, from quarterback and offensive line to running backs and wide receivers.

VU: Did you see enough of Tarvaris Jackson to get a gauge on how good you think he could be?

He's got a bullet of an arm. Before I went to see him practice, everybody said, ‘Wait ‘til you see him throw.' Then, like everybody else, I saw him throw and I went, ‘Holy Mackerel.' He's got the arm, but is he raw? Totally raw, as far as touch goes. I watched him make some of reads, his progressions, and I saw a lot of thinking and slowing down, whatever you want to call it, but that would just be natural coming in from Division I-AA into pro football. That's just a natural response to the big jump. People who make the jump downplay Division I-AA, and I agree with that, but then when you come in you're going to have an awful rough time at that position, especially coming from a Division I-AA, where you're not going against too many good defensive backs and your receivers can get open a lot easier. In the pros, you have to anticipate separation with your receiver and the defensive back. The transition is huge, but the advantage he has is that he's very confident. His body language is very positive, and talking with people on other teams, some did have him ranked as a strong third-round draft choice.

VU: Last year, when Brad Johnson was asked about mentoring Daunte Culpepper from the sidelines, he indicated that every quarterback is different and therefore it's hard to tell a guy what the backup sees from the sidelines. It kind of made me wonder when we talk about what a great influence Gus Frerotte was on Culpepper, what kind of a relationship or mentoring do you expect from Johnson to Jackson this year?

A lot of that learning is going to be done between Mike McMahon and Jackson because it's tough during a game to go over and talk to a guy who is a third-string quarterback and is suited up only in case those two (Johnson and McMahon) go down. Brad would gladly help in the meetings and any way he can, but come the season it's going to be time spent on the job to be done in the games. As a starting NFL quarterback, you've got to get in your routine and not be too distracted from basically a practice squad member.

VU: With all the changes on the offensive line, and I know they weren't in pads in minicamp, but what sort of an upgrade do you think they made or do you think it's going to take a while to get all these guys to mesh together?

Having played line, you just don't throw a lineman in and say, ‘Oh, he's better and he's an All-Pro so we're better.' The timing from Matt Birk to Steve Hutchinson is different from what Birk had with Chris Liwienski. It's going to take a little bit of time to know where that player is and his speed. As a defensive linemen, when a new lineman would come in next to me, I had to work a slower stunt as opposed to another lineman. It's the same thing on offense as far as pulling. How does he screen? Does he screen more with his hips – do his hips move quicker than other linemen, or his feet? There are a lot of little things that have to be corrected. Every time you see a lineman go down, a new lineman comes in and sure as heck they miss an assignment, they don't read the blitz the same, the signals aren't the same – you might have a blue call or a red call to know if you're going to go zone blocking or man to man, whatever it might be – you'll always have a mistake after the game. The coaches always say, ‘Well, we had to put such-and-such in there and the timing wasn't the same.' How many times have you heard that? The first six weeks they're going to have to come together, not only from the timing standpoint but from the entirely different offensive perspective going to the West Coast offense compared to the more vertical, scrambling type with the quarterback.

The timing that really has to be worked on is the fullback timing with the offensive line. Before, you never really had to worry about where the fullback was. Now they have got to know where he is each and every play.

VU: With the fullback, some offenses use that position but the Vikings haven't in quite a while. Do you think that addition is good, bad or remains to be seen?

As a defensive lineman, I hated to have a fullback. If you finally make a good play, then that fullback comes in there to clean you out. I always felt that when you've got a real strong fullback there and you're running off-tackle or directly at tackle, your chances of gaining a yard were a lot easier. As a defensive lineman, once you recover from beating your man, you have to be aware of the fullback and make a slight adjustment, you lose a little bit of your dominance to make a strong tackle.

VU: Not having seen Chester Taylor be a featured back before, do you have concerns that he might not be able to handle that role?

Some players are good backups, but they come in and they can't handle the full load. Their body takes a beating and they're good for 10, 15, 20 plays a game. He's still young enough where he might be able to make the adjustment, but if you're going to pick somebody up you'd like to get a horse like an Earl Campbell, who you know can run it 20 or 30 times a game and just love it. This is going to come down to how Taylor's body can handle the punishment. Some people, you can hit them 30 times and the 31st time they go down. Others, you can hit them 60 times and that 61st time they're still standing. Everybody has a different pain tolerance and everybody's body adapts differently. If you take a stick and beat it on your hand for a week, you're hand is going to turn to leather – your skin will get tougher. It's the same thing here. When you're hitting people constantly, your body makes an adjustment to take that beating. A lot of time athletes that can't do that are eliminated, all the way from pee-wee football to the high school and college ranks. If you're a running back and you only have a 2.8-year life expectancy – here you are part-time and now you're going full-time – I say it's suspect. That's the running backs coach that has to watch that. He's got to know when his horse is getting overworked. In the same breath, some backs believe it takes them 20 plays to warm up.

VU: Any concerns at wide receiver with Koren Robinson being the No. 1 guy and then Troy Willliamson and Travis Taylor? Are you worried that they don't really have enough proven starters?

I think we're in just great shape for receivers. I saw Marcus Robinson make a couple of spectacular catches in camp. With Taylor and Koren Robinson, that's a great sleeper right there, I just think we're in good shape. I really do. My little sleeper is Travis Taylor. I just think that he runs his routes so nice, and with this new offense, I just think he's going to be the cat's meow.

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 monthly column appears in the magazine.

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