Lurtsema's Reaction: The Offensive Struggles

The offensive line made improvements in some areas, but they are still learning this offense, says former defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema. See what else the 12-year veteran had to say about the line, the running game, penalties and a couple of young players he likes.

VU: What do you think of the offensive line? To me, it seems like they're pass protecting pretty well but the run blocking still doesn't seem to be there, or are you more inclined to blame the running problems on Chester Taylor?

I thought they picked up some of the blitzes awfully well later on against Buffalo, but the offensive line – offensive and defensive linemen are pretty much stand-up guys and not afraid to answer questions – I know they're standing up and saying, ‘Hey, we're not doing the job.' Because they aren't. They are not doing the job and you can't sugarcoat it. In the first half, Chester Taylor had six yards on six carries – you don't have a running game and you don't have a go-to play. Until you get that, your offense is not going to put up any more than 17 or 19 points. My gosh, it's been four games and 19 has been the highest. The offense has got to pick it up.

VU: Talking to them over there, Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk both think it's close, that it's usually just one guy that is making mistakes here and there – different guys that are spreading it around, making the mistakes. Can you see anything that indicated they're close, because it doesn't look that way?

They're justifying their bad calls. Even in the 12 years I played, whenever you make a mistake – and now more so with parity – that mistake, had you executed the play properly, would have been the difference between stopping the play on defense or executing it on offense. When you jell as a team, you'll starting reading off the lineman that's next to you. When you see him getting taken out a certain way or him getting blown out of position, you'll automatically slide to fill his spot and yours. That's when you jell together. At the same time, that's when the game slows down, when you're reading when you come off the ball. The rookies won't pick up on that, but many times the veteran can. Many times, I've had the responsibility and I let the responsibility go, knowing if I didn't there would be a big gain because of the situation with the person on my right or left. But it's probably happened more times where Carl Eller or Jim Marshall went out of their way to cover for me. I make the same mistakes as everybody else.

VU: Even though they've got veteran offensive linemen, is it almost like they are rookies because they're playing next to a new guy?

That's what bothers me about preseason. They say, ‘Oh, we're veterans. We know what's going on.' During preseason, play them the whole game. They'll say they have to see what the young rookies can do, but they can work them during practice. Get your offensive line and whatever group hasn't played together, play them in preseason. If you want to rest them, rest them up during the couple days during the week, but you're going to get your best look and best feel for each other during preseason. We used to have six preseason games, and we approached it like it wasn't negative – not like I'm a veteran, I'm going to make the team and I don't have to work hard during preseason. Bud Grant would not allow that. Even when I was with the New York Giants, you had to play hard. You want to be out there, you want to be learning, you want to be working together. That's not a rah-rah statement, it's a fact, but a lot of people don't particularly agree with that approach.

VU: Two things stood out to me in the Buffalo game – penalties and tackling. Is there any way to teach guys not to jump offsides, not to false start, or is that all just about discipline?

As far as jumping offside on defense, you're going to get one now and then and you've got to let it go because you want to keep them with their ears pinned back and you want them to stay aggressive. But that's why they're extroverts – normally your extroverts are defensive linemen and your introverts are offensive linemen. Playing offensive line, like with Marcus Johnson jumping early, that's got to be something that you're locked into. When you see a veteran go offside or make a couple of mistakes like that, he's not into the game. He's just had a bad week at the office. For Marcus Johnson, that's probably a situation where he lost his concentration. But offside on offense, I don't understand that because you know the count. On defense, I would slap the guy's hand unless he's constantly offside. Even with Kenechi Udeze, that offside luckily didn't make any difference in the game.

VU: Do you think guys are still trying to learn the offense, like the offensive line is still trying to get together?

All day long they're still trying to learn it. When you hear an offensive lineman say a play is ‘textbook execution finally,' why would they say ‘textbook execution finally' after the fourth game of the season, or really after eight games? Yes, they're still learning it and learning the signals. Artis Hicks said at the end of the game they finally had some textbook pickups on blitzes.

VU: Is there anybody on offense that you think is playing well at this point?

(long pause) On offense, we do not have a go-to guy right now for a go-to play. So I don't think anybody on that unit is playing well. Some people say that you should throw more to Jermaine Wiggins or they should do this or that, but, no, there is nobody that is on the offense that is playing that well, where I can say, ‘You're having a great season, keep it up.' That includes Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie.

VU: Offensively or defensively – glimmer of hope – who are a couple of young guys you think are playing well, just guys you think will be real solid players in the next few years?

Greg Blue is really quite a hitter. I like the way he comes up, and the same with Cedric Griffin. I think you have a couple of defensive backs you're in pretty good shape with. I started to favor Ray Edwards a little bit, but then I noticed he started to take plays off, where he didn't run to the whistle. One particular play he could have gotten back in and probably gotten a tackle. I had kind of ripped him at the beginning of the off-season, and then I was eating crow. Then I watched him again, and I hope he's not taking that many plays off hitting the second half of the season, his rookie season in his ninth and 10th games.

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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