As a player, Leslie Frazier was a smart, productive overachiever who played for the Bears from 1981-85 and was a starter for the Super Bowl Champion Bears in 1985 and led the team in interceptions from 1983-85. He notched 20 interceptions in his 65 career games and scored a pair of TDs on returns. But a torn ACL suffered in the Bears’ Super Bowl XX win over New England shortened his playing career. He ended up never playing again after that injury, but moved on with his coaching career rather quickly and rather successfully.
As a coach, Frazier started his coaching career in 1988 as the first head coach at Trinity College in Illinois. He held the position for nine seasons and built the NAIA program from the ground up and won a pair of Northern Illinois Intercollegiate Conference titles before he moved on to the University of Illinois in 1997 and '98 as the Illini DBs coach. From there he ascended to the pro ranks once again as a coach, coaching the secondary with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2002. He then became the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003-04. The past two seasons he had been a special assistant to the head coach while also coaching the secondary, particularly the safeties.
Frazier’s acumen to take over for the hugely popular Mike Tomlin as the Vikings defensive coordinator is a lot better than many folks realize.
Frazier himself acknowledges that Buddy Ryan, Jim Johnson and Tony Dungy have had a tremendous influence on him. As far as successful defensive coaches, he’s been around some pretty special people.
So the key question that will probably remain under wraps until the regular-season opener against Atlanta is just what kind of defense will Frazier run? How many changes will he make? Can he make improvements to a porous pass defense, but without taking away from a No. 1-ranked run defense?
If you look at the success of previous systems in which he has been a part, the key isn’t really much different than what Tomlin wanted – better pressure off the edge.
The number one cure for a struggling pass defense will be to improve the pass rush.
The basic components for improvement on pass defense are in place. Two Pro Bowl tackles up the middle in Pat Williams and Kevin Williams are the great starting point. But one way or another the team needs to generate a more consistent push off the edge.
Those ’85 Bears had it with Richard Dent, the Eagles teams with Jim Johnson have had it with Jevon Kearse (when healthy), and Tony Dungy had it with Simeon Rice in Tampa Bay and now with Dwight Freeney in Indianapolis.
During the infancy of what has now become known as the famed Tampa-2 defense, it was Chris Doleman with the Vikings that made it really click.
Folks often forget that the Tampa-2 really started in Minnesota with Dungy and Monte Kiffin during the early years of the Denny Green regime. But even more forget that it’s essentially the same defense that Floyd Peters ran under Jerry Burns with the Vikings in the mid-1980s.
Enough reminiscing, though. The return to good health (and his emergence as a player) of Erasmus James is the single most critical factor in being able to dramatically improve in the area of bringing more pressure off the edge. A healthy Erasmus James has Doleman-like double-digit quarterback sack potential.
Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar has done a great job of assimilating the subtle changes for the players and has all hands on deck and bought into the tweaks they hope will translate into improvement on defense in 2007.
“If you take a look wherever I have been and working with a group, our secondary has done pretty good,” Frazier said when he took the Vikings’ job. “So that doesn’t frighten me at all. Improving the pass defense, I think we can do enough things to accomplish that goal.”