Lurtsema's Reaction: Safeties and OTAs

Former Viking Bob Lurtsema talks about what he'll look for in this week's Organized Team Activities and what the loss of safety Dwight Smith and additions of Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson could mean.

VU: There was a story on by former personnel man Pat Kirwan talking about the possibility of using rookie safety Tyrell Johnson in a "big nickel" package, where he would be the third safety on the field and maybe cover the slot receiver. Do you have any idea how often you've seen something like that, where it's three safeties on the field as opposed to a cornerback they bring in for the nickel defense?

BL: He's really probably just giving people something to think about because you've got to find out if he's good at man-to-man coverage – what are his strengths and weaknesses. I think for a rookie to come in and say that they'll do more of this or more of that with him, I think you've got the cart ahead of the horse. You have to find out about him first. It does happen on occasion, but when you get a package like that, it still comes down to what you have up front. … There are a lot of varieties to defend a three-receiver offense. For me to say yes or no, I'm going to have to watch his coverage skills on an NFL level. Remember, at the NFL level you're going against the best every week. You're not at a major school, where even there you might come up against two or three decent receivers for the entire year. I'd be misleading if I took a step one way or another.

VU: What about Madieu Williams versus Dwight Smith? What was your assessment of Smith on the field the two years that he was here?

BL: When Dwight got beat, I thought he would be out of position to a larger degree than most. In other words, he would have really good coverage but when he did get beat it would always seem to a larger level – not by a foot or two but by a yard or two. I just thought his consistency as far as his techniques and being a total package were a little off. I don't mean that like – sometimes when you make a statement, it can be taken out of context. When you hear an offensive lineman's name, was he doing everything right and then he had one or two bad plays and his name gets out there and it hides how well he's played the previous eight or 10 plays? When Dwight Smith got beat, it just seemed like – it might not have been a lot of plays – but I really saw him out of position. I don't follow him that close, but when I look down there on the field I can see the weakness.

VU: So you expect Williams to be a pretty significant upgrade, especially in the coverage aspect?

BL: Without a doubt, and I don't think I'm wrong in saying that because you realize the coaches of the Vikings were bringing in defensive backs all year. It was constant with free agents during last season. There would be three or four or five players a month coming in, so they were looking long before making a change this year. As far as the locker room, I just think Smith's chemistry was so negative, as far as his locker room demeanor.

VU: When you talk about locker room demeanor, Dwight Smith seems like a guy that could be valuable on the field as far as keeping players motivated and upbeat in the game, sort of a rah-rah talker out there. Do you think that might be something that's lost a little bit when you've got a low-key defensive coordinator like Leslie Frazier?

BL: I played with a lot of guys that were rah-rah or showed that, and then in the locker room they were rah-rah-rah. But it's rah-rah for themselves. Would you follow him off the field? Is he your leader then? A lot of times it's lost chatter. You'd have to ask around in the locker room of more players to see if it was self-centered motivation, not team-motivated. I played with a few of those guys. The media absolutely loved them, but it couldn't have been further from the truth.

VU: What do you want to see in these OTAs? What are you looking for and what are you interested in finding out?

BL: Most of the time I'll watch their quickness and I'll watch their feet, from the linemen on down. You could even look at the bag drill from the rookie camp and you could tell which players were hesitating when they'd hit the bag, how they'd break down and how they wouldn't drive through it. Believe it or not, you can see a lot of good technique and bad technique just from watching them hit the dummy. The big thing I like to watch is their feet and their hips and just how quick they are.

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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