John Tice is in his third season as tight ends coach of the Vikings after spending a year as an unpaid offensive assistant in 1999. But that doesn't mean he entered the NFL coaching scene without experience at the tight end position.
Tice played tight end for the New Orleans Saints for 10 years after being drafted in the first round in 1983. He caught a career-high 37 passes for 330 yards in 1986, his best season in the NFL. A shoulder injury sidelined his career in 1992, and he spent a handful of years away from the pro game as an insurance salesman; however, he did coach high school and youth football during that time.
John's older brother, Mike, now the Vikings head coach, had been an assistant with the Vikings since 1996 and also had a 14-year career as an NFL tight end. They are the first team of brothers to ever coach with the Vikings.
Q: Jim Kleinsasser, who was switched from fullback back to tight end this season, really seems to have come into his own at the position. Would you agree?
A: No question about it. He's done a good job in both the passing game and the running game. He gives us some options in the running game, where he can do some blocking schemes because we know he can handle a big defensive end by himself. He's not as quick as Byron (Chamberlain) is in the passing game, but he has the ability to get open. He's big and strong; he can muscle people out of the way if he has to. He has good, strong hands and he catches the ball, turns upfield and gets some yardage. We are really happy with the way he has contributed in both the running game and the passing game.
Q: How much has Kleinsasser developed as a blocker?
A: I think it was a need thing why he was moved to fullback. He's big and strong and intimidating. But he's a little bit big to be that iso-blocking type fullback, lead blocker. He was getting a lot of injuries, although he suffered an unfortunate (knee) injury this year running the ball after he caught a pass. But you see with a guy like him, how he takes shots in the lower legs. Players don't want to hit him up high. He has given us a lot, both in the running game and the passing game, and we are happy he has developed as a blocker. He had been a tight end through high school and college, and I think it's a natural fit for him. Just getting back in the position and getting reps at it and working with him, he's a hard worker. … He has got good handwork, he's got good footwork on his blocking, and he does a good job.
Q: How about the play of Chamberlain, who was slowed by a knee sprain he suffered in the season opener?
A: I think having both of those guys (Chamberlain and Kleinsasser) on the field at the same time creates problems for defenses, whether we are lining up with both of them attached to the tackle or putting Byron in the slot. It gives them some personnel problems, as far as walking a linebacker out on Byron when he's in the slot because they don't know if he's going to be attached or not. And Byron's blocking has actually improved a lot. He did a great job against Tampa Bay on Michael Bennett's (85-yard touchdown) run and on some of the other draw plays that we ran. He's really concentrating on his blocking and he has improved a lot in that area.
Q: Is that something you worked on with Chamberlain during the summer, because if there was a complaint about his play last season it was the blocking?
A: Some of it is just him giving up so much weight. Nowadays, tight ends are running in the 265-, 270-(pound) range, where Byron is 245, 250. Some of it is he doesn't have enough butt to move big guys. But he's concentrating on getting good position and just staying in front of his guy even if he doesn't get a lot of movement. So he's doing a good job of sustaining his blocks and getting into his guys and giving the back a two-way cut.
Q: Chamberlain's knee seems to being holding up pretty well, right?
A: Yes. Since he returned he's holding up well and he's getting his treatments and doing things he has got to do. He's still a little bit sore and it's something he's going to have for the rest of the year. He's a pro and he knows that, and he has been pushing through it every week. But he continues to give us a threat in the passing game and his blocking is much improved.
Q: Where do you see the tight end position going overall in the NFL with guys getting so much bigger?
A: I think there is a place for both (pass-catchers and blockers at the position). If you were in a one-back offense you really would probably tip your hand if you had a big blocker and a guy that was more of a receiver, which most teams have. We are fortunate here where we have two guys who do a darn good job in both areas. But with our two-tight end offense and having them both on the same field we can still put Jimmy in the backfield. We handed him the ball (against the Giants). These are the things we can do and give defenses different looks because what you are trying to do is basically each week run the same plays out of different formations. You don't put in a whole new offense every week, you just run the same plays with a different look.
But as for the position overall, when I played from 1983 to '92, I was considered a big tight end at 250. Now, 265-, 270-(pound tight ends are normal). They are just growing with the league. You look at the Mick Tingelhoffs that were big linemen and they were 240. Now a big lineman is 300-plus. I think they are just growing with the game, and the guys that are coming out now are big and athletic and they are weighing 265 to 270.
Looking at tight ends each offseason, of course, you have a couple gems every year and they go high in the draft. (But usually) you either have a blocker or you have a receiver. That's the key, to try to find a guy that can contribute in both areas that is not too lacking in either area. That's the challenge at the position now.
Q: Is the tight end position evolving into the football equivalent of a swingman in basketball?
A: I think it is. And if you are creative with the way you use your guys you can give those defenses those different looks and use them in different ways. You can motion them out wide and have them run short routes or even deep routes. And you can do different things with them. It's all about creating matchup problems. When the defense puts a certain personnel in when they see your guys coming, then all of a sudden your guy is not in the standard attached position next to a tackle. He's motioning behind the line, he's lined up in the backfield, he's out in the slot. If you have the guys who are athletic enough you can do that.
Q: Who are some of the guys you look at around the league and say you want your guys to be like? Is it a guy like Giants rookie Jeremy Shockey?
A: Shockey, watching him on film, I think as he goes on because he has the size (6-5, 252 pounds) and knowing his coach over there, he's going to develop into a fine blocker. Right now, everybody wants to catch balls. But you make your money blocking. So, I think he's going to develop into one of the better players in the league.
But going back to it, I'm happy with the two guys I have got. I don't think I'd trade my two guys for any guys in the league. I honestly mean that because they are two guys that give you a dangerous weapon in both the running game and the passing game. Of course, you look at (Kansas City's Tony) Gonzalez and (Denver's Shannon) Sharpe, Gonzalez has more size and is a very able blocker and really excels in the passing game. And they feature him in the passing game. Our guys really aren't featured as much as other guys in the passing game, but they make solid contributions each week in the passing game.
Q: Where does Hunter Goodwin fit into the mix?
A: He's kind of our jack of all trades. He stepped in and did a really good job when both (Chamberlain and Kleinsasser) were hurt and it kind of got us out of some of the things that we wanted to do. But Hunter stepped up and did a good job. He is a stronger blocker than he is a receiver, but we don't have any problem sending Hunter out for a route and knowing he's going to catch the ball. He doesn't have as much shake-and-bake as somebody like Byron does. But he knows the game, knows where the zones are, knows how to get open. He can be physical. He brings a good hard-nosed attitude to the team.
Q: Is Goodwin a better receiver than you thought when the Vikings brought him back from the Dolphins during the offseason?
A: He is what I thought he was. An able receiver and a darn good blocker, and that is what he has proven to be.
Q&A: With TEs Coach John Tice
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