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Coach Speak: Coordinators on Suh, Megatron and a Rookie Punter

Posted Sep 5, 2013

The Vikings three coordinators had their customary weekly press conference on Thursday following the team’s morning walk-through. In this weekly piece, we’ll choose a comment from each of them and explain or react to what was said.

Question asked: When you look at that (Detroit’s) front, is it a tough front to run against?

Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said: “They do a nice job of being physical, but they’re definitely very skilled at rushing the passer, those two interior guys. It’ll be one of the tougher fronts we face the whole year, if not the toughest.”

Reaction: To me this is one of the most significant factors of the game. Looking up and down the Vikings schedule and eliminating the teams with 3-4 defenses, I agree with Musgrave that this is as tough a defensive tackle tandem as the Vikings will see in 2013, at least until the Vikings travel to Cincinnati to contend with Geno Atkins and Domata Peko. Chicago’s Henry Melton and Stephen Paea and Carolina’s Dwan Edwards and Star Lotulelei are no slouches, either, but Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh are going to be a handful for the Vikings front – for any front this season. The question is: How do the Vikings neutralize this tandem? Do you run right at it with the NFL’s MVP? Do you work around it with pulling linemen, screen passes and the quick-pass game? Do you trap against it, go with misdirection or move the pocket? I don’t have the answers right now, but it’s something the Vikings have game planned and are working on in practice this week.

Question asked: What worked (against Calvin Johnson) in that first game last year at Detroit? They targeted him twelve times and he only caught five passes.

Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said: “I think the guys just played assignment football. And that’s the thing you have to do. You have to make sure that you try to keep the top on the defense. You don’t start cheating in terms of when he catches a ten-yard play or five-yard route, you don’t start creeping down toward the line of scrimmage. We just executed and tackled well.”

Reaction: It’s interesting to look at Johnson’s production against the Vikings last season. He was held in check against the Purple in Week 4, with just five receptions on 12 targets. But in Week 12 he was nearly unstoppable, catching 12 passes on 13 targets for 207 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings won both games, but obviously the outcome vs. Johnson was not good in that second matchup. So what was the difference? It’s hard to dissect it without going back to the film and talking to players and coaches, but one thing that comes right to mind is how physical the Vikings secondary was against Johnson in the Week 4 matchup. Safeties Jamarca Sanford and Harrison Smith laid the hits hard and heavy on Johnson that game, causing a couple of drops, including one in the end zone, and also a fumble that was recovered by the Vikings. How do the Vikings repeat the Week 4 performance and avoid the Week 12 performance this year? It’s a good question, and Williams and his staff are in the process of figuring that out right now. Expect Johnson to be in the slot quite a bit in this game. Maybe the Vikings will play a slot cornerback underneath Johnson and a safety over the top to help levy more big hits. Or do the Vikings play a linebacker underneath and have the slot cornerback over the top because they think Detroit is anticipating the first approach? It will be fun to watch this chess match between Detroit Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan and Williams.

Question asked: Overall, (what are) your feelings on (Jeff) Locke’s performance in preseason?

Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said: “Jeff, like any young punter, is a little inconsistent. Like any punter in general, you’re looking for consistency, number one, first and foremost. You want the situational punting to be exactly how you want it, in terms of backed up, or plus-50 or middle of the field, whatever the case may be. You’re looking for high hangtime punts that they can’t return; force as many fair catches as we can. We’re not quite there, but like any young player he’s a work in progress. He has improved and I’m excited about his future.”

Reaction: Even with some of the holding issues against Tennessee in the preseason finale, I came away from the four exhibition games and training camp completely excited about the prospects of Jeff Locke. I expect a spike in punts downed inside the 20 and inside the 10, and I also anticipate the Vikings being among the League leaders in punt return average allowed. What will be interesting to watch is if Locke and also increase the fair catches against number and also become flawless while holding for kicker Blair Walsh.