*Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards *
I'll start off with any questions from last week, where we're at right now as far as our roster.
Q: Can you talk about Josh Thomas and his play so far this preseason?
A: I'll tell you what, he came in and started with us in training camp, really missed the whole offseason. He's really done a nice job picking up what we're doing, technique-wise. I like the way he aggressively attacks everything, he's competing every day. Mentally, he's still catching on to some of the things that we're doing, but his attention to detail and how hard he works and from what I understand, he's a good special teams player also. We've been impressed with his work ethic since he's been in here.
Q: Are you surprised he has bounced around the league as much as he has?
A: No, every defensive scheme is a little bit different. Guys mature and sort of get a grasp of different schemes a little bit better and the opportunities that you end up getting from one place to another can vary, so not surprising. If you look around the league it happens every year with certain guys until they find their niche and they catch on and usually have a good career.
Q: How has Eric Kendricks fared in the nickel package so far?
A:I think he's doing a good job. You can tell he flies around, he's got a better grasp of what we're doing. You can just tell he's gotten better from week to week and feeling more comfortable with the calls, the communication and just the pass-offs and things that we do underneath. He's been an effective blitzer for us. From that aspect, we like where he's at right now and just look to keep going through the process through this preseason and just see him hopefully continue to get better.
Q: What does giving your defensive linemen more freedom mean? Does it mean loosening the grip on those guys?
A: Last year was a total different technique than some of the guys that have played before. You could tell they were kind of grasping when we first started and you could tell they got better as the season went along. Certain guys matured a little bit quicker than others as far as what we're looking for. But as the season wore on, you could tell they were getting better, so this offseason was a better starting point for them understanding our expectations out of techniques that we were asking on the play. It just kind of followed through as we go through the preseason and training camp, where you can see those guys continuing to get better and understanding different blocking schemes and different things teams are doing protection-wise and starting to work together as a front. So it's been good.
Q: Does it change what you're asking them to do this year compared to last year?
A: Not a whole lot. We are, like Coach [Zimmer] had said, giving them a little bit of freedom by certain calls to get more up the field, that kind of thing. But for the most part, they're into the techniques and fundamentals we've been working on the past year.
Q: What do you look for from Anthony Barr getting his first look in a game this weekend?
A: We want him to come into the game, have a good grasp of what we're doing, which I think he has. He's had a good week of practice thus far. Just looking for him to build as we go through and be sharp mentally and good with the communication. He's shown his effectiveness when he's on the field, so we're just looking for him to go out and be the best player he can be.
Q: With his injuries and setbacks, do you look at this game from a recovery standpoint as much as how he plays on the field?
A: We'll look at the total picture of how many reps we end up getting him and those kinds of things for where he's at conditioning-wise and from a mental standpoint. But Coach will fill you in on that through the course of the week, but so far he's had a good week of practice and we're just looking to keep progressing down the road with him.
Q: Is there a certain time you want to have the starting middle linebacker and strong safety spots decided?
A: We're not in a big rush. We keep saying we're going to look at the skillsets of the players we have. Whether it's different packages that we use different guys in, we're just trying to – like, right now we're working four guys at the Mike linebacker, so all four guys have done a good job of what we're asking them to do and now it's just a matter of just keep competing, keep getting better as we keep working through the rest of this preseason.
Q: How has Audie Cole done with the starters?
A: He's done a good job. Audie is solid in every aspect of it. He's done a good job with the communication, he's done a good job of handling it out there on the field as far as the different players, the different alignments, knowing his responsibility as well as the players around him. He's done solid work since he's been in there. We're pleased with where he is at right now and we're working about four guys, rotating them in there and just trying to get the best guys on the field at one time.
Q: DeMarcus Van Dyke is another play Zimmer has pointed out that has done well. What have you seen in him?
A: The same. He's a guy that comes and competes every day. He can really run. The biggest thing with him is honing in on the techniques and fundamentals that we're asking him to do. The big thing is with corners, everyone thinks you go out there and just cover, but there's a lot of technique depending on the splits of the receivers, depending on if you get stacks, clusters, those types of deals. So there's a lot of things involved other than just lining up and going and covering. He can line up and run with the best of them, but understanding what we need to get out of him by call, fundamental technique, just keep improving and take that to the game.
Q: There was a practice in training camp where Van Dyke had multiple interceptions. Does he have good ball skills?
