Defense the O'Leary Way

The firing of Willie Shaw has brought a new look to the Vikings defensive perspective. Or has it?

In 2000, Foge Fazio's defense helped the Vikings get to the NFC Championship Game. Then it collapsed in record fashion vs. the Giants.

After Fazio (along with Dwayne Rudd) were sent packing to Cleveland, Emmitt Thomas was brought in after being fired by Green Bay. Having developed young secondary talent in Green Bay to combat Randy Moss, he preached speed and aggression.

Yet, it was one of his underlings -- secondary coach Willie Shaw -- that got a lot of the attention. It was clear that Shaw was calling many of the shots and, as the 2001 season progressed, Thomas was having less influence all the time. When the 2001 season ended, so did Thomas' run as defensive coordinator.

Up stepped Shaw, preaching speed and aggression. The Vikings overshot in the draft for Willie Offord and Raonall Smith and, despite adding players with speed, the defense was still ranked near the bottom of the NFL. So, as the 2002 season closed, out went Shaw and in came George O'Leary -- who, like Shaw, seemed to be consolidating power as the season went along.

O'Leary is preaching the much the same mantra -- speed, aggression and big hitting. However, this isn't different from what Fazio, Thomas and Shaw preached in the previous three off-seasons.

The major advantage O'Leary will have is that the Vikings have considerably more money to spend than any of his predecessors had and won't have to sit and wait for draft picks and untested youngsters to make or break his defense.

Maybe the fourth time (in four years) will be the charm.

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