Lurtsema's Reaction: Depth, WRs, OL and DL

Former Vikings defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema offers up his opinion on the moves the Vikings have made lately to increase their depth, the competition on the offensive line and defensive line and the abilities of WR Sidney Rice.

VU: What did you see out of the depth offensively and defensively? Do they have enough there or do you think they need to make some moves yet?

BL: I think it's too late to make some moves now because the position that they have made some moves at lately addressed the problem at quarterback because they brought in Kelly Holcomb. I think he's got tremendous poise out there, but being a 12-year veteran he's going to have that. He showed himself well. Also, they addressed the receiving part. They flipped the top three receivers from last year, at least in my mind. They weren't even here last year. So I think Coach (Brad) Childress and his staff really went through the evaluation process from the 2006 season and addressed it. I think sometimes that when you try to wheel and deal, you can start getting better quicker when you start doing that in March. With the weaknesses that they have from what I've seen, and Tarvaris Jackson having a long way to go, it's going to put a lot of pressure on the running game, but actually that's where they have their All-Pros and it's the strength of the Minnesota Vikings. I think that will be the face of the Minnesota Vikings this year – the running game.

VU: When you say top three receivers in your mind, I think you're probably referring to Bobby Wade, Sidney Rice and Robert Ferguson, is that right?

BL: Correct. I love Sidney Rice – that was a great draft choice. I was kind of leaning toward Dwayne Jarrett from USC, but Sidney Rice has my eye. Along with Adrian Peterson, those were two very, very good draft choices. So is Brian Robison and then Marcus McCauley. That makes for an exciting season and an exciting future.

VU: Rice seems like a real natural red zone receiver – going up and getting the ball in the end zone. Do you think he has enough speed to get enough separation between the 20s, or does he still have a lot of work to do with route-running to get that separation?

BL: Your timing with the quarterback has got to be very, very precise. If he wants a 7-yard post pattern, you've got to run it 7 yards, not 6 and not 6 ½ – that's how you get your timing routes. As you progress on that, then the receiver has got to run the exact route but he's got to find that soft spot and they have to be on the same page when he comes off that route by a yard. That's why they call it professional because you've got to make a professional adjustment. He's just learning the system now and he's going on raw talent – which is good raw talent. I think as they progress, he'll work with the quarterback to find that soft spot. Even Bobby Wade, as much as I like him, they have communication problems with the quarterback. When you put a young quarterback in there and he's working with all these new receivers, that puts a lot more pressure on Tarvaris.

VU: Some people are questioning Matt Birk's effectiveness now. Do you think he's come all the way back from his injury and do you think he's really become comfortable with the new scheme?

BL: I think Matt's finally healthy and if you see him when they have him pull against the run – Matt Birk wasn't 100 percent last year. He can say he was, but he truly wasn't. But now he's back to 100 percent and he and Steve Hutchinson in the new system are playing so well together. Of course, Hutch is in a comfort zone now with Bryant McKinnie and that's why I keep praising that left side of the line. But Birk's back and he's getting out there, and with the speed of Adrian Peterson that will really be a plus to run the Vikings version of the LaDainian Tomlinson sweep.

VU: How comfortable do you think the whole offensive line is in the scheme now or do you think there is still a ways to go?

BL: There has to be a ways to go because you still don't know who is starting at the right guard and tackle. You know there has to be some communication problems. Something is not flowing right. Somebody is missing something. I can't critique that because Childress still says he likes the competition and he's still evaluating.

VU: What do you think of the strengths and weaknesses of the four guys competing for those two spots on the right side?

BL: Artis Hicks brings all the experience, so that's a tremendous plus for him. As far as Marcus Johnson and Ryan Cook, they really haven't got the experience yet. Marcus Johnson has all the talent in the world. I think he's the most gifted of the four, but for some reason he's having trouble making the adjustment to be a consistent pass blocker. I think it just comes down to experience.

VU: Going over to the defensive side, how do you think it will all turn out with the competition at defensive end? Who do you think is going to start, how far away do you think Erasmus James is? Just kind of evaluate that whole position.

BL: As far as the defensive line goes, I think Kenechi Udeze has had an excellent camp, so he's going to bring it to a different level. I feel pretty decent about him. But if he's having a bad day or something – there are some days that an offensive line can handle certain defensive players – on that day I would not hesitate at all to throw Darrion Scott in there. As far as the right side, watching Erasmus, you can't miss that much ball – you watch his last game, he was getting off good but then he would get to his second move and you could tell he wasn't there. That's where they kind of took over on Erasmus. Usually when you're strong, your second move will get you free, so he's still got some conditioning to do. But I'd run a rotation like you wouldn't believe with those three guys – with Ray Edwards, Robison and James. I'd run that rotation all day long. That's going to give them a fresh look. Run them all and go hellbent for election.

VU: Do you think they can get all five of them active on game day?

BL: Erasmus might be the odd man out, but you need the other two – Edwards and Robison – just for special teams. The special teams have got to pick up and those are two of your better players.

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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