A: Yeah, he's got good ball skills. He's shown the ability to go up and get it at the highest point.
Q: How is Trae Waynes doing so far? How much time does it take corners to transition from college to the pros?
A: We think he's right on course. Everybody is looking for an immediate impact out of him, but again, just going back to the question we had before. There are a lot of different things that go mentally with the corner position other than just lining up and playing man coverage on a guy. So the adjustment from pro to college, the different rules, how far you can put your hands on him down the field, all those different things weigh into the equation. So where he's at right now, we're just going to keep building through the preseason and look to continue to get better. I think he went out the first game and learned something; I think he went out this past week, he learned something. As long as he keeps learning and keeps competing to get better, we think he's right where we need him to be.
Q: What have you seen so far from Leon Mackey after playing in the Arena Football League? How much can you tell from watching arena football?
A: The one thing I think our scouts do a good job of identifying guys with the traits we're looking for, which at that position, we're looking for a linear guy who's got some speed, who's got some athleticism that can travel in space, that can get on the edge and give us some pass rush, those kind of things. So from that aspect of it, they look at those traits first and then we bring him in, we work him out and see if what we're seeing on tape is going to compute with when we get him on the field. Then when we get him within the scheme and try to use the strengths that he does have. So from that aspect of it, he came in, had those traits with him and he's worked through training camp pretty good.
Q: From year one to year two you have players who are experienced with the scheme but you also have another draft class to add to the scheme. How does that change what you do compared to last year?
A: We've made some changes defensively because we've added some new pieces, some new personnel to our scheme, but for the most part I think the biggest advantage for the young guys that have come in that haven't been here, now there just isn't us as coaches that can talk to them, talk through scenarios, talk through situations. You've got players now that know what we're expecting, know what to anticipate by splits, by formations, those kind of things, and can help reiterate the message that we're sending as coaches. I think that gives them a bigger advantage than the first year because it was really us getting them to understand what it is. Now they have a good grasp of it, they can help relay the message whether they're out there on the field, adjusting to a formation, adjusting to a split or whatever the situation is.
Q: Coach Zimmer said he likes bigger and lankier lanky athletic corners. How do you justify playing them versus a player who may be smaller and more athletically sound?
A: Again, each player is going to be different. We try to look at the strengths of each player and what they bring to the table and then get them in that positon to be able to go out and execute and be able to play to their strengths. So we kind of look at each person and see what they're capable of and try to get them in that position to be able to execute. Everybody is a little different, every player is different, their length is going to be different. We've got short corners, we're got tall corners. We like the longer, linear guys. Sometimes those longer, linear guys have a little bit more trouble getting out of cuts, but they have the long speed, they're physical, but we like size, we like big corners and we like guys that can run.
Q: Where are you in terms of balancing the sample size when you evaluate the older guys as well as the younger guys?
A: Well, I think Coach [Zimmer] is doing that on an individual basis from week to week. Some guys he knows a little bit more about. We've seen him for a year so we feel good with where they're at. Other guys we need to see more as they keep maturing within our system.
Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer
I thought we did some really good things the other night against Tampa Bay. Every phase, I thought we won with the exception of kickoff return, we haven't done a good job with that in the first two games, that's going to be a point of emphasis this week and the rest of the preseason. We've got to get our kickoff return game going where we think it should be, that's where we're at right now.
Q: What has been the issue with kickoff return?
A: I thinks it's more timing than anything. The front line blocking has been okay, a couple of misses there the other night. The backline and the returner, the timing is off. It's not the returner, it's more the backline and the wedge guys, we call them the backline, the timing is not quite where it needs to be and so we worked on it yesterday, we're going to work on it again tomorrow and continue getting better in that regard.
Q: What did Jeff Locke do differently this game?
A: Jeff [Locke] did a really nice job, it was a little windy, but it wasn't bad, he wasn't worried about it. He was doing what he had done all week long in practice, that was probably his best week of practice prior to that game that he's had since he's been here and he carried that over into the game, which was really good for him and good for our team and obviously he did a great job with the 50 punts, the two field punts we covered very, very well so I was excited about his progress and like anything else in football, the more consistent he is, the better off we're all going to be, especially Jeff. I thought he did a good job for us the other night.
Q: Is it a handicap working in guys during the preseason with a 90-man roster as opposed to the regular season 53-man roster?
