Lurtsema's Reaction: The Lines

The Vikings have filled a number of needs this offseason, but they haven't been able to invest in their offensive or defensive lines to this point in free agency, meaning they may have to draft at those positions. Former Vikings defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema talks about the difficulties facing rookie linemen and what goes through a player's mind as he transitions to life on an NFL line.

VU: From your experience, when we're talking about defensive end, as a rookie is that one of the easier positions to make a contribution to because in certain roles they can pin back and go?

BL: There are very few Bob Lurtsemas out there that can start as a rookie (laughs). No, the thought process for a rookie, if you just want a straight pass rush and that's it, that's pretty simple. You can play right end and have him work to his strengths. But to bring in a player when the game is so much faster and they have to read so much quicker, to comprehend how fast it happens, that does not happen overnight. That takes a good year or two to work it through. The part that takes time is that you're thinking about hypothetically the 10 different ways that they can block you, from the fullback to the H-back to the tight end, etc.

Here's where a coach comes in and walks you through. I always go back to (coach) Jack Patera and my rookie year. He said, ‘Keep getting off the ball,' and that's what they have to do, and that's all that you have to do when you're coming into that position for rushing. Jack Patera always told us, ‘Someday you big, stupid defensive linemen, when this guy blocks here and this guy blocks there, I want you to react this way. But keep getting off the ball and it will come to you.' That was the biggest learning experience I ever had as a rookie. The pass-rushing part was my strength. Even as a regular I had to keep that. Every time I started to think a little bit or guess what play they were going to run it really, really took away from my play.

If they're going to bring a guy in for pass rushing, don't take away that particular strength from him. If he's a third-down specialist, then let him make his aggressive mistakes. It depends on how much he plays, but the opposing coaches will start giving him different looks. Good offensive coordinators know how to toy with a rookie defensive lineman.

VU: If they don't get anybody of consequence at defensive end before the draft, do you think they're more in need of a base end like Kenechi Udeze or a rush end. With what Ray Edwards brings, Brian Robison, and wherever you think Erasmus James may be progressing by the end of the preseason, what do you think is their bigger need at that position?

BL: It's still a pass rush. Right now you can't tell me that they've got good pass-rushing ends with what they were doing. Even Edwards, if you watch how they were blocking on him and how he slowed down at times – his game started off balls to the wall and then he kind of slowed down a little bit too. Once you play enough, they know you might only have an outside move or an inside move or only have a rip move or pull-over, so the offensive player is going to make adjustments. These other players haven't shown me anything with the corners and the way the defense is run. I don't think they got enough pressure on the quarterback.

VU: What did you think of Robison when you take his whole year into account? How do you think he progressed, or did he even progress that much?

BL: I thought he took off and had a real good motor. I don't know whether the season got long on him or if he started reading his press clippings, but watching some of his moves and everything I noticed that if he did get beat, I didn't think his recovery time was as quick. The season might have gotten to him by being a little tired. Playing a 20-game season, we always talk about in college only getting 11 or 12 games – it's two seasons in one. Or whether he went through what we call the sophomore jinx, where you are thinking too much rather than doing what got him there at the start of the season. Don't think too much as an end, especially as a rookie end and a pass-rushing end.

VU: Do you think Edwards is a better all-around end or would he be better as a situational pass rusher?

BL: I think he'd be a good all-around end. He's going through a learning process, but as tough as he is and how hard he hits, I think he could be the total package.

VU: As a rookie coming into the league, do you think that offensive tackle is one of the hardest positions to learn because of the communication involved with the offensive line and they don't have help on both sides?

BL: Offensive line is a lot harder than defensive line. I know when I switched and played tight end in college, you couldn't be as aggressive and you had to think a lot more. Basically, you are catching the contract – you are not initiating it. When you catch most of the explosion from the defensive line, you've got to have such great positioning with your feet guarding the outside and taking away his move. If a guy is a bull-type player, you've got to get to him right away. If he plays soft, if he's a pullover-quick guy, you've got to set a little bit more. Then to learn the blocking schemes, it's definitely a lot tougher to be an offensive lineman. You've got the center making the calls, then from pulling to X-blocking to traps and then knowing what type of rusher you have on you. If they bring in a new guy, is he the bull rusher of the speed rusher?

VU: What's your general impression of Ryan Cook and how he has progressed? And do you think eventually he could be moved back into center or that he's starting to get it at right tackle and that might be where he ends up long-term?

BL: He improves weekly. They are really happy with Anthony Herrera at right guard and signed him to a long-term contract at right guard. I don't think it's a smart idea to put a lot more time into Ryan Cook at center anticipating that he might eventually end up there when Matt Birk's contract is done. If it happens next year, then you've got all those minicamps and everything and you have a smart ballplayer who they obviously feel can play center. They can make the adjustments. You know if the athletes can make the adjustments, and Cooks has improved every week. When he played center, he had a lot to learn. I would have to see a lot more film of him playing center.

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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