Q&A: With LBs Coach Brian Baker

Linebackers coach Brian Baker went through the 2002 season with three starters who weren't even on the Vikings last year. In the first of a two-part interview with VU, Baker analyzes the contributions of Greg Biekert and Nick Rogers.

Brian Baker, who joined the Vikings as their defensive line coach prior to the 2001 season after spending four years with the Detroit Lions defensive line, is now coaching linebackers for the Vikings. Baker also coached the defensive line with the San Diego Chargers in 1996.

Baker's coaching roots run deep, with seven years of NFL coaching experience and 12 years coaching at the college level, despite being only 40 years old. He started at the University of Maryland coaching linebackers in 1984-85, then coached fullbacks at Army in 1986, then served for nine years at Georgia Tech under Bobby Ross. His connection to Ross also brought him to San Diego and Detroit. He is also an active member of the American Football Coaches Association.

Q: What has Greg Biekert brought to the linebacking corps?

A: Leadership and professionalism. You get a guy that has played successfully in the league for 10 years and you get him around a bunch of young guys who are hoping to achieve half of what he has achieved and right away he has all their attention. He is a strong leader, a strong personality. And then the success even compounds his ability to capture their attention. That has been the thing he has brought to us.

Q: How about on the field?

A: On the field, he is the leader. He sets our defense up like most Mike (middle) linebackers do. Obviously, he is a very productive guy. He studies, he understands, he is able to learn our defense and different things. That old saying about a coach on the field, he really is that.

Q: How much progress did rookie Nick Rogers make since moving into a starting role in October?

A: He has progressed. When he first got the job, he had a pretty successful first game or second game, but the thing I challenged him with was to get better every day. Not every week, but every day. He is a very conscientious young man. The thing he has done is worked at it. He goes out every day and tries to get better at something every day. You can see him really focusing in on it and that kind of thing. I think it has helped him in ballgames.

Q: How difficult was Rogers' move from being a down lineman at Georgia Tech last season to the linebacker spot?

A: It was a really tough move in that he had his hand down in college, and then when we drafted him and brought him in here we put him immediately as one of our backup Mike linebackers. So, he goes from basically being a listener, as defensive linemen are in terms of getting lined up and hearing their assignments and that kind of stuff, to where now he's making huddle calls and lining our defense up and doing all the things that Mike linebackers do. That was a big adjustment for him. That was a mouth and half full for him. We were able to take a little bit of that off of him, but in doing that he ended up playing a different position. So really, you lost a lot of time in development camp and training camp in training him at what he is doing now.

Q: How key will the offseason be to Rogers' continued development?

A: Tremendous. He is one of many of our young players that we are really looking to upgrade their game with the development camps and all the time we spend during the offseason, and him really being able to focus on the position he is playing now, along with having an understanding of what it's like on Sundays. Typically, you get young guys, they have no idea what they are preparing themselves for. That hinders their preparation. But now he will have a picture in mind every week that he's focusing for.

Q: Did you see Rogers making this type of progress in training camp as a player?

A: In training camp he really struggled. I think he played a position (middle linebacker) that really was probably more than he could handle at that time, considering that he really had no background for it. He was just trying to survive. He really was. And he wasn't very good. But what he did is when the ball was snapped he ran and tackled people. That was the thing that made us say, ‘Hey, let's make a commitment to get him on the field, put him at a position that is a little easier mentally, and let's see what he can do.' It's been a successful move.

Q: What is the difference in the type of player who comes into training camp, struggles and never gets on track as opposed to a player who struggles in camp but keeps at it and winds up a success?

A: One word: character. Guys with character fight through adversity. The adversity that Nick had was the adversity of playing Mike linebacker, and the challenges mentally and physically of playing Mike. How he sees the game. That was a challenge for him and he kept fighting. He got better at Mike, but was he good enough to win games for us at that position? Absolutely not. But because he does have some character, we made the move, he kept that same work ethic and that same intensity, and it has helped him be a successful Sam (strongside linebacker).

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