Lurtsema's Reaction: Defensive Line

Chris Hovan

Bob Lurtsema played all four positions on the defensive line during his career with the Vikings, New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks, and still follows the Vikings with a passion. So we turned to him for analysis on the Vikings' current situation. What does he think of Kevin Williams as an end or tackle, Chris Hovan's slip in production, the move of Nick Rogers and Ted Cottrell as the defensive coordinator?

Q: What are the biggest defensive needs?

A: The Vikings definitely need a strong pass-rushing right defensive end. All the games start up front at the line of scrimmage, and you've heard that cliché umpteen million times, but the thing there is that's going to help your defensive backs. I'm a firm believer that the less time a quarterback has to throw the easier it is for the defensive backs to cover. Then all of the sudden it shows how much better the defensive backs are supposedly playing when they do have a strong front four — which the Vikings do not have at this time.

As a matter of fact, you wonder a little bit about Chris Hovan, whether George O'Leary influenced his play. But as a defensive lineman you can't go three games without a tackle. I think they even have to look inside (for additional players). I happened to be a Fred Robbins fan myself, with the number of tackles-for-loss he had, and he had the best training camp last year. But it's tough staying up constantly when you know you're not going to start — I've been through that dance. But definitely, definitely they need a defensive end.

Q: When we talked to Carl Eller, he thought Kevin Williams was best on the end. His theory was that you spread out your most talented players across the line. If you've got Williams outside, Hovan inside and you get another defensive end, then you don't have your best players bunched up inside. He was thinking that the blocking schemes when Williams was inside bunched up the inside. What's your reaction to that?

A: That's what they tried to do last year in training camp. They said, ‘Let's get the four best linemen to play,' and that's why they moved Kevin Williams to the left defensive end. They were playing Kevin a little bit to his weakness. He's a natural defensive tackle, he'll be a Pro Bowl defensive tackle. The way he moves, the way he locks out, his constant effort, he's just a natural tackle.

I'm a firm believer that you don't play a guy to his weakness. I played all four positions, and for some reason I didn't like defensive left tackle. That seemed to be my worst of the four, where I was a natural on the right side. That's a comfort zone you go through. Not that I couldn't play all four obviously, having started several years at left end, but there is a comfort zone and you feel better when you're more productive. That's why I think he's a natural tackle. I wouldn't toy with him at end. I'd much rather get a defensive end that would complement him.

Q: What about the move of Nick Rogers to defensive end? Do you like that move?

A: Nick is a great 3-4 player at linebacker. He has great instincts and speed, turns the corner so well. I think he's more of a natural 3-4 blitzing linebacker. Knowing what Nick can do, it gives strength to what I said earlier about the corners giving different looks. You can send a linebacker with his pass-rush techniques, and that really puts a lot of heat on the opposing offense. He's a big-time plus that is going to help both the linemen and the defensive backs. He's got the instincts for it. They wanted to play him at end more last year, but a couple linebackers they found just made too many mental mistakes.

Q: You've talked to Ted Cottrell. What are your impressions of him and what do you see changing on defense?

A: When I talked to him, he wasn't going to talk to me about what he was going to run. He talked more about what the personnel can do. He's going to break it down and then work around the talent of each player rather just bring in hypothetically a college scheme and make everybody work the scheme. No, no, no. You don't do that in the pros. Those trick plays or gadget plays might work in college because they don't prepare week after week. With college kids, you only go against them once and they're not as good. Now you try these college schemes or something you believe in and these teams have time, they study, they're professionals. They'll stop your little scheme immediately, now you make the adjustment. That determines how good a coach is.

He (Cottrell) is coming in right now and saying, ‘What's Hovan's strength? Why did he go through these games without any tackles? Was he put in the wrong position? Is Kevin Williams a defensive end or tackle?' I already know that because we talked over there and he said Kevin Williams is going to start out at tackle in the first day of camp and when we go to the Super Bowl he'll still be a tackle. He won't even see defensive end. (Cottrell) knows the 3-4, and everybody knows I hate that, but he knows how to work that scheme around his players. He knows all the blitzes imaginable, a strong 4-3, the nickels and dimes. He does that with personnel, not because that's a scheme he likes.

Next week we'll get into Bob Lurtsema's thoughts on the linebackers and defensive backs.

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