Linebacker Ben Leber transitioned from the San Diego Chargers' defensive philosophy to the Minnesota Vikings' Tampa-2 defense just fine last year.
Leber may have flown a bit under the radar 2006's version of free agency, but he was a high-priority signing for the Vikings, agreeing to a five-year, $20 million contract that included a $4 million signing bonus. He proved to be a solid signing for the Vikings, making 62 tackles from his strongside linebacker spot.
Now Leber has another defensive coordinator to become comfortable with in Leslie Frazier, who replaced Mike Tomlin.
"I wouldn't say (there is) a huge difference, but Tomlin is a little bit more energetic," Leber said. "That's definitely not a negative towards Frazier. He came in (to offseason practices) and demanded full attention and told us what he expected out of the season. I really think he commands the respect, commands the attention, and that's the same thing Tomlin did. There may be a little dropoff in energy from what you guys see on the field, but the way he goes about his business is the same."
Just as Leber's list of coordinators he has played under continues to grow, free safety Darren Sharper is accustomed to the changing the world of coaches in the NFL. He's been in the league 10 years and worked under many different personalities. But, not surprisingly, Sharper also puts Frazier in the "quiet" category.
"He's a quieter coach, and I've been coached by all kinds of different personalities so I'm used to a lot of coaches," Sharper said. "I've been yelled at a lot; I've had coaches that don't say anything to me. From what I see right now, Coach Frazier is just a quiet leader."
Linebacker Chad Greenway agreed.
"As far as his emotional level out here, he's probably a 180 from Tomlin, as far as not always being in your face, what's going on with everything. (Frazier) is more laid-back. He'll get at you in meetings, but he lets the position coaches do their work. As a D-coordinator, that's what you want to do. With the position coaches we have, that's something he can allow."
While the Cover-2 concept will remain intact, Frazier will have the challenge of improving the Vikings' pass defense, which tied for last in the NFL in yards allowed in 2006, while trying to maintain the league-leading run defense.
"He expects us to put all that stuff (2006 rankings) behind us, and that's something every player has to do. Regardless of what happened in the year prior, you just have to put it behind you," Leber said. "Yes, we were not good against the pass and we were decent against the run. That was last year. I think the one thing he really wanted to get across was we've got to improve every day and just get better and get more comfortable with the system and definitely keep last year in the back of your mind as motivation. But really this is a whole new season. He expects nothing but greatness out of us, be the No. 1 defense, carry this team to the Super Bowl, and that's what we want."
In order to achieve those lofty goals, Frazier may have to be more aggressive at times, even if he'd prefer to have his quarterback pressure created by rushing only four defensive linemen on passing downs.
"I think there is an appropriate time for blitzes and some of it has to do with your personnel in the back row," Frazier said in May. "I've played in a system where we were a heavy blitz team as a player. I have coached in a system with Jim Johnson where we were a heavy blitz team, but a lot of it had to do with the guys in the secondary. Having a Troy Vincent or a Bobby Taylor or even when I played the people that were rushing made a difference. A little bit of it depends on your personnel.
"Ideally you would like to be able to rush four and play some Cover-2 and not have to expose your guys in the secondary. A little bit of it will depend on what we are able to do. There is a reason that the pass defense suffered a little bit a year ago, and we're going to try to improve in that area, and part of it will be in getting a guy like (Kenechi) Udeze to increase his sack totals, hopefully getting Erasmus (James) back on the field, hopefully being able to see Brian Robison on the field. I would prefer if we could rush four and play Cover-2 all day long if it was up to me, but it doesn't always happen that way."
Still, the basic concepts that Frazier was instilling this offseason were the same, according to Leber.
"Schematically, it's been pretty much the same. I would say 90 percent of it is still Tampa-2 responsibilities and that's going to help us this offseason coming in and still being familiar with the scheme," the linebacker said.
With Frazier, Different Style, Similar Scheme
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