We mentioned this morning that one topic sure to arise in interim head coach Leslie Frazier’s first weekly Wednesday press conference was that of the role of defensive coordinator. Since Frazier was the team’s coordinator prior to the change, that role is now technically vacated and it’s a pivotal role as the team prepares a game plan for its opponent each week.
When asked about it this morning, Frazier said that no titles will officially change but that LBs coach Fred Pagac will become the “lead guy.” At the same time, though, Frazier stressed on multiple occasions that all of the defensive coaches’ roles – specifically those of DL coach Karl Dunbar and DBs coach Joe Woods – will increase.
“Fred will handle the brunt of things,” Frazier explained, “but he’ll get input from Joe, he’ll get input from Karl, obviously I’ll have some input on what they’re doing. But he’s going to be the lead guy; he’ll give direction. He’ll give direction in meetings [and] on the field; he’ll be the lead guy.”
In terms of actually making calls and communicating those calls to players on the field, Frazier indicated that Pagac will fill that role and also that the entire process will be more inclusive than when Frazier was the coordinator.
“Yes, with some assistance from our secondary coach and d-line (coach),” Frazier said of whether Pagac will call defensive plays. “They’re (assistant coaches) going to see some things and say ‘Hey think about this.’ It’ll be probably a little more inclusive than it was when I was doing it on game day.”
Speaking of game day, that’s where Frazier’s role will obviously change the most. He’ll be responsible for all game management issues, from guiding all 3 phases of the team to challenging plays to making decisions on whether to punt or go for it on a 4th-and-short situation. As a result, Frazier will rely on his defensive staff to take care of extra responsibilities so he isn’t tied to one side of the ball.
“Between Fred, Joe and Carl, they’ll handle those calls and put our defense in the best position to be successful,” Frazier said. “I have complete faith and trust in them, just like I do with Bev (offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell). And we’ll get it done.”
Tags: Darrell Bevell, Fred Pagac, Joe Woods, Karl Dunbar, Leslie Frazier
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OTA #3 is in the books after another 90-minute or so workout on the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park. The weather was more of the same – sunny and warm – as the Vikings coaching staff worked with young players and selected veterans for the 3rd consecutive day.
As noted earlier, today’s OTA observations will focus exclusively on defense (tomorrow’s will focus exclusively on offense). Also, CJ will be chiming in a bit later after observing the Vikings WRs for most of practice. He also spoke with WR Greg Lewis after the Vikings concluded their on-field work.
A few (defensive) observations from today’s work…
– After opening up with some special teams drill work – a staple of Brad Childress’ practices – the Vikings defense focused on turnovers. Players were split up into groups by position and the defensive coaches conducted drills that condition players to be aggressive in forcing fumbles and also recovering those fumbles. One drill had DBs chopping their feet and moving laterally across obstacles for 10 yards and then sprinting forward to scoop up a fumble and return it to the endzone. Another drill required DL and LBs to execute a pass rush move (swim, rip, bull rush) and then rake the ball from a tackling dummy. Yet another drill asked DBs and LBs to punch the ball out of a ball-carriers possession and the recover the fumble.
Standouts in those drills included CBs Chris Cook and Lito Sheppard (lateral shuffle and fumble recovery) and DE Brian Robison (pass rush and stripping the ball).
– Of course there is no contact permitted during OTAs – per NFL rules – and that alters somewhat how teams practice, or at least what the focus may be during parts of practice. I’ve noted this in previous observations, but one emphasis Vikings coaches preach during these OTAs is pre-snap and after-the-snap positioning.
Coaches are teaching the players – most of whom are new to the team or in their 1st or 2nd year – how to read and react to certain situations and formations. DL coach Karl Dunbar spent almost 2 periods of practice explaining to his players how important it is to pay attention to how an OL was lined up.
“Whether we have pads or not, or whether there is contact allowed or not, we want to work on our positioning,” Dunbar told me after practice. “It’s situational football. We want them to know how to read and react to splits (along the offensive line), depths, motion by a receiver and shifts in the formation. Why is that running back lined up 5 steps deep instead of 7? Why is the split wider between the guard and tackle? Those are things we need to understand so we can react to certain situations.”
– Although because of the no contact rule the 1-on-1 drills aren’t quite as intense and realistic, there is still a lot of valuable work that can be accomplished. In today’s 1-on-1 DB/WR drill, rookie CB Chris Cook – selected with the 34th overall pick in last month’s draft – came up with an INT. On the very next play, former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher CB Marcus Sherels had blanket coverage against WR Taye Biddle as QB Tarvaris Jackson launched a deep pass down the field.
– LBs and Ss went up against RBs and FBs in a passing drill, where the offensive players came from out of the backfield to run pass routes as the defenders dropped into coverages to cover them. The highlight of the drill came when newly-converted RB Darius Reynaud bolted from the backfield, used an inside move to get past a LB, and then straightened out his route to catch a pass down the middle of the field. S Madieu Williams, however, was right there and would’ve applied a crushing hit to Reynaud as he made the catch had they been in a game situation. RBs coach Eric Bieniemy, who coaches as hard and as well as anyone, was all over the play. He first acknowledged the inside move Reynaud used to get past the LB, but then corrected Reynaud by pointing out the inside move brought him to the middle of the field where the S could break up the play. Bieniemy explained the proper route would’ve had Reynaud making the catch near the numbers instead of down the middle of the field.
– The last observation from today’s practice actually has nothing to do with defense. I wanted to compliment the Vikings turf management crew on the job they’ve done with the practice fields. They look great, even after 3 consecutive days of on-field work. I’m sure Minnesota weather – the winters especially – aren’t easy on the turn and the Vikings staff does a nice job of grooming the surface.
