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O'Leary Has Defense Primed
When he joined Mike Tice's staff before the 2002 season, he suggested a plan to rotate workouts so that the grass on the team's two outdoor fields would stay fresh.
On a slightly more important matter -- the team's defense -- O'Leary's attention to detail is paying off big-time.
Entering Sunday's game at 1-3 Atlanta, the Vikings (4-0) are tied for eighth in the NFL in scoring defense (14.5 points per game) after ranking 30th (27.6) last season. They lead the NFL in interceptions with 11 and they're 4-0 after starting last season 0-4.
O'Leary, secondary coach Chuck Knox Jr. and assistant secondary coach Kevin Ross have the secondary primed for every pass route a team likely will run against a particular coverage.
"I think we know what pass routes the receivers are going to run before they do," strong safety Corey Chavous said.
Chavous and free safety Brian Russell are tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with four.
One reason the safeties have eight of the 11 interceptions is O'Leary stresses to his linemen to raise their arms during their pass rush.
"The quarterbacks can't see," O'Leary said. "That's why balls are sailing on us and the safeties are getting most of the picks."
O'Leary also noticed that the Vikings should have scored twice on interceptions the first two weeks of the season. So he began opening practice with an interception return drill. Players are taught to bounce their returns and blocks to the outside.
The result was two returns that set up touchdown drives against the 49ers. There might have been three, but a return to the 49ers' 13-yard line came as the clock expired in the first half.
"George has gotten guys to a preparation point that we didn't have last year," linebacker Greg Biekert said. "Very few defenses that I've been on are as prepared going into games as this one is."
O'Leary returns to Atlanta for the first time as a coach since resigning from Georgia Tech to accept his dream job, head coach at Notre Dame.
Five days later, O'Leary resigned from the Irish because of inaccuracies in his resume.
"I never look back, but it's hard not to look back because you worked all your life to get to where you wanted to get and then get the door slammed like that," O'Leary said. "But I've always been a big believer in there's a reason things happen."
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