Leber Eager for Success of Tampa-2

Ben Leber has been concentrating on one position in the Minnesota Vikings defense and is intrigued to be getting back to a 4-3 scheme that gave him his greatest success early with the San Diego Chargers. Plus, get updates on several former Vikings.

Ben Leber is a rarity among the Vikings' linebacker corps for one reason: His name is fairly securely written in pen as a starter. For Leber, the position is strongside linebacker, a spot that he was targeted and tagged for since the Vikings signed him on the first day of free agency in March.

Besides Leber and Chad Greenway, who is being given a strict diet on the weak side and no more, the rest of the linebackers are learning multiple positions in the base defense and nickel defense. But Leber is the surest thing the Vikings have at a deep but unsettled unit.

"It's going to take some time," Leber said when asked how long he thought it would take for the moving parts at the defense's second level to come together. "It may not be the first preseason game or second preseason game, but I think once the season starts we're definitely going to be ready."

Personally, Leber is also ready to go right now after slowly ramping up his practice time in spring minicamps while rehabilitating a foot injury that hastened his departure from the starting lineup last year and helped get rookie sensation Shawne Merriman on the field more quickly in San Diego last season.

"I've been 100 percent for quite some time right now," Leber said.

But that foot injury limited Leber to six starts in nine games before finally being placed on injured reserve. That was in a 3-4 defense, but in Leber's first two seasons in San Diego he played in a 4-3 scheme, which he believes will help him adapt quickly to Minnesota's Tampa-2 scheme.

"I think (the Tampa-2) requires us to make plays sideline to sideline. We have to make plays with our speed and really make plays across the field, and the Mike linebacker has to get deep in the middle of the field," Leber said.

"I think you look at the pedigree of where it originated, Tampa and Monte Kiffin's style of defense, they are a top-five defense pretty much every year. That was exciting to me."

In fact, that was one reason Leber chose the Vikings as much as they chose him when free agency rolled around. They were aggressive in pursuing him, signing him on the first day of free agency, and he looked at the Vikings defense and figured he might return to his more productive days in the league.

As a rookie out of Kansas State, Leber notched 49 tackles in 2002 and earned All-Rookie honors while starting 14 games. With the Chargers still in a 4-3 defense in 2003, he had 75 tackles, his most productive season. In his first two years in the league, and playing in a 4-3 scheme, he also had eight sacks and four forced fumbles.

When the Chargers implemented a 3-4 scheme in 2004, his tackles declined to 58, then even further (to 22 tackles) in 2005 while missing seven full games and three other starts with his foot injury.

"I had the opportunity to play in both style of defenses. I had a lot of success my first and second year in San Diego with the 4-3, so I knew it was something I could play in and I was comfortable playing in. That's something I was definitely looking for," he said.

He's got the opportunity to back up his assessment this year, but he also knows he needs help from the defensive line, an integral part of the coverage game that is called upon to supply the pressure in the Tampa-2 scheme.

"We'd love to see those guys get some pressure on the quarterback," Leber said of the defensive ends. "That helps the secondary and linebackers in coverage when they can get some pressure on those guys, make a quarterback make a quick decision and throw checkdowns. That's what we want."

Another benefit of having Leber, one of the more experienced Vikings linebackers, on the team is his ability to mentor Chad Greenway. Although there are only three players in the league from South Dakota, the Vikings' Greenway and Leber are two of them. The other is kicker Adam Vinatieri.

Ironically, both Leber and Greenway say it was only coincidence that they ended up as roommates in training camp. According to Greenway, when head coach Brad Childress told players to pick their roommates, Greenway and Leber just happened to be sitting next to each other. Now they've discovered what they have in common.

"We've had a little bit of a chance to talk," Leber said. "He has a similar story to me. He didn't really get recruited that highly and kind of had to go out on his own to get picked up. We've got a lot of similarities, so it's kind of fun."

And by midseason or sooner, Greenway could work his way into the starting lineup on the weak side, forming the bookend linebackers of the Vikings' new Tampa-2 defense.

NOTES

  • Receiver Rashaun Woods, whom the Vikings reportedly had an interest in, was claimed on waivers by the Denver Broncos from the San Francisco 49ers. However, Woods failed his physical in Denver and is free again.

  • Wide receiver Kelvin Kight, who was signed by the Vikings earlier this year and then released shortly before training camp, was signed by the New England Patriots.

  • Former Vikings linebacker and last year's linebackers coach Pete Bercich is now an intern coach for Dennis Green in Arizona.

  • Former Vikings running backs coach Dean Dalton is doing analysis for FSN North and KSTP-TV this year. He will also be writing a daily column for ESPN.com.

  • Several Vikings representatives are leaving today to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for former Vikings quarterback Warren Moon. Owner Lenny Wilf, vice president of operations and legal counsel Kevin Warren, director of public relations Bob Hagan, fullback Tony Richardson and former Viking Bob Lurtsema are all attending the ceremonies. Richardson played together with Moon in Kansas City. We'll have more on Moon tomorrow.


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