Lurtsema's Reaction: Training Camp Primer

What does 12-year veteran of the NFL Bob Lurtsema think are the positions most over-hyped in the summer, and what about the situations facing Chester Taylor and Koren Robinson? Who will the Vikings need to step up on offense and defense this year? Lurtsema weighs in with his opinion.

VU: Every year you see these players who are practicing well in minicamps in shorts. They call them training camp players that can't play as well in pads. Over the years that you have played on teams and followed teams, have you recognized that there is a certain position where guys get over-hyped in summer with shorts on and they just can't play once the pads are on?

Without the pads on, you're going to watch a lot of running backs and receivers. The key position players, they're the ones that get over-hyped – "Oh, he has a tremendous cut." They're the ones that get hyped the most because when you watch the linemen – and the majority of people don't know what linemen do with you writers – they are very in tuned to the receivers, running backs, etc. and the excitement for the big play. So those are the ones that are way over-hyped. The other thing that gets over-hyped is when a receiver is going against a third-team player. The writers have to watch which string they're going against. A lot of times the veterans are cooling it while the coaches are trying to look at their total personnel, so they're getting a lot of mismatches. You have to be careful with that. But probably No. 1 is running backs. I've even made that mistake with running backs, going, "Wow, he's so smooth. Watch his hips. Wow!" Once they get knocked around, then they're not running as hard. You can't tell a lot without pads. During a lot of these camps, you're trying to find out how smart they are.

VU: Speaking of running backs, do you have any concerns about the talk of Chester Taylor maybe not showing up in the greatest shape to some of the minicamps? Is that a case where the people at Winter Park are just trying to motivate him?

I hope it's not motivation because when you come in overweight, you're not a true professional. You can use all the excuses in the world, but if you're not taking care of your body, which is making you a living, you could be burnt out. You could be saying enough is enough. You might have enough injuries or creaks when you get up in the morning and your body is telling you to get out, that you should retire. If you haven't got passion and motivation, if you're just playing for money, I can't imagine taking a beating just for money. I lot of people will probably laugh, just like you just did, but that's why you see a lot of players play five years and get out. Look at Robert Smith as the prime example. I think he missed a couple of years when he was out, but I think his body was saying I don't want to be crippled.

VU: With Randy Moss gone and Daunte Culpepper gone, obviously Brad Johnson is a guy everybody is going to watch. But besides maybe Brad Johnson, who do you think is the most important player on this team right now? There is not a guy everybody identifies with.

I'd say Koren Robinson or Travis Taylor. Johnson has to have a go-to guy. He can run short routes as well as go deep. As far as Troy Williamson, how can you want him to be the most important if he didn't step up last year? You can't rely on him. Then they always say the run sets up the pass, so you have to have that running threat. But for what Brad needs, his receivers have got to be the best. They've got to run a 7-yard route 7 yards. They have to run an 8.5-yard route 8.500 yards because Brad is just throwing to the hot routes. Especially in that offense, Brad is just throwing to a point. He knows what he's reading, he knows where he's got his one-on-one coverage and he knows what route a particular receiver should run.

VU: That said, do you have concerns with Koren Robinson trying to take care of himself a little more with this alcohol problem?

I applaud him. I totally applaud him because, knowing him, he's really a neat kid. Maybe he had the urge or whatever it might be. That's his personal life and he said, "Wait a minute, I do not want to get in trouble. I love football and I love everything that Mike Tice did to give me a second opportunity." He had his second chance and he realized he was struggling a little bit. I totally applaud him. With alcoholics, it's one day at a time and you could have meetings every week.

VU: With no real, established middle linebacker, who would you say is the leader on this defense?

The ones that set the tempo are the defensive line. They're the ones that have to establish themselves. If Kevin Williams is in shape and has his weight down, I'd go all day long with Kevin Williams leading that defensive line.

VU: What are you going to look for in training camp? What do you want to see that is going to show you that this is a better team than last year's team or that it's a team on the rise?

I want to see players that come in and they're in shape and they have professional pride and the passion. I'm going to watch their body language. I'm so fed up with these jocks that come in out of shape and they raise their hand and want to come out of practice. Their body language just absolutely turns me off. I will be totally into body language, and I think that Brad Childress will not tolerate unconditioned athletes. I hope he's like Bud Grant. Bud Grant never cut anybody – he always said the players cut themselves, so if you don't come in in shape, you cut yourself. Bud Grant never cut you. I want to make sure they have the passion to make the big bucks. I don't care how much money they make, but they had better give me 100 percent. I don't care if they lose every game, but go down fighting. When you're down 35-0, look at the people and see whose head is down and see which ones are dragging. Those people are losers because you've got to take personal pride when you're behind. If people come up to you after the game and said you guys sucked, you can say you did your best. If you don't do that, then you've started a cancer – that's cancer in the club and it's so contagious and it happens so fast. How many times have seen a team lose two or three games, all the sudden they're in such a big hole they can't get out? It's not because you got beat 35-0, it's because you quit. Those people are eliminated through high school and college.

VU: Is there anything from last year's camp that you don't want to see this year? Anything that bugged you last year that you hope gets changed?

If I was to change one thing from last year's camp, I would not babysit some of the players and give them an excuse for why they're overweight or why they're playing bad. No excuses. I hate it when a coach gives a player an out. Just be direct with them. If the guy's not doing the job, you're not ripping him. There's a nice way to do it. You're not going after him, but you cannot constantly give – even the superstars – an out for poor performance. If they're so sensitive to that, they'll never see the average life expectancy of an average NFL career of 3.7 years. They'll never see it because being sensitive in this league just doesn't exist on championship teams.

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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