Lurtsema's Reaction: The Big Men

Former Vikings defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema spent some time last week evaluating the Vikings' offensive and defensive linemen. See which young offensive lineman impressed him and what he thinks about a few different situations at defensive end.

VU: I know you spent some time watching the big men last week. What did you think?

BL: The part I like the best is that I thought the offensive line looked a lot better than what you would expect at this time of the season. I watched the one-on-one rush drills against the defensive line, and usually the defense is just totally, totally dominating. That wasn't necessarily the case. I think Ryan Cook had a great offseason. He worked on his footwork and that really made a difference. You can tell he's not really opening himself up so fast to an inside move. So I think some of the younger ballplayers made a few strides during the offseason. They worked on what they learned last year, and I thought it kind of stood out a little bit.

As far as defense goes, the fourth-round draft choice, Brian Robison from Texas, there is a guy with a full motor, uses his hands well, gets off low. He has so many of the natural things that you teach in high school – his habits are good right now, and I've always felt that when you get tired you revert to your habits. He has good habits, so I was really impressed with how he gets off the ball and the use of his hands. And, more importantly, his body language and attitude say he's a great kid. I'm going to be excited to watch him grow.

VU: Do you think Robison has enough size to ever be an every-down player?

BL: If he's going to be an every-down football player working against both the run and the pass, he has to bulk up a little bit. According to the stat sheet, he's roughly around 260, and with that body frame (6-foot-3) they're looking for more of a specialist, a pass-rush guy. I wouldn't consider him an every-down player. But now with the way the game goes, I don't know if there is anyone that goes 100 percent of the defensive plays now – everything is so situational. I would have rather stayed in the game when I was a regular. I didn't like coming out because it took more energy for me to sprint off the field and then sprint back on the field than stay on the field and suck it up. They brought him in for pass rush and I liked what I saw.

VU: They've got a lot of different options now at defensive end with a couple of first-round draft choices, plus Darrion Scott, Brian Robison, Ray Edwards. So how do you see it all ending up? In your mind, do you already see how it will all end up?

BL: Not right now. Karl Dunbar, their defensive line coach, he's really a good coach. I like what he does. I think with him having a year with all those guys under his belt, he knows who is better at right end or left end. I've even mentioned that in Viking Update The Magazine that defensive linemen like certain positions better and the coach has got to realize that and Dunbar does. Right now, I'm not really sure who is going to get the most plays. I'll have to watch that once they put the pads on because Karl has digested all that stuff and he'll put it all together.

Leslie Frazier, the new defensive coordinator, came out and stated that you want the player to play to his strengths. I love when he said that because I asked him a question about how offensive coordinator Tom Moore helped him in Indianapolis and he related back to saying that you have to make it simple – which I loved to hear so players don't have to think as much – and make the players play to their strengths. I heard that and I thought, ‘Wow, that's a great thing to have' because some linemen prefer right side over left side. There is a big difference. People who say there isn't a big difference between right and left, they have never played the game. As far as switching stances, I'd debate that, but I think finding a comfort zone is more important than whether you are right-handed or left-handed, but that could be an old fart talking.

VU: What about Kenechi Udeze. Obviously he had no sacks last season. Do you think him being a former first-round draft pick will have any influence as to how much they want to play him?

BL: No. Being No. 1, that wears off after the first year. I've also said that a third of first-round draft picks are total busts, a third kind of hang on and a third are successful. After the first year, just because you pay them a lot of money, if a coach is saying that because you have so much invested you've got to play him, then you're not going to win. The fans might want to push it. They might give him a little longer look if you're a No. 1 draft choice. You go through the sophomore jinx too. If you have a good rookie year, you go through the sophomore jinx. That's just a thinking process where you think too much. You lose all of your God-given instincts from your rookie year because you're flying out of there uninhibited going with your strength and learning on the go. Then all of a sudden you become a smart football player and your talents will actually diminish sometimes because you're thinking all the time, ‘Don't do this, don't do that.' Then you're coming up quicker and you can really develop some bad habits. And then the third year you're back on track. You're a smart, intelligent ballplayer with all of your God-given talents and instincts back in place and you really rock and roll from there on the rest of your career. But if a coach is playing him just because he's a No. 1, you might as well plan your Christmas and New Year's because you're not going to be in the playoffs.

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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