Biekert Took Initiative In Signing

Middle linebacker Greg Biekert wanted to play for Willie Shaw and the Vikings enough that he took steps to make sure they knew how interested he was.

Greg Biekert did not have to think very long about where he wanted to continue his career when it appeared his days as an Oakland Raider were coming to an end.

"I made sure my agent called Minnesota first and got things at least stirred up, aware of the situation," said Biekert, a seventh-round choice of the then-Los Angeles Raiders in 1993. "They gave us permission to go out and talk to teams and I gave him one team to call. Pretty much everyone else called him."

There were other calls, but Biekert was more than happy to take a deal from the Vikings that was worth a reported $3.45 million over three years after being let go by the Raiders. Among the offers he passed up was a more lucrative contract from the Detroit Lions.

What attracted Biekert to Minnesota? A familiar face and a golden opportunity.

Biekert played for Willie Shaw when the Vikings defensive coordinator was coaching in Oakland in 1998 and '99. Biekert, 33, also was assured an immediate starting job at middle linebacker with the Vikings, who realized Henri Crockett was best suited to playing on the outside.

"Biekert is a pure middle linebacker," Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "He's a big, tough guy. He's smart. He's going to get us lined up. We've been struggling getting lined up. We need to get lined up. We can't play defense, we can't tackle, if we're not in the right gaps, and he's going to come in and get us lined up."

Said Biekert: "I spent two years with Willie in Oakland and really thrived in this defense. I really loved the style of defense. He plays really aggressive. It's really a player-friendly defense. It makes it good we have a lot of young guys on defense, and as soon as they pick this up their athletic ability is going to show on the field. … I am very excited to be here. I really would have turned down a lot to come here, and I am glad that I'm here."

Although he was still getting familiar with his teammates, Biekert said he had no problems coming in and assuming the role of the defensive quarterback.

"That's the Mike (middle) linebacker's job," he said. "If he's not in control of that defense, then there's no control out there. The Mike linebacker is your coach on the field. The coaches have to stay on the sideline and we step across the line and go play. That's my job when we get out there."

Defensive tackle Chris Hovan expressed his pleasure with the addition of Biekert. "I think it's great," Hovan said. "I've always respected Greg Biekert throughout his years in Oakland. He's a great veteran leader; he's smart. He's one of the smartest linebackers in the game right now. He brings great veteran leadership. He'll get everyone in their place, get them lined up and ready to go."

Hovan also sees no problem with the Vikings accepting Biekert.

"Not really, because we have some guys that have played with him before, like Lance Johnstone. And Willie Shaw is really familiar with him, so that's not going to be a problem," Hovan said. "The people that respect Greg and know what he's done for the Raiders and know what he's done in the NFL aren't going to have a problem with him coming into our locker room because we know he's going to contribute and make our team better."

The fact Biekert was available came as somewhat of a surprise.

The Raiders front office wanted the eight-year starter to take more than a 50 percent pay cut, from $2.5 million to $1 million. Biekert refused and was then replaced by top draft choice Napoleon Harris. It was a move that upset the Raiders coaching staff.

Biekert, however, was able to hide any bitterness toward his former team, saying, "The biggest thing I'm going to miss is the guys and the relationships I had with the Raiders. I come here and I'm building those relationships now. So I'm starting over in that sense, but I'm looking forward to getting to know all of my teammates here and having a great year."

Crockett had signed with the Vikings during the offseason because they were willing to give him the opportunity to play in the middle. But he struggled to get the Vikings lined up in the preseason and now finds himself playing on the weak side.

"Henri Crockett did a commendable job at Mike linebacker," Tice said. "But you can't do a good job of learning the Mike linebacker in three months when you've played weakside linebacker your whole career."

Biekert also discussed the situation with Crockett. "I've talked to him quite a bit," Biekert said. "I know he prefers middle linebacker. Football is football, and you have to deal with what you have got. They brought me in here to start at Mike and that's what I'm going to do. We sat and watched some film together [last Tuesday] going over stuff to help him get comfortable at the Will (weakside) linebacker position, and I think he'll do great."




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