Now that the Vikings have their defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, the question is what kind of defense will he be running.
The Vikings will continue to use the Tampa-2 defense as their base, but just as Mike Tomlin only used a pure Tampa-2 scheme on less than one-third of the defensive plays last year, Frazier will be putting his own stamp on the defense.
"It was very important structurally to get somebody that understood the structure of this defense. I think you get that with Leslie," head coach Brad Childress said. "In addition to that, I think you get from his background the ability to get after people with some of the blitzes that we did back East."
"We" refers to the Philadelphia Eagles, when Childress and Frazier (19999-2002) were both assistants under head coach Andy Reid. Childress didn't necessarily coach alongside Frazier, with Childress coaching quarterbacks and coordinating the offense and Frazier coaching defensive backs, but they were involved with their players practicing against the other's schemes.
Frazier's background as a cornerback in Chicago's old 4-6 defense under coordinator Buddy Ryan also showed up in the Eagles defense Frazier helped coach under coordinator Jim Johnson.
"There were some similarities," Frazier said. "Jim had spent some time with Buddy Ryan and had picked up some of the nuances of what we did in Chicago. He had kind of incorporated that into what he knew and our package. In Philly, it was predicated on pressure. You're just trying to create situations that would put us in the best position from a defensive standpoint, and that's the same way Buddy Ryan was. That was his philosophy – a lot of times it was bringing one more than they could block, whether it was in the run game or the pass game. It was effective, and so working with Jim really suited my desires and what I felt comfortable with."
Familiarity does play a big part in who coaches where. When Frazier was fired from the Cincinnati Bengals after two seasons (2003-2004) as their coordinator, despite the Bengals defensive getting 36 takeaways in 2004, the third-most in the league that year, he found Tony Dungy as a mentor.
While he fielded a number of offers, his familiarity with Dungy, the Indianapolis Colts coach, helped foster his move to become a special assistant to the head coach. Now Frazier will be in charge of tweaking a similar system in Minnesota – one that finished first in the league against the run and tied for last against the pass.
"With the success that this defense had against the run, that's something you want to just maintain and try to help them improve on what they did from a pass defense standpoint," Frazier said. "If we can do that, you get the best of both worlds. I'm hoping that I'll be able to add that to our defense here."
A key area will be improving the pass rush, as the Vikings were in the bottom third of the league in sacking the quarterback and didn't have a single defender register double-digit sacks. But don't expect Frazier's move from the Colts to the Vikings to be mirrored by hard-charging defensive end Dwight Freeney, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 2.
Childress was asked if that was a bonus that might accompany the hiring of Frazier.
"Not unless (Frazier) can write the check for him to get here in free agency," Childress joked as he looked toward Frazier. "Was it a bonus? I don't know. Les, is he coming with you?"
As of Thursday afternoon, Frazier didn't have the chance to talk with any of the Vikings' defenders, but he had already talked with Tomlin while Frazier was preparing to interview with the Vikings and he said that conversation wasn't only about Xs and Os.
"We talked (Wednesday) morning when I knew I was going to be flying in. We talked about some other things as well, it wasn't just about this job. He wanted to congratulate me on our success, and he's a big fan of Tony's, having worked with Tony," Frazier said.
Frazier was complimentary of most of the coaches he has worked with in the past and likely will be applying lessons he learned under their tutelage.
"I've been very fortunate to be around some very successful guys. Andy brought me into the league. Andy Reid, he's the guy that hired me. I remember Mike Ditka in New Orleans when he was coaching college ball, he said, ‘One of these days, I'm going to be the guy to bring you to the NFL.' I had no idea the significance of that. I've been around some very good coaches, so I'm a mixed pedigree," he said.
While Childress and Frazier go back to their days at Philadelphia, they haven't exactly been best friends. Frazier said his talks with Childress in recent days were their first conversations in a long time, but they picked up just like they were back in their Philadelphia days. In fact, Frazier said their wives get along well, too.
Childress said he will let Frazier run the defense how he sees fit, which wasn't the case with Frazier under Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati. According to a league source, Frazier wasn't as vocal as Lewis would have liked. To hear it from Frazier, it might have been tough for Lewis to give his defensive coordinator the ability to really run the defense.
"Although some people would say, ‘He's a soft-spoken guy, an easy-going guy,' I have some strong convictions about certain things," Frazier said. "The people that know me and work with me understand that there are certain things I'm not going to compromise on, although you may say, ‘He's a nice guy' and this and that, if you hire me, let me do my thing."
He added: "You heard what Brad said: ‘I hired him and I'm going to trust him to be able to handle it.' But if (defense) is your background, that's a hard thing to do – to let go and be able to trust people you hired to do it. It's hard, and everybody can't do it."
Childress said he would let Frazier do his thing.
"I have some things that are important to me, but I think you screw it up as a head coach that has been involved offensively to think you are going to jump in and say, ‘You know, I've done offense my whole life, but in this job I'm going to jump in and I'm going to get real involved with the defense,'" Childress said. "You hire guys to be experts and stay in their lane and be experts at what they do and then you let them do their job."
Frazier To Stamp Tampa-2 His Own Way
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