Tags: Chris Cook, Darius Reynaud, Eric Bieniemy, Karl Dunbar, Lito Sheppard, Madieu Williams, Marcus Sherels
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When the New York Giants pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history by defeating the New England Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII, one of the biggest factors in the game was the Giants defensive line putting pressure on Pats QB Tom Brady.
Brady was hit 9 times and sacked on 5 occasions. A Giants defensive lineman was responsible for 11 of those 14 QB collisions, including a sack and loss of 10 yards by Jay Alford in the Patriots final offensive series, a drive that ended in a 4-and-out.
The architect of the Giants defensive strategy in 2007 was current Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo. He was defensive coordinator in New York for 2 seasons, and his tenure there was highlighted by the team’s Super Bowl run at the end of 2007, when Spagnuolo’s defense had a string of impressive performances in which they held the league’s top 3 offensive teams – Green Bay (2), Dallas (3) and New England (1) – to a total of 51 points during their postseason run.
The common thread for the Giants in their ability to shut down powerful offenses was a defensive line that pressured the QB. Suffice it to say, Spagnuolo knows a little something about defensive lines. And he’s impressed with the unit the Vikings have put together.
“They are different in some ways, but the results are the same,” Spagnuolo said when asked to compare his former defensive line in New York to the one that exists currently in Minnesota. “That’s an explosive, very productive unit and one that everybody has to deal with. There is no weakness across the board and that’s what makes them so great.”
When he was in New York, Spagnuolo built up a line that featured more than just 4 good starters. Aside from stars Osi Umeyiora and Michael Strahan, the Giants also had in their DL stable players such as Alford, Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins, Dave Tollefson and Justin Tuck. Spagnuolo assesses the Vikings as having similar depth.
“They do it as a group and it’s not just four; they are firing five, six, seven other guys in there,” the Rams coach said. “(DL coach)Karl Dunbar does a great job and Leslie (Frasier), who I have a great deal of respect for and is a close friend of mine, does a tremendous job there. They package that thing well together and they’ve got good players.”
Tags: Karl Dunbar, Leslie Frazier
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Legendary Vikings DE and Purple People Eater Jim Marshall was at Winter Park on Friday to watch the Vikings practice and meet QB Brett Favre. Last week in Detroit, Favre started his 271st consecutive game and broke the NFL record for consecutive starts that was set by Marshall.
The Vikings will have their home opener on Sunday and Marshall will sound the Gjallarhorn as well as be an honorary Vikings team captain. He’ll join Vikings team captains at midfield for the pregame coin toss. Both Marshall and Favre will also be recognized for the consecutive starts record.
Still the record holder for consecutive games played (280), Marshall observed Favre and the Vikings from the sidelines as they practiced indoors due to the rainy weather.
“I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to break it,” Marshall said. “I have a lot of respect for the way Brett has played the game and still plays the game. He is good for football.”
Marshall compared Favre to Johnny Unitas in terms of leadership qualities and the ability to drive an offense down the field at crucial points in the game. Marshall also noted Favre’s work ethic, saying it reminded him of his own work ethic that was instilled in him by his father when he was a young boy.
“I would’ve been proud to play with Brett if he had been around back in the days when I played,” Marshall said. “He has my kind of work ethic.”
While he was watching practice, the entire Vikings defensive line, including defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, came over to him and shook his hand. It was a unique scene, watching Marshall converse with the Vikings defensive line and also watching players such as Jared Allen and Kevin and Pat Williams listen intently to every word Marshall said.
“The Vikings have the best defense in football,” Marshall later told me. “I’m just so proud of our defense, I really am. It reminds me of our playing days.”
Tags: Jared Allen, Jim Marshall, Karl Dunbar, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams
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The typical names have starred for the Vikings in their 2-0 start to the 2009 season. Adrian Peterson has 4 TDs, Brett Favre is playing well under center, E.J. Henderson looks to be back in form and Chad Greenway even hopped into the fray with a huge game at Detroit.
But one guy who tends to get lost in the shuffle of high-profile names in the Vikings defense – and especially along the defensive line – is DE Ray Edwards.
But so far in 2009, Edwards has been as big a part of the team’s success as anyone on the defense. Through 2 games, Edwards, who plays right left DE exclusively in the Vikings defense, has managed to tally 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Edwards’ productivity both in terms of tackles and sacks is a good sign for the Vikings. As the right left DE, Edwards is charged with rushing the passer, but he’s also relied upon to stand up strong against the run.
“I call that side a base end position, so he has to stand up against the run,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said on Monday. “I saw him make a bunch of chase plays that I don’t know if you guys (media) noticed. He turns and runs to the football and makes a share of hustle plays.”
Childress went on to say that Edwards has performed well both at the point of attack in the run game and in terms of applying pressure to the QB. His ability to progress as an NFL player and develop skills that have allowed him to be a 3-down player should be attributed to his on-field work ethic, but also his dedication to improving himself away from the gridiron.
“He’s a guy that usually has a good offseason with his body and takes care of it,” Childress explained. “He’s a guy that plays the game hard and has the stamina to be able to stay in there for all those plays.”
Edwards’ position coach, Karl Dunbar, had a similar sentiment regarding his starting right left DE.
“He’s come a long way,” Dunbar said of Edwards. “He has 14.5 career sacks, and as a fourth rounder, he’s progressing really well. He’s a strong, athletic kid and a strong football player.
“Ray has always played with a chip on his shoulder and you could tell that the first year he got here. He’s changed his body, he’s working out and doing those things, eating right. And it’s paying off for him on the field.”
Tags: Karl Dunbar
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