VU: The Vikings bring most of their predraft visits to Winter Park on Tuesday and Wednesday. What do you think the team gets out of those visits and what are they looking to find out about those guys?
BL: The biggest thing is the body language. You can tell so much about an athlete by his body language, so they watch that really, really close. They are starting to realize that the 10-yard sprints are more important than the 40-yard sprints, so that's something they are looking at a little harder than they used to during private workouts. Anybody that conducts a private workout and isn't in shape when they've had all this time for offseason training, they'll be putting up a lot of red flags that they aren't concerned enough about their body and their profession. Once you have an attitude like that, it's tough to break a guy of that and create a good work habit.
Those are the little things they look for in visits and private workouts. They all have the talent. Now you go beyond and find out which guy pushes the hardest and who has the natural instincts. When they drafted Gerald Robinson in the first round, I could tell he wasn't a great pass rusher. The coaches said, "Well, we're going to have to teach him how to pass rush." If you're talking about a first-round draft choice I don't think you have to teach, you just want to improve. There is a difference between teach and improve and that's some of what they are looking for. How many times have you seen athletes where one wasn't quite as good as another but he was just busting his fanny. That's the type of guy you'd want to bring into your office, the guy who is just giving everything he has. Those people are never losers.
VU: When it comes to physical qualities and you're looking to get a read on an athlete, especially the offensive and defensive linemen, what do you look at specifically?
BL: First is their feet. You want them soft on their feet. Second, you don't want them too bulky. For football, there are different ways to lift weights. When you do a bench press, you don't do a wide-grip bench. You can lift more weight with a wider grip, but you aren't going to move that weight as far away from your chest with a wide grip. What you want to do is take a football grip, where your elbows catch your waist. That's football explosion. Instead of lifting 400, you might only be able to lift 350, but that's football movement. And you'll find out you get better range of motion.
VU: When they bring these guys to Winter Park, they go out to dinner with all the prospects and they're trying to get a read on their personalities. How much can you really get out of one dinner with a player when you're talking to a couple dozen other players as well?
BL: Sometimes you can tell their personality, which helps determine if they are suited for a position. Myself, I'm an extrovert. You'll find out that most of your extroverts are defensive players. A lot of introverts basically are offensive people. When you discuss different fundamentals of the game and how they react, you might be able to pick up something about their intelligence and their ability to learn if they get beat on a certain play. The coaches might have seen that on film and can bring it up and say, "Hey, against Purdue, I noticed on a double team you were getting blown out, but our scouts also noticed you were standing up too high." Ask the player what happened and see if he can explain why and see if he corrected the mistake that you saw on film.
If you can get on the same page between coaches and players with things like that, that can make a big difference. It can mean the difference the between being a mid-round draft choice and being a first free-agent signing after the draft. That's why the Vikings are good at what they do. Scott Studwell has been through it all. They tweak their game every year and how they look at every player, just like the veteran players try to tweak their game to improve every year.
VU: It seems like the last two or three years the Vikings have had pretty good success in the draft. They've avoided picking guys like Troy Williamson and Erasmus James like they had in the 2005 draft. What do you think Rick Spielman does different with the way he runs the draft versus how it was done before he arrived?
BL: I've never seen such great chemistry in the locker room. We had great chemistry when we played, but not since I've been retired have I seen the chemistry that the Vikings have had the last year or two. I think it's partly what we were talking about with getting into the character of the individuals. Players aren't usually going to change. The Vikings are avoiding the players who can't get away from any early influences who steer them in the wrong direction and therefore they can't be fully committed to their profession.
You don't want to have to change a person's personality because you want them to enjoy their profession. If you don't love football, then don't get into it. That's a small percentage of players, but it can make a difference. When people always said we had an edge on other teams when Bud Grant was coaching, it was because he would take a quarter percent here and tweak it and a half percent here and tweak it and keep going, and all of the sudden you have a percent-and-a-half improvement in a game plan, and that can be the difference in winning and losing. One play can make all the difference in the world, and I don't want to go back the Hail Mary, or me roughing the quarterback against the Dolphins or bad calls that kept the Vikings from the Super Bowl with a team that some people think was the best the Vikings ever had, or last year when 12 men in the huddle cost them an opportunity to participate in the Super Bowl. We see time and again how one play can make a huge difference and that's why the details are so important.
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 VikingUpdate.com for a weekly Q&A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.
Lurtsema's Reaction: Workouts and visits
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