After being Mike Tice's assistant offensive line coach last year, Dean Dalton was quickly moved to running backs coach after Tice was named head coach in January. Previously, Dalton worked with former head coach Dennis Green's son, Jeremy, at War Room publications, which evaluates football player personnel.
Dalton became a Vikings assistant in 1999 after four years at the War Room. He was also dean of students and athletic director at Delevan-Darien School District in Delevan, Wis, for two years before going to the War Room. Previously, he worked in other capacities in high school athletics and in sports broadcasting and publishing. Collegiately, he has coached at Western Illinois (1984-85), Wisconsin (1986-87), Texas Southern (1988-89) and Purdue (1990).
Q: What did you do in the offseason in making the transition from working with the offensive line to running backs?
A: It was a very comfortable transition. That's why Mike (Tice) was comfortable with me in that position, because I've coached the position before in college. Working with the offensive line for three years, I understand our protection schemes in our running game and our blocking schemes in the running game inside and out. It has been an extension now into the passing game, not just the protection, but getting into the routes, which has been a really smooth transition working with (offensive coordinator) Scott Linehan. It has been really comfortable, and having been in the NFL for a few years now I got to know a lot of the position coaches from different teams. So as we went around in the offseason working out college players it was good to re-acquaint myself with the guys at (the running back) position.
Q: Did you end up watching a lot of film of the running backs during the offseason looking at the bigger picture?
A: It was probably a tighter focus instead of a bigger picture. I spent a lot of time looking at the footwork, our aiming points, our track that we take on the various running plays and worked to modify them, and philosophically worked with our coordinator and the head coach to coordinate our steps so that we are not giving linebackers tips on which play we are running by our first two steps. So with most of our runs, we aren't giving anything away, and the backs have become very consistent in the offseason. We just have to stick with the fundamentals of good steps, good aiming points, good tracks and ball security. The most important things we can do are fundamentally. The big plays will come because we have a talented group, but we have to get 4 yards — and after that the big plays will happen.
Q: How is the competition going at running back?
A: We have seven guys fighting for four or five spots on the squad and there is a good battle. There have been a little bit of injuries this past week, but we have been pretty healthy until then. Doug Chapman has a turf toe, Michael (Bennett) has a little bit of a tweak on his knee, and Moe Williams is a little dinged up. But they are back and they are competing and they are fighting hard. Now, the young guys are really doing a good job learning the system and executing it. Our mental errors are minimal. It's just a matter of who can be productive and make plays. They understand it and they have a good focus. It's a good battle going on for the additional spots on the roster, so we will see. All seven of them are in competition. Obviously, Michael is our starter, and he did a nice job getting back in the groove again (in the preseason victory) against Buffalo.
Q: Who has impressed you that maybe you did not know as much about going into training camp?
A: I think they have all had their moments throughout training camp. Talking about the young guys, I liked James Wofford last year in training camp and the performances he had in preseason games. I know Coach Tice liked him as well. But he has done an excellent job. He has been 100 percent attendance-wise here in the offseason program. He is committed; he's focused. He understands our system and he has been able to do some good things when we have given him opportunities. His first game, he was a little tentative, a little nervous. That is not normal for him because he has been naturally very comfortable in the system.
He was better against Buffalo, and I hope in the next two games he will continue to get better and more comfortable and allow his abilities to flash and be productive when he is in the game. That first run of the second half he had a nice little 12-yard pop off the weak side, and that showed you what we see. That's the type of ability he has. So, with his intelligence, work ethic and natural running ability he's going to be very competitive. He's given himself a shot.
David Allen is a very smooth runner. He's very comfortable with the football and throughout the spring and training camp he has been impressive. He was very fluid in his route running. He was good on some of the inside runs and some draws. He's comfortable on the screen pass and excellent on the punt- and kick-return game. But once in each game he has dropped a pass, so that has been a challenge for us in our evaluation process because that's when it counts. … David is a very talented guy, another very intelligent guy. We put a premium on having smart players because mental errors separate winning and losing quite often. We are looking to see him be productive in the game, both in the return game and in our offense when he gets his shot.
Jeremy Allen is a big guy who has shown flashes of talent running the ball. But he has some habits we are trying to break. We want him to play with a lower pad level (not running so upright). We want him to take people down the middle with his blocking. He needs to continue to improve. He's another very bright guy. He has picked things up very well and he has done a good job in that capacity. We made the transition this past week to give him continued looks, we moved him to fullback. He's bright enough, now we'll see if physically it works for him as well. Jeremy is a big guy who can be very physical, and he's fairly athletic. What we want to see is for him to continue to expand his role and be able to be a little more versatile as a back.
Q: With Moe Williams back after playing for the Ravens, what will he bring to this team?
A: Moe Williams has been everything we expected when we got him back from Brian (Billick) in Baltimore. He has been an outstanding leader, he knows our system and he has been both a good teacher with the younger players, a good leader to the team in the locker room, and he has been really productive on the field. So he's everything you want in a guy you brought back to be a clubhouse leader. We are really proud of Moe. He was extremely productive in the Cleveland game, really productive in the Buffalo game and we expect great things out of Moe in his role on this team.
Q: What does a veteran like Harold Morrow mean to this club?
A: Harold is another utility guy that has been in our system and knows it well. He's a great special teamer, he can go in at the running back, he can go in at the fullback position, he can play a utility role for our offense and be very productive. … He was a short-yardage guy we used in the Baltimore game last year. Both Harold and Moe are providing excellent leadership and helping to teach the young guys, as well as being guys that you can count on in any situation.
Q: How much do the veterans work with the young guys?
A: All our guys kind of work together. There are no real attitudes as far as a guy making a point to another guy in terms of something they saw that he could do better. They have been a great group to work with because they have worked well together.
Q&A: With RBs Coach Dean Dalton
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