Lurtsema's Reaction: OL, Harvin and E.J.

Not many are talking about the big changes on the offensive line, but former Vikings defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema was getting his impressions of them during a full-pads practice on Monday. What does Lurtsema think of big rookie Phil Loadholt or the new starter at center, John Sullivan? Find out inside. Lurtsema also talks about the use of Percy Harvin and the return of E.J. Henderson.

VU: Since Monday was the first time they really went full pads, how did you think John Sullivan held up?

BL: A lot of times you don't know the blocking assignments and they're rotating linemen in and out. But as far as short yardage and the certain situations they were working on, I thought the defense did control most of the scrimmage. In the same breath, at this point in the season the defense should control it because defense is more instincts that you are relying on and offense and you have to be more under control. As of today, everything is on schedule because the defense did dominate.

VU: What are you impressions of Phil Loadholt?

BL: I personally think he's got great feet. I'm really impressed with him so far. At first I was surprised that they were going to throw a rookie in there to start. There aren't too many Bob Lurtsemas around (laughing) – OK, scratch that. I questioned throwing him in there when he wasn't even a first-round draft choice, but after watching him in live contact and the other drills, I like his footwork. The only thing I'm not sure about is that when they're run blocking sometimes they just fall on top of the other linemen. You see some awkward blocks and I wish I had a camera to play it back and check out the defense a little more. Sitting on the sidelines, sometimes that's the worst seat in the house.

VU: For me, one of the most underplayed stories so far has been the changes on the offensive line between Loadholt and Sullivan. Do you have any concerns there or are you still in wait-and-see mode?

BL: I have huge concerns over there. Basically you two rookies in there. John Sullivan is a very bright kid and I'm sure Steve Hutchinson will help him out quite a bit with a lot of calls. Hutchinson, I don't know if that guy ever gets beat. There's a Hall of Famer. He is so good. He makes it look so easy. So he's going to be a big part of Sullivan's growing process. But I am very suspect on the overall line until I see the first game. They're talking about Sullivan's size and saying that smart technique will beat the big man, and they're absolutely right, but when they're disguising different things, it will be interesting to watch the kid from Notre Dame. It won't be as good as when Matt Birk was there, but I have to eat some crow too. When Jeff Christy left for Tampa Bay, some guy with red hair and No. 75 (Birk's original number) on the his back named Matt Birk came in there and really, really surprised everybody. You couldn't have expected what he accomplished, so I'm hoping this is the same type of situation.

VU: What are your initial impressions of Percy Harvin?

BL: He is so fast. My initial impression, and I know when it comes out of my mouth I'm going to wish I never said it, but I do wonder about his hands a little bit. A lot of times you see a natural catch, but he's a long way from being a Cris Carter or Larry Fitzgerald with the way they grab it and how soft it comes in. I'm probably comparing him to greatness when he's not quite there yet. I expect him to have a great year and potentially he could be rookie of the year. If they work him in the offense, when he gets in the open with that ball, wow!

VU: I know that now and in minicamps they were using him very creatively. Do you expect them to continue that once the regular season starts or will they pigeonhole him into a receiver spot?

BL: No. Why pigeonhole him? That would be a poor offensive call. Whatever he can comprehend, he's got the ability. If the quarterback can read the defense and make quicker adjustments, just get the ball to him. Why go basic when you've got him? He can put so much pressure on the defense and more importantly the defensive line, causing them to be more hesitant. I've always said and written that once you get a defensive lineman thinking about a player doing this or doing that, you don't get off the ball as fast. Even during the running scrimmage (Monday), it was amazing how many defensive linemen didn't get off as quick as they normally would. Even watching Brian Robison against the run or during a pass rush, I know exactly what's happening. He's making a read and thinking about what he should do rather than fly off the ball and reacting to what's in front of him. So make Harvin do everything and throw him everywhere. All he's going to do is mess up the aggressiveness of the opposing defense.

BL: How much of an impact do you think E.J. Henderson returning to the lineup will have?

VU: If I said 100 percent and added a couple of zeros, I don't know if I've got the numbers big enough. He is such a force, such a tremendous force in there. It's like Heath Farwell with the special teams and what he's added. How much did they miss Farwell on special teams? Look what happened – an NFL record seven touchdowns scored against them. They say one man doesn't make a difference, but that defense, as well as they played, when you take out a Pro Bowler like E.J. or a special teams captain like Farwell, it's a huge difference. That's why I think the defense will carry them this year. They're that good. They're in a good situation, especially with their defensive coaching staff.

Bob Lurtsema registered 57 regular-season sacks and three in the playoffs during his 12-year career as a defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and was the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.

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