After being Mike Tice's assistant offensive line coach last year, Dean Dalton was quickly moved to running backs coach after Tice was named head coach in January. Previously, Dalton worked with former head coach Dennis Green's son, Jeremy, at War Room publications, which evaluates football player personnel.
Dalton became a Vikings assistant in 1999 after four years at the War Room. He was also dean of students and athletic director at Delevan-Darien School District in Delevan, Wis., for two years before going to the War Room. Previously, he worked in other capacities in high school athletics and in sports broadcasting and publishing. Collegiately, he has coached at Western Illinois (1984-85), Wisconsin (1986-87), Texas Southern (1988-89) and Purdue (1990).
Q: Have you been pleased with the production of the running backs?
A: Very pleased. We have had excellent production. All three guys that have played at the r-back position — Doug Chapman, Moe Williams and Michael Bennett — have been very productive. They also have been very good in their understanding of our schemes and adjustments during the course of the game. As students of the game, they have continued to grow and improve their knowledge and their understanding of everything we are doing. And they have been productive. Their effort has been outstanding.
It's unfortunate, Moe Williams got his first NFL career 100-yard game (against Buffalo) and would not accept the game ball because we didn't win. I respect that. But Michael had back-to-back improvements on his most productive games as a pro ever, going against Seattle and then Detroit. (Against the Jets), he had his first NFL fumble on a running play. He had (a fumble) in the Carolina game when he got hit on the pass. But he's growing and that will help him grow more. It was a crucial turnover and they all have been this year. We lead the league in that category and we also lead in a number of positive categories. But that's what is holding us back.
Q: When something like the fumble happens to Bennett, how do you approach him after that?
A: He's a serious player. He's a fun-loving, wonderful guy, but he's serious in the football context. He takes it very personally that he let his team down when he made that mistake with the turnover. I don't have to do anything but reinforce that we have to line up and do it again, and do it again and do it again. Whether you make a mistake or not, you just have to keep playing and playing hard. He will.
Q: How big of a blow was the loss of Doug Chapman for the remainder of the season because of internal injuries suffered against the Jets?
A: It hurts the team because not only was he extremely productive and did everything we asked him to do very well at running back, he also has become a vital part of our special teams. So, that's a big hole for (special teams coach) Jay Hayes to fill. Doug is the caliber of guy that could be a starter in the NFL, and we had the luxury of having him in our stable and being a productive part of the running game. It will be a challenge to replace him, and that challenge is handed to James Wofford, who will see some more time in practice in preparation for possibly getting into a game.
For Doug, personally, this is a terrible blow. But I love his attitude in the hospital, which is ‘I'll be back in two weeks.' But it was a very serious injury. After the Jets game, he told me about the pain. He had a hip pointer on the same hit and thought that is what it was. But he came in to see the trainers early the next morning after a rough night and they immediately took him to the hospital. He's got a long way to go. That's a very serious injury. Yet, I love his mentality because he wants to be back. He's really mad because he had a great game against the Bears the first time out. He will be sorely missed. He will be a part of everything once he's healthy and can be around.
Q: You have liked Wofford's potential for a few years, right?
A: For the last two years we have been excited about James. Mike Tice and myself fell in love with him his rookie year as a free agent coming out of UNLV. He was the last guy cut (in 2001) and when Mike took over he was one of the first guys we brought back. He's a natural runner, he's exciting and he's a great young man. He's very mature for his age (24) and he has been very focused. He had 100 percent attendance in the offseason program. He's an excellent student of the game. He had been running our look squad against the defense, being the feature back of our opponent every week. He has done a terrific job in that capacity.
Q: What areas will he need to work on the most or pick up on quickly?
A: Experience, and that's something you can't teach in the classroom. He is naturally a gifted runner, but he also has to see the speed of the opponents and the timing of the combination blocks in our scheme.
Q: How will the running back rotation change with Chapman out?
A: I would suggest that Michael will see more of everything, and Moe will always be utilized in crucial situations.
Q: Do you see Bennett progressing into becoming a featured running back for the next several years?
A: Yes, very much so. Not only do I see him becoming a feature back, I see him having the potential to be a superstar. He's blessed with God-given speed and talent, plus he's very physically durable. He's tougher than people give him credit for being, and while obviously we saw the one exception in the Jets game, he has been excellent in ball security. He is learning the other fazes of the game that he had never developed in pass protection, pass receiving and the other portions of the game that were brand new to him. But I see Michael, as he learns and understands this game, having not only the ability and desire but also that special charisma to be a superstar, as long as he stays focused and keeps trying to hone his craft.
Q: How about other areas of Bennett's game?
A: One of the things I'm probably proudest of is he has really improved as a pass protector. He will take linebackers on right down the middle in pass protection and he's very aggressive in that capacity. … Michael is working really hard at his knowledge of the game. He's got the toughness, he's got the speed and he is developing his receiving abilities and his understanding of the game.
Q: Moe Williams seems to have settled into his role as the third-down back. Is this a different guy than the one who went to the Ravens last season?
A: Personally, he's the same delightful guy. He has that same great personality that he has always had. He's a great person. But as a leader, he has done and surpassed everything that was expected of him when Mike Tice brought him back from Baltimore. He has grown as a football player and matured as a leader and not only accepted the role and embraced the role, but has excelled at it as a team leader. He has been terrific for the young running backs to learn from and he has been terrific for the rest of the team. It's not just the running back meeting room that he leads in. It's the offense and the entire locker room.
Then you go and see his performance on the field and you are completely impressed because his effort is second to none. His understanding of our system and knowledge has improved tremendously, and he knows what is going on on the field and makes plays. He had a great third-down conversion on a scramble adjustment against the Jets. He has made some terrific plays just on his understanding of the game of football and his sheer effort and determination — not to mention his physical abilities. Moe has been terrific by every measure.
Q: Long-term is this a league where for Bennett to be the feature guy he needs to move into a full-time role, or is it a situation where you have Bennett as the No. 1 guy but you also use a guy like Williams on third downs and other situations? Where is this league headed as far as running backs go?
A: I think the NFL will always have to be a running league, and to be successful you'll have to be able to run the football. Even the Rams get phenomenal production out of Marshall Faulk, who might be the best in the business. I think you also have a situational league. Everybody brings a different talent to the table, and you'll see different players in different roles based on the game situations. Moe can be a featured back, but he's a situational player for us. You will see us putting Moe in in crucial situations just because we can count on him. He can run, catch, protect, he can do it all.
I think Michael is developing and will be that featured guy. I see the role of the running back … you want to have a guy that you can hang your hat on and everybody can lean on. But because of the physical nature of it — and that's where we were fortunate until Doug got hurt — we had three guys that we could utilize in any juncture and have confidence in. That's what you need because it's a physical game. That's why the career of a running back is so short.
Q: Has the NFL become more of a situational league?
A: It's a league of matchups, and what you are trying to do is you're playing full-contact chess and you are trying to create personnel matchups where your guy is better than their guy in that situation. That's what the NFL has evolved into. You will always have to run the football, but in the passing game you try to create matchups. That's why teams start in one group and give a run look and then will explode into a different formation and try to create matchups in the passing game. We do it up front, too. You try to create matchups in angles that give you the best chance to block.
Q&A: With RBs Coach Dean Dalton
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