Q&A: With OC Scott Linehan

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan talks about the maturation of Daunte Culpepper and Michael Bennett, along with the addition of Bryant McKinnie. And what's going on with Byron Chamberlain?

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 39-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: Can you assess Daunte Culpepper's play of late?

A: Daunte has really improved. He had the tough game against the Giants a few weeks back and a couple of others in there. Our turnovers aren't where we want them to be. But I was looking at the last three or four games and Daunte has four or five interceptions where he's just trying to make a play at the end of a half. Most guys that would be in his situation wouldn't even be trying to win. They would just be worried about their stats, throw the ball away. He said, ‘Hey, heck with all that stuff. I'm going to make good decisions, and sometimes if I throw a 60-yard interception on third-down and 25, they get tackled, that's such a thing as a good interception.' Don't be afraid to make a mistake. He has really improved there.

He is handling our running game well. That's why I think we are running the ball so well. He does those kind of things. He's going into the game and making great adjustments. … He's obviously got a ways to go yet, just like we all do. But he has really been working hard at the game. Over time people are going to really see a complete quarterback.

Q: Where are you really going to work with Culpepper during the offseason to make him a complete quarterback?

A: He already is very dedicated. But just dedicating himself to the game the way he has got to, to take himself to another level. He is in a level by himself. Our record doesn't show it. Statistically speaking, I'm sitting here looking at some numbers, most guys in a situation like this you wouldn't see him still on the field. He would have a total lack of confidence. He is such a great competitor that he has the ability to put things behind him, go out and still make a lot of very good things happen. There is going to be a point where — when we put this thing together — where Daunte Culpepper is going to get on an absolute roll because he is going to be in complete control of the game. He's getting there. I believe he is learning a whole bunch about the game, maybe from an adverse position sometimes. But for him to be completely in control of our run game, our protections, all those things that have been things he has done but have not been totally in his hands, is the direction you have to go. Now he is running the system. I think you are going to see him continue to get better every game.

Q: How much better can a season like this make Culpepper?

A: It will take him to the next level. Some guys, for example John Elway, experienced adversity right away in their career. Maybe Daunte had a little too much success early. Now he's in his sophomore, junior season, whatever you want to call it, but he's facing his adversity now. But all the quarterbacks have to go through a learning experience. There is a big learning curve. Sometimes if it comes too easy too early … I don't think Daunte is the type of guy who would get complacent, but I think it's natural to say, ‘I've got this thing figured out.' The minute you do someone is going to throw a curveball at you. Last year, he went through the injury thing. This year he has had to deal with some turnover issues. But because I have been around this game long enough I see a guy who has worked himself into a real complete player. People that know this game will understand that we will see the rewards of that, and it won't be a long time down the road. It's short and it's coming.

Q: How much better did the offensive line get with the addition of Bryant McKinnie, and how pleased are you with the progress?

A: Obviously, you put a talent like Bryant in the mix and it's going to make us better. It's going to be over time because that group needs to play together for a while to get cohesive. If you have an injury here and you are putting people at different spots, you still are not going to see maybe the cohesiveness you would like to see. That line played great. When Bryant wasn't here, we were still running the ball excellent, we were still making a lot of things happen offensively that were really beyond what anybody expected out of our running game and things like that. I look at the next four games and the offseason to be able to build what's going to be our nucleus. Our top five, six, seven linemen for the future that will be basically running things around here. Try to build a nice group of guys that have played together for a while, which is not that common. Free agency now, guys come and go. Hopefully, that won't hit us. But I see a group that is going to stick together and really be a great group. They already are, I think.

Q: Michael Bennett has really picked up his play. What is the difference between Michael from opening day and now?

A: Just experience. He is still a relatively inexperienced back. Remember, he played only his last year at Wisconsin (as a starter). … He played maybe half the time last year as a rookie trying to figure out the NFL game. He started to improve late last season. Over time his statistics have improved through experience and the reps. Backs need to see that play over and over again to get to where that play becomes bread and butter to them, becomes second nature, the kind of cuts you make, the feel for it. A speed back like Michael has to develop patience because you can't always be trying to hit a home run. You have to go out there and hit singles and hit singles and then the home runs will happen because you have got the ability. He's learning that. He's becoming a real veteran-type back for us because he has been patient. We have committed to leaving him in the game and giving him the carries he needs to develop a nice feel for it.

Q: Do you see Bennett eventually taking over as the main guy even in goal-line situations?

A: Obviously, he would like to do that. I don't blame him. I like the one-two punch combination (of Bennett and Moe Williams). I like to have a guy that has the ability to go in there and be a different style of a back. But I see the better Michael gets at running the football in any situation the harder it's going to be to take him out. That's just the nature of it. The great competition between those two is they find a way to make sure they stay on the field. It's hard to discount Moe's production in short yardage because he always gets the first downs or touchdowns. On the flip side of it, there is Michael, who got us down there. Why can't he (be allowed to) finish off the job? But it is a very good situation. As long as they stay healthy, we will have that one-two punch to counter with. Moe handles a lot of the third-down situations because he's a very smart player and knows the protections well. But Mike is getting to where it is harder to take him off the field. That's a good situation to be in.

Q: There has been talk about Byron Chamberlain's diminished role in this offense. Long-term is his role going to increase over what it has been this season?

A: No question, it will increase. I made the statement that I don't think Byron is 100 percent, and I still believe that. I watched him from last year on tape and I watched him this year, and really since he hurt his knee in the opener against Chicago I think that has bothered him. I'm not making excuses for him. I think we just have to commit to getting ourselves better. We have to find more ways to get Byron on the field with Jimmy Kleinsasser. I look at it really like we have two tight ends who start anyway. But they both have to do a good job in both their roles, whether one is a better blocker or one is a better receiver. They have to meet in the middle and still be able to be very good at both. That's the direction we are going.

Byron is just frustrated. He wants to win. He feels if he had more balls thrown to him or he had more catches that he could help us win. That's all water under the bridge. I understand he's frustrated. We are all frustrated. I'd be disappointed if we weren't. We have addressed that and we are going to work our tails off to improve on that.

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