Vikes Looking At Defensive Switch?

For a new guy to the position of NFL defensive coordinator, George O'Leary isn't being shy about what he wants. And, depending on who you listen to, he may be looking to overhaul the Vikings defense.

The 3-4 defense used to be popular in the NFL. It was a system that gave a team with a huge man in the middle and active linebackers a chance to create havoc on defense. But, in recent years, it has become less in vogue.

The Steelers have thrived under it, but most teams have gone away from using the 3-4 because of the speed of the game and the need for a four-man push up front.

However, VU has been told that new defensive coordinator George O'Leary is toying with the idea of using the 3-4 in 2003 for the Vikings, which could have huge ramifications in both free agency and the coming college draft in April.

The reason the Vikings went after Ryan Sims in last year's draft was because they wanted a pure nose tackle to line up next to Chris Hovan, who, while on the verge of being a Pro Bowl talent, is not a pure nose tackle and never will be. The team had hoped Fred Robbins would become the nose tackle to make everything click defensively, but he hasn't assumed that role and some inside the organization doubt he will ever be more than a situational player.

O'Leary is clear on his belief that the Vikings need to add at least three veteran impact players in free agency and use the draft to bring along at least one or two more players that can provide a spark -- short-term or long-term -- to a defense that still struggles against passing offenses with any talent.

If the Vikings are going to commit to a 3-4 defense, they can't do it half way. They will have to say "yes" or "no" before free agency starts -- stockpiling linebackers that the team currently doesn't have.

VU is of the belief that a 3-4 alignment would be situational in nature and, if implemented, would move Hovan to an end position when used. But, if the formation is planned to be used as much as some early indications coming from inside the team would lead us to believe, there will need to be a lot of changes made.

As always, VU will follow this up as quickly as more information becomes available, because any massive overhaul of personnel required to make such a switch won't stay secret for long once free agency begins.

* If only Willis McGahee had stayed healthy. From what VU has been told from sources with the teams in front of the Vikings for April's draft, this much is coming into focus. The Bengals, if they don't trade out to someone like Washington, will take QB Carson Palmer with the first pick. Odds are if the Bengals do trade out of the top spot, whoever moves in will take Palmer. Beyond that either the Lions or Texans will take WR Chris Rogers of Michigan State. Our Bears sources are sounding more convinced that they will take QB Byron Leftwich of Marshall. It also looks good that offensive tackle Jordan Gross of Utah will also be gone before the Vikings are on the clock. What does all this mean? For a team looking to bolster its defense, at least four offensive players are slated to go off the board before the Vikings pick at No. 7. If McGahee hadn't been injured that number could have gone as high as five. That should mean that the Vikings will -- barring a trade -- have a very real shot at either Penn State DT Jimmy Kennedy or Kansas State CB Terence Newman at No. 7. Here's hoping the Cowboys and Cardinals are looking at offense on the first round, too.
* Former Viking Brad Johnson has never played in a Super Bowl, but few if any players can match his postseason checking account. In his 11 years in the NFL, Johnson has been on teams that went to the postseason in nine of those seasons.
* The Eagles and Raiders will be favorites today, but gamblers won't be so quick to jump on their bandwagons. Since 1990, in the divisional playoffs with teams coming off of bye weeks, the home teams have an incredible 43-9 record. Yet, in conference title games, the home teams are just 14-10 in that same span.
* Bill Walsh, who has taken credit for everything short of peace in the Middle East, will be hard-pressed not to hire Denny Green as the next 49ers coach. VU has been told by a Jags source close to owner Wayne Weaver that Walsh lobbied hard for Green to get the Jags job that eventually went to former Green player Jack Del Rio. Now that a job is open in his back yard, if Walsh doesn't do the same lobbying, it will seem quite two-faced. For his part, Green remains an obedient toadie, saying he doesn't need to be a G.M. with the Niners and "I've always considered myself a member of the 49er family." We'll see shortly if they consider him a part of the family.

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