A: No, not at all. We used 50 different guys the other night in the four core phases alone, it was 43 I think against Pittsburgh, we did 50 the other night. Two things, I don't think it's a handicap because we like to train all of these guys whether they're on our regular teams or our show teams, using our techniques and we take a lot of pride that we worked three punt teams, three kickoff teams, two punt return, two kickoff return, three field goal teams, etc. I think the more guys you prepare, because at the end of the day those last maybe eight to 10 spots you don't know they're going to be at the beginning of camp, so you're preparing all of those guys, number one. Number two, if they play well they have an opportunity if we release them they have a chance to go somewhere else and make a team. I think I owe it to those guys to train those guys and give them opportunities because they work real hard for us and we got a good bunch of guys this year.
Q: What's your philosophy on returning kickoffs from deep in the endzone, is your thinking that the upside outweighs the downside?
A: It should. We're a very aggressive team, we always have been whether we had Percy Harvin or Cordarrelle Patterson, whoever has been back there. We feel like we can make a big play anytime that we have that opportunity. I think when it's seven or eight yards deep and it's real, real high or if it's more in one corner or the other, that's when we should take a knee and we haven't in the past, that's where we've changed our philosophy a little bit, but we're still going to be an aggressive team on kickoff return to help our offense get great field position or give our guys a chance to score.
Q: How has Cordarrelle Patterson's effort and attitude been with different players getting a chance to return kicks during the preseason?
A: His attitude has been great. He knows we're working different guys, he knows we have to prepare in case he's not the kickoff returner, if he's injured or if he's involved in the offense a lot more, whatever the case may be. When he's fresh, he'll be back there, healthy he'll be back there, so he knows that he will get more touches as the preseason goes on to prepare him for the regular season. Compared to last year, he already has more returns than he did, or opportunities, because last year, I think he had one or two the whole preseason, this year we're going to use him a little bit more to prepare him for the season.
Q: What is your thought process in trying so many different kickoff returners?
A: Once again it's giving guys the opportunity. DuJuan Harris was Green Bay's kickoff returner, I want to give him an opportunity. Joe Banyard is back there because he's trying to make this football team, I want to give him an opportunity. Marcus Sherels will more than likely be our kickoff returner if everything works according to, of course what I would like, obviously, he's our good punt returner and he's an excellent back-up kickoff returner and he can play halfback on our kickoff return team because he's an effective blocker, as well, no matter what his size is. We've got guys back there that could play returner or halfback, we're trying to prepare them to do both.
Q: Do you feel that the punt return phase has been the strongest special teams phase?
A: We're gaining a lot of yards, our blocks have been really good. We've had the benefit of going double-vise pretty much every time and that's not going to be realistic because we're not going to be able to do that during the season. 4th-and-short I can't have six in the box, they could fake it at any time. Obviously, we're out there to defend against the fake first or any broken formation or whatever the case may be and then from there hope to get a big return. We've been working a lot of technique right now, assuming that the other team isn't going to fake a punt this early in the preseason and then as we go on to the rest of the preseason and in to the regular season we have to prepare for those type of situations and we won't be able to double-vise the gunners every time. So, take it with a grain of salt. I know we're doing really good things with the punt return game, but knowing that we're going to have to change our philosophy in what we call somewhat as we go forward.
Q: At what point do you start to change that philosophy?
A: This week or next week and then on for the rest of the season because everybody is working technique right now and we're doing such a good job returning kicks, if it's 4th-and-1 and they're kicking from their 50 and we have six in the box, they might fake it and we don't want that happening in the preseason or regular season, obviously.
Q: Is it hard to balance Stefon Diggs and Marcus Sherels, they seem like two different types of returners, Diggs more explosive, Sherels more sure-handed and a possession guy?
A: I wouldn't describe Marcus [Sherels] as a sure-handed possession guy at all. He is that, but he's much more than that, he's very explosive. I don't know what his career average is, but I know I think it might be the highest in our team's history. He is number one, so he's a very explosive returner as well. Stefon [Diggs] has had the benefit of some really good blocking and he's done a great job of hitting the seams and Marcus has had two pretty explosive returns himself without the benefit of as much blocking. They're very similar in that they're quick and shifty and they're both explosive. I think it's a great battle so far.
Q: Are you still uneasy at times when Stefon Diggs is back there fielding punts?
A: I'm getting more confidence in him. I think the more confidence I see from him, the more confident I will be. Right now I think he's doing a real nice job.