Lurtsema's Reaction: RB, WR and LB – Oh, My

Are the Vikings in trouble with their running game and thinned wide receiver corps? What about their linebackers? Or what about the better performances of QB Tarvaris Jackson and the defensive line? Former Viking Bob Lurtsema weighs in with his analysis on all of those topics halfway through the preseason.

VU: From preseason game one to game two, did you see much improvement, or as much as you expected?

When it's so vanilla, it's hard to judge. I think after you watch the game against Baltimore it will be a great test. Then you will be able to really figure out as they're going into the half. They did bounce back being down 7-0 in Pittsburgh and scored seven points of their own. It was kind of nice to see how Brad Johnson was working the offense. He's so brilliant anyway; he's a brilliant quarterback the way he can make things flow. That was a positive. With Tarvaris Jackson, everybody is ranting and raving about him, but he's with a pretty vanilla package. I do like what I see, but it's still a pretty vanilla package, and until he gets under the gun and has the entire offense under his wing, then we'll be able to make a judgment on that. It does take three to five years to groom a quarterback. I think he's doing really, really, really well, but I think it's going to take me to see a few more plays than just the standard vanilla-type calls.

Defensively, I'm liking it. I'm liking it. I can see the guys, they're uninhibited. You can feel it with the linemen, and having talked to them they all feel the same way. They can put their ears back on a greater percentage of defensive plays than what they could in the past. Plus, they're utilizing their strengths a little more because they did have a lot of linebacker speed to start with, although the middle is still suspect.

VU: You had said earlier, you weren't terribly concerned about the linebacker corps, or as concerned as fans. Does that still hold true or do you see it as a pretty big question mark?

I'm hoping to see great improvement with them. I'm still suspect on them because every time you look at the great ones – look at the great Bears defense, you look at the great Packers defenses – what stands out is your middle linebacker. When the Vikings were winning, we had Jeff Siemon in the middle there, a Pro Bowler. Your big man up front is your middle linebacker because your defensive line is working together as a unit. Basically all they want to do is take on the interference, take on the lead block or the fullback or shrink the hole if it happens to be a trap play when the guard is blocking down. They shrink the hole and keep the linebacker free to clean up. With Kevin and Pat Williams up front, with as big as they are, they are clearing out or taking on more than one blocker on almost each and every play – and boy does that help your middle linebacker.

VU: From the limited amount you've seen him, do feel like Kevin Williams is back to his old form or do you think he's still got some work do to get there?

Kevin's back to his old form. In watching him and even talking with him, he feels good. But I noticed he had a little bit of a limp. I hope I'm not seeing something that's not there. After a game and everything and you start to cool down, you get a little swelling into your injured area. After the game, maybe that's just swelling getting in there. You can pull him out and put ice on it, but you're not really resting the leg.

VU: The starters came out of last week's game with the lead. Do you read anything more into that because they were playing the defending Super Bowl champs or is it just so vanilla that you can't even put that label on them in the preseason?

With the limited amount that they're playing, you can't really judge anything. That was Pittsburgh's first home game and they wanted to come out and show off that this was the big kickoff to a repeat of last year and they wanted to do well. They got their first unit out there and rolling to make it pretty smooth, but the thing that was neat was in the second series, against Pittsburgh's dominating defense that won the Super Bowl last year, Brad did take the team down for a touchdown. But Friday, you're playing against one of the best defenses in the National Football League and they're all going to play a half. That's going to tell you because a half is going to give the players a little more push as far as conditioning goes and they're going to have to throw a lot more than just the plain vanilla. They've got to throw a few more things. They can't just sit in their Tampa-2 or base 4-3. Not being at the game last week, I can't always tell if they are in Tampa-2 or in a zone, or are they in the base 4-3.

VU: What about the running game …

What running game?

VU: Yeah, are you starting to get as concerned as I am?

I was in shock the first game when Brad Childress said he was happy with the running game. I apparently missed that game even though I was in the press box. But with their average, I'm concerned. Mewelde Moore is a great back, but now he has a knee injury. I know he's not faking injuries, but some people are just injury-prone. Many times, Bud Grant could pick ahead of time who was going to be in the tub and on what days. In my career, in 12 years I missed two days of practice. Then some athletes, if they played three years, they might make two days of practice. With the average career expectancy of an NFL player only 3.8 years, you know there are a lot of injuries going on. You have to be a little lucky, but some people are injury-prone. As good as Mewelde Moore is, and he is good, … you have to prove your toughness in this league and he is tough. It's just a matter of if his pain tolerance is high enough or is he just totally injury-prone.

VU: Without Koren Robinson now – you'd expect him to be done with the Vikings – are you pretty concerned about the wide receiver corps?

I'm a big fan of Travis Taylor's. I like his attitude, I like the preciseness of his routes. I'm expecting him to bounce out as a seasoned veteran. I think he's going to be a big producer. They're talking about Troy Williamson and how they are working on him with catching the ball, I still hate that from a No. 1 draft choice that they're working with him to catch the ball or locate it. That's a God-given talent that makes you a No. 1 draft choice.

VU: I know there were some hard feelings with the way Brian Billick left after the 1998 Championship Game. What are your feelings toward him at this point?

When Brian left and I was at the Super Bowl that year, I went on the air and ripped Billick after the game. My heart was tore out like any other true Vikings fan after that tremendous loss. He was in the locker room (after the NFC Championship) and talking to the media PR-ing for a head coaching job. Here you've got players in the locker room crying, and yet he's in there promoting himself and working on the next step. Now, I have to give him credit – and my respect goes back to him – because he came up and he apologized. He said, ‘Bob, I shouldn't have been doing that. You're absolutely correct.' When a man comes back and apologizes for his decision – he said, ‘That was a very sensitive time and I should have picked up more on the sensitivity of the situation' – when he came back and told me that, I got a lot more respect for him. He can draw the Xs and Os, but you say he had the greatest defense in the world yet I've known since he was a head coach that they don't have a quarterback. To this day, I don't understand why coaches, when they don't have a quarterback, don't go out and get one. How many years do you have to say, ‘We don't have a quarterback. But look at our defense, boy are they good.' It will be interesting now that they've got Steve McNair – he finally addressed his problem.

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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