Scott Linehan became the Vikings' offensive coordinator this season after serving three seasons as the offensive coordinator/quarterback coach at Louisville, where he took the Cardinals to three consecutive bowl games and two consecutive Conference USA Championships during his tenure there. This is the 38-year old's first coaching job in the NFL.
Linehan has eight years of experience as a collegiate offensive coordinator, two at Idaho (1992-93), three at Washington (1996-98) and three at Louisville (1999-2001). He has also been an assistant at Idaho (1988-90), Nevada-Las Vegas (1991) and Washington (1994-95).
He played quarterback at Idaho from 1982-86 under Dennis Erickson.
Q: How do you feel the offense is progressing?
A: I'm very pleased. The numbers speak for themselves. We are running the ball very efficiently; we are passing the ball effectively. If you take away the turnovers, which have been our Achilles' heel — that's really the area that has not been acceptable. I think we are No. 1 in many statistical categories in the NFC … those numbers mean nothing. I would rather be 5-2 or whatever right now, but we can build on that and say, ‘Hey, if we can take care of the football you can see what we can do to people. We can control the ball, control the game and those kind of things.' So, I think we are heading in the right direction.
Q: Was the key to beating the Bears just taking care of the ball or were there some adjustments made in the offense?
A: We had basically the same philosophy and plan as we did the first time we played them. (The Vikings lost to the Bears in Week 1.) We didn't execute it in the fourth quarter (of the first game). That was the difference in that game. We turned the ball over. If you look at both game plans really closely they are not a whole lot different. We had a lead the second time, so we were able to give Michael (Bennett) the ball more. We controlled the ball, we possessed it … those are the kind of things that you have to do, especially against a defense that is just going to play back in zone the way we see against Randy (Moss) all the time. That enables us the ability to run the football better because we have a great decoy out there at receiver, and that enables us to run a kind of possession passing game.
Q: Have you found you have had to make more adjustments as an offensive coordinator in the NFL than you thought you would have to entering the season?
A: It's about the same. It's really not any different than going through the season with any ballclub I've been a part of. You try to create your personality. I don't know really what the expectations were other than the expectations we had for ourselves. But you re-adjust. You have a loss you felt you shouldn't have lost or you had tough ballgame, then you make adjustments. You have to improve in the areas you are deficient in. Obviously, there are areas you have to work on. I think we as a coaching staff have really done a good job of evaluating what we do well and not abandoning that and really working on the areas that we were weak on and trying to improve those. We have done that, other than the turnover problem we have. I think we have that under control. Some teams are going to come in and make plays against us; we will have another turnover before the year is over. We just don't want to be impatient and give them anything.
Q: Because of Randy Moss' presence in the offense, do you see different defensive looks than what you see when you study a team on film?
A: Not really. I think pretty much everybody is playing Tampa Bay's defense in the NFL anyway, or a form of it. They are the best at it and everybody is playing forms of it. That is a tribute to them. We are actually seeing a scheme (against the Buccaneers) that we have seen a lot of throughout the year. Each week everybody is going to have a little different philosophy. You have to re-learn the defense. But that's the case anywhere you are at.
Q: Assess Daunte Culpepper's performance.
A: Obviously, the area of taking care of the football is one he understands (the importance of). Sometimes you have to go through kind of a tough stretch to understand how that is really the only reason that anybody can slow you down or stop you. He knows that. He's going to be a great quarterback because of the learning experience, the learning curve he has gone through. I think the area he has been absolutely wonderful at is he is turning himself from this stigma of this athletic quarterback who can make plays into a quarterback that is becoming a student of the game. He understands the game plan and what we are trying to get done. He tries to go out and execute it, he really does. He does a great job. He handles our running game. We are running the ball at a great efficiency clip, and the reason is our quarterback gets us out of bad runs, quite frankly. That is an area that was never a priority for him. He's becoming more complete, no question.
Q: You have quarterbacks like Daunte Culpepper, Mike Vick, Aaron Brooks and Donovan McNabb, who are dangerous passing and running the ball. Offenses seem to be changing, wouldn't you agree?
A: I think the game is always changing. It never stays the same. You are obviously seeing better and better athletes at the quarterback position. With all the blitzing these defenses are doing, teams have really made (having a mobile quarterback) kind of a priority because you have a guy that can get out of trouble. If you go against a team you don't match up well up front with and they have a defensive line that can get to a pocket passer, it doesn't matter how good you are out in the perimeter. If you can't hold up or you don't have a guy that can at least create plays with his feet, you are going to have tough days in the NFL. I think the game is evolving a little bit. There are still guys out there who are pretty good systems guys, though. I wouldn't discount their ability. But I think the athletic guy, the guy who can make plays with his feet, is definitely changing the game a little bit.
Q: Has the run game delivered like you expected?
A: It has been excellent. That's one area we have been very efficient at and done a good job. I would like to see us be a little more explosive as the year goes on, maybe get some bigger runs (like his 85-yarder against the Bucs) … But I think we are working in that direction. Michael (Bennett's) running style is becoming more conducive to giving him the ball 25-30 times a game because he's really becoming more of a hard-yard runner. He's trying to hit holes harder, those kind of things. Then Moe Williams gives you the third-down back, short-yardage back that we brought him in here for. He gives you a little different type of runner to change styles.
Q: What does Michael Bennett need to do to get those big runs you talked about?
A: Have patience, don't look for them, just keep running hard and knowing your abilities will take over in a game. Someone is going to take a bad angle on you, and if you are running hard and you are giving them that impression you are trying to get that 4-, 5-, 6-yard run and they overrun, now that big cutback will happen. Don't be looking for them all the time because they will just run you down. As fast as Michael is, what he has worked hard on is not trying to go east and west on the run game. He's trying to go north and south. That's what you have to do no matter what your speed is.
Q&A: With Scott Linehan
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