Q&A: With TEs Coach John Tice

Byron Chamberlain may be limited with a strained knee ligament, but Jim Kleinsasser and the other tight ends have already filled in admirably. We talked with tight ends coach John Tice about the position in general and the players who make it go.

John Tice is in his third season as tight ends coach of the Vikings after spending a year as an unpaid offensive assistant in 1999. But that doesn't mean he entered the NFL coaching scene without experience at the tight end position.

Tice played tight end for the New Orleans Saints for 10 years after being drafted in the first round in 1983. He caught a career-high 37 passes for 330 yards in 1986, his best season in the NFL. A shoulder injury sidelined his career in 1992, and he spent a handful of years away from the pro game as an insurance salesman; however, he did coach high school and youth football during that time.

John's older brother, Mike, now the Vikings head coach, had been an assistant with the Vikings since 1996 and also had a 14-year career as an NFL tight end. They are the first team of brothers to ever coach with the Vikings.

Q: How have the tight ends looked as a group?

A: We have a great group to work with. We have a great mix of guys as far as their ability to do certain things. Byron (Chamberlain) is really strong in the passing game, which gives us a lot of options as far as moving him around and putting him out in the slot or out wide. Jimmy (Kleinsasser) is a powerful blocker and gives us the opportunity to get the edge and maybe get some outside runs. Also, we can design some blocking schemes where we know (Kleinsasser) can handle a 285-pound defensive end by himself, which gives us more options inside. Hunter (Goodwin) is a good blocker also and contributes as far as his attitude and the things that he brings with his toughness. We have a lot of options there, putting Jimmy and Hunter in the game at the same time and really getting kind of a power offense and trying to move the ball. At the end of a game, if we have to run it out in the four-minute offense we feel we can go to what we call "Big Tiger" and get those guys in there and move some people off the ball.

Q: How nice is it to have a group of tight ends that can give such different looks?

A: You've got a guy like Byron, a guy like Hunter and a guy like Jimmy, who also has that offensive backfield/fullback experience, which we are still taking advantage of. We really don't lineup in the I-formation anymore, but we are doing a lot of the same things with Jimmy in motion and having him be kind of a lead block or doing some routes and things out of the backfield. With his experience the last two years (at fullback) and his experience his first year here and during his college career at tight end, he's a really versatile player. It enables us to do a lot of things and gives us a lot of options.

Q: Has Kleinsasser picked up the tight end position again fairly quickly?

A: I think so. It took him a couple of weeks once we got the pads on in camp just to get comfortable back being on the line, being right in front of a guy as opposed to playing more in space. … It's kind of like riding a bike. Once he started getting every look and getting used to what we were doing … we got a lot of good work done in the developmental camps and mini-camps in the spring getting back used to what he was doing. We felt he was a more natural tight end and could be more effective when he's on the line and just moving off the ball.

Q: Aside from Byron Chamberlain, will any of the other tight ends see many passes this season?

A: There's no question. Any other of those guys that are in the game with Byron or we can just put them in the game with our three-wide set. Have, say, just Jimmy in the game and three wides whether we want to throw the ball. Both Jimmy and Hunter will be seeing the ball. You have to break tendencies; you don't want to be too predictable. Every time Hunter and Jimmy are in the game we don't want to be running. So these guys are ready to do any job that is called upon them. But, of course, we will feature them doing certain things.

Q: What does Hunter Goodwin bring to this tight end corps that separates him from Jim Kleinsasser?

A: We feel we have to get the running game going. Although Byron is effective as a blocker, he's only 225 pounds and at times he has difficulty moving big guys. He might be in front of the guys, but he's not getting the movement off the ball that you are looking for. We feel that Hunter brings that as far as being able just to line up against a big guy or a small linebacker and securing the edge or secure a block that we know is definitely needed.

Q: Last season Byron Chamberlain caught 57 passes. Do you think he can have an even bigger season in 2002?

A: I think there is no question. We have a lot of good things, and we haven't shown a lot of stuff that we are trying to take advantage of. We are really excited about his ability to make people miss after he catches the ball. He has that knack of making the first guy miss and getting an extra 7, 8, 9 or 10 yards. There is no question he should improve on his numbers from last year and be an effective weapon. He can also line up in the backfield, check a backer and see if he's blitzing or dogging and get into a pass route. Also, we can line him up in the slot or out wide and just let him work on a linebacker. When we bring the two tight ends into the game usually they stay base formation, which is four down lineman, three linebackers. But if we split Byron out, that forces them to put a linebacker on him. So he's working on a linebacker in space, which we feel is a great matchup.

Q: Where would you like to see the most improvement from the tight ends?

A: I would probably like to see them contribute more in the running game and be able to have us have confidence that we can ask them to do certain things, block certain guys and be effective in the running game. We need to get the running game going to get the offense going. If we continue to have as much success as we have had in the past in the passing game, we feel that last year our running game dropped off a little bit, which gives people the ability to drop everybody and cover everyone up. But if you have a running game they have to bring more guys in the box and that forces them to single guys up. We have some speed and guys with hands that can work that, so that should help our play-action game. If we start getting the running game going, we can play action, having guys stepping up and having our wideouts and whoever else is in there getting open.

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