Former Vikings defensive lineman and current Viking Update publisher Bob Lurtsema remains close to the team and the coaches, so we'll check in with our boss throughout the off-season for his insider opinion on events surrounding the Vikings. This time we concentrate curing the Vikings' defensive problems.
Q: Talk about the 3-4 defense versus the 4-3. Some people think defensive coordinator George O'Leary is going to the 3-4 full-time. What do you know about it?
A: The 3-4 defense, I'm a firm believer, does not work if you haven't got the horses, and I don't believe the Minnesota Vikings have the personnel right now at the defensive line positions or the linebackers to be able to switch to a 3-4. Mainly it is supposed to give you better coverage on passing situations. A lot of times you'll see people using it at the end of the game. It doesn't work that way. Quarterbacks absolutely love going against the 3-4 late in the game. Now, Coach O'Leary and the crew are planning on sending more than three rushers all the time. They're going to bring a linebacker, maybe a safety, have a lot of variables to the 3-4. But I personally feel that if you think you have to have that many variables you haven't got the talent to run a pure 3-4 like the Pittsburgh Steelers do. That's the way they drafted, and they developed that defense better than any other club.
Q: So the idea for O'Leary is to switch back on forth from a 3-4 to a 4-3. It's not a full-time thing?
A: Correct. This is not their blood and guts, but they do want to use it a lot more. I could give readers out there 50 different stories about how the 3-4 cost teams the ballgame. Even in Cleveland, as far as I'm concerned it cost Foge Fazio his job. They lost the playoff game because their head coach got conservative. They went to the 3-4, where Foge wanted to stay a little more aggressive and stay away from the 3-4. Watch those games and how much time the quarterbacks have. Ask any quarterback, they'll tell you exactly what I'm saying. They love the 3-4 because you give me that time to throw, I'll find somebody that will get open because DBs cannot stay with the offensive receivers for that period.
Q: What about the confusion that is could cause quarterbacks, not knowing where that fourth or fifth blitzing person is coming from?
A: The complexity there, if they start to send people you've got to realize you've got five people blocking three, so you've got two extra. And if you leave your back in, you've got three guys to search out where that deception might come from. It has to be well-disguised. I think the success that Pittsburgh has, they run the straight 3-4 so well that they can disguise it and send the corner, safety -- wherever it might be -- their opposing team has settled into a routine and the element of surprise takes effect. I say that knowing it is the bulk of what they've run the whole game, not using it as an alternative defense.
Q: Speaking of defensive line, people keep talking about Jimmy Kennedy of Penn State in the draft. You saw his bowl game. What do you think of him? Where does he lack and what could he bring to the team if the Vikings select him?
A: I'm not real impressed with him, and I'm probably the only one so here we go again. I watch his hand movements and how he works himself north and south, as far as the line of scrimmage goes, and I see a good football player, but I don't see a great football player. When you watch his feet and his hand movements, it's one thing to be a big old horse or bull, but when you don't have a natural hand instinct, as far as pass rushing, your game is strictly as a run stopper. If that's what they're going to go for, that's one situation, but you cannot teach pass rush – by that I mean the pass-rushing technique instinct. Hands will work with the body. Once a defensive lineman has the hand-eye coordination, then you can develop the pass-rush techniques. But when they don't have that to start with, I think they're limited in their potential to be a perennial All-Pro. And when you're drafting a lineman this high I think you have to have aspirations that he'll become a perennial All-Pro.
Q: Do you think that defensive line is the single-biggest need for this team?
A: I think the defensive line and the defensive backs. We would always kid about, "we don't need the linebackers" because the defensive line took out the interference so the linebackers could clean up. But as far as us getting a strong pass rush and running our stunts, you have to have decent coverage, and so many times when we used to make sacks we would go to the defensive backs and tell them, "Great coverage." So they play off each other more than the linebackers do. The linebackers are a bigger influence on the run.
Q: Mike Tice has seemed to indicate that he would prefer to get that shutdown cornerback in free agency versus the draft because it's a tougher position to learn. Do you agree with that?
A: I totally agree with that because with a veteran you know what he can do, and he's laid it down against the pros. There are too many variables coming out of college. You've got to remember that only a third of the first-round draft choices are going to make it and be successful and a third are total failures. When you have somebody that is already proven, you can see how he jams or how his footwork goes. He's gone a 20-game season, counting the preseason and if you make the playoffs more games, so he's proven his durability. A lot of these guys, they poop out. They go 11 games and they go, "Well, that's it, the season's over." Yes in college, but you're halfway through the NFL season. So free agents have so many things going for them. And for the extra money that you have to spend for a big-time draft choice if you go with a defensive back, for the extra money that you could pay a proven veteran and as far under the cap the Minnesota Vikings are, I think it is a no-brainer to go out in free agency and pick up the best available.
Q: So you think it's tougher to judge the impact a cornerback could have versus a defensive lineman?
A: Correct. If you watch the defensive backs sometimes, they'll only go against one, maybe two, good receivers their entire season (in college). In the NFL you go against that each and every week. I know that the Vikings, when they check out a college player, they'll look at the first game of the season, the middle game of that season and the last game of the season to see if they've improved. They won't just watch the last game of the season because you don't know if he's going against a receiver with a pulled hamstring, a bad athlete or whatever. They've gone the extra mile now, breaking it down into different parts of a college season to get a better feel for the player himself -- first game, middle game, last game. If you have a veteran, you've already done that at a higher level.
Q: What about your thoughts on Corey Chavous being a safety versus a cornerback. Is he a better safety than he is a cornerback?
A: That's a tough call. He says he likes corner better, but yet when he made the change (to safety) he really solidified the defensive backs and the chemistry seemed to be a lot better, although they did change the terminology and simplify things at that part of the season for the defensive backs. So the coaching change in philosophy and him switching could be a coincidence or a parallel. Sometimes a player likes a position better than another position because he has to think too much at the new position or work harder. When an athlete has to work harder or do more homework because he isn't familiar with the position it makes him a better football player because he's preparing a lot better week in and week out. I think we've all done it if you've played in this league long enough, including myself, you sometimes will get to a place of complacency and that's the worst thing that can happen to you. A coach has to literally jump your case. That's why sometimes a player will leave one team and do well with a second team –- he gets a wakeup call. Now all the sudden when he's out of the league and gets a second chance the player wakes up.
Lurtsema's Reaction: Defense And The Draft
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