A Viking Underground Exclusive Interview with Brian Billick
ďThe more detailed and specific a game plan can be laid out for a player, the more he can perform with confidence and efficiency. The way we install and practice our game plans with the Minnesota Vikings has been very helpful in providing me with the information and tools I need to do a job more properly. Coach Billickís detailed and comprehensive approach is one of the reasons we have been able to produce the record amount of offense we have over the last few years.Ē
Warren Moon, former Vikings Quarterback
from Developing an Offensive Game Plan by Brian Billick
In 1993 Brian Billick took over the Minnesota Viking offensive coordinator role. By seasonís end the offensive attack was averaging 351.7 yards and 21.6 points per game. In 1994, with eight new starters, Billick led his unit to third place in the NFL in total offense and second in the NFL in pass offense. In 1995, Minnesota set a team season record for points scored with 412, and his offense ranked fourth in the league with 5,938 yards. Last season, with a young quarterback accounting for 55 percent of total snaps, Billickís offense went into the playoffs as one of only three teams in the NFC to be ranked in the top five offensively in the past three years.
For forty minutes on a day when the main topic amongst Minnesotans was sandbags and floods, I sat down with the former BYU tight-end to discuss the upcoming season at length.
VU: The month of April starts out with April Foolís Day. On April 1 this year a radio station in Indianapolis reported that a trade was in the works with the Vikings in which the Colts received Robert Smith, James Manley, the Vikingsí first round pick and second round pick with the Vikings receiving Marshall Faulk, Tony Siragusa and Indyís third round pick. Did you hear about this gag and would the Vikings have considered it?
BB: No, I didnít.
VU: Do you think the Vikings would have considered that trade at all?
BB: Oh, you know, thereís any number of combinations and scenarios you could throw up. Whether that was actually proposed or not I couldnít say. Iím not privy to that information sometimes. Just to back up, weíre very hopeful of signing Robert Smith. Robertís history has been a unique one. Obviously a little injury-prone. Thereís no question he is a viable talent in the NFL. Had he been able to continue and finish the year along the same vein that he started the first eight games, thereís no doubt in my mind he would have led the league or been second in the league in rushing.
I know thereís frustration on the part of some fans and certainly no more than we coaches in the terms of the potential that Robert holds, but obviously heís not been able to take a whole season through fruition. So, itís an ongoing process that we have to evaluate. How far can we go with Robert, how far can we attempt to extrapolate his abilities to stay healthy versus, what are the other available options?
Coming into this draftís a perfect example. We signed Leroy Hoard. Weíd very much like to have Robert with that one-two punch. That would be a viable running game going into this season. This is a draft year with a unusually large number of good running backs. Not necessarily the top two or three picks in the draft, but you could see as many as five, six, seven backs go in the first two rounds, anywhere from mid-first to the end of the second. Thereís some good quality backs.
We have to make a quantitative decision of do we take one of these backs with our first or second pick, foregoing Robert with the idea that heís not under contract, he has had an injury problem, or, what we prefer to do is have Robert under contract because what we believe is that he can have that full season. And address some other needs with those picks. The problem is that Robert has to show his commitment to us as well, preferably before the draft, so that we donít have to make one of those types of decisions.
So, those are the types of scenarios weíre always dealing with. A trade possibility, whether that was viable or not, youíre asking the wrong guy. Those are some intriguing names, certainly, and you consider anything thatís brought up but that by no way means we have given up on Robert Smith. We are, in fact, anxious [to have him]. And I, as the offensive coordinator, am looking forward to having him back this year, if indeed, we can get it done.
VU: Turning to your offensive front line, how important was it to resign Randall McDaniel?
BB: Well, you always, you have to start the free agency process, the evaluation of talent process, with who is absolutely mandatory to this organization from a player standpoint. Randall McDaniel, thereís no question, is the best guard in all of pro football. I think thatís quantitatively documented in terms of the Pro Bowls. No matter how many coaches you visit with, they would love to have Randall McDaniel.
The problem you always face within the organization is then you have to put a dollar figure on that, and itís not a matter of just what are we going to spend but what are you willing to spend within the entire paradigm of what else you need on the club. The players and the fans have to recognize itís not a matter of spending the $41 million dollars on the cap. We will do that.
The question is, who, where, do you take that money from? If Randall McDaniel signs a $3.3 million contract, then that means those dollars have to come somewhere else within the club out of somebody elseís money, someone elseís pocket so to speak. So thatís the dilemma that you face. From a football standpoint you have to keep a player the caliber of Randall McDaniel. From an organizational standpoint of what Randall brings to the community, what heís meant to this team, it would have been extremely unfortunate [to have lost him]. Although it can easily happen and it does on several teams. It would have been extremely unfortunate to lose someone of Randallís impact, both on the organization and the community.
VU: When you found out that Jeff [Diamond] had signed Randall, how did you personally celebrate it? Did you jump into the air, yell out a window?
BB: Yeah, Iím pretty reserved that way but thereís just a real sigh of relief for just the reasons I noted. The fact that we feel like the offensive line is a good, solid offensive line, it is a relatively young line that is now with every year becoming more mature. The fact that theyíve worked together now for an entire year and have a certain functionality about them and the ability to communicate with one another and know one another, itís just a positive. If you take any of them out of the mix, that loss changes that equation. It changes that balance, and itís nice to not have to address that during training camp.
VU: Everett Lindsay is playing in the WLAF this spring. What plans do you have for Everett this year at the center spot or will he be backing up at the guard/tackle position?
BB: Well, we feel pretty good about our starters across the board. Obviously everybodyís gonna have a chance to impact the starting lineup. Everett Lindsay is someone who started for us a number of games his rookie year, thrown into the pit so to speak, and equated himself quite well. What Everett has to prove in the World League, not so much prove, maybe not the right word: One, he has to prove that, indeed, heís healthy and can get through a season, even a quasi-season like the World League. Thatíll be important for him. Secondly, to kind of get back into a football framework, frame of mind, and ability to function within a framework of a team because heís been out of it for an extended period of time now. Ah, thatís gonna be very important for him.
When he comes back to training camp, we have to make sure that we as coaches understand heís been through a ten game season now. And weíve got to make sure we donít put so much on him in training camp that we hurt him or step back in terms of what heís been able to accomplish in the World League coming in with us. We could have ourselves a very viable [player], what appears to be backup now, but thatís not to say Everett couldnít put himself in a starting role somewhere down the season, particularly due to injury.
VU: Korey Stringer has been playing at around 340 lbs. Are you happy with the weight that Korey plays at?
BB: Koreyís proven he can play at that weight and above. Experience tells us that an athlete of that size and that build has a much better chance of getting through the season healthy and extending his career if he can get his weight down. Korey knows this. The biggest concern is injury. He can play at that weight; heís proven it. Can he hold off the injury? Can he play effectively at the end of the year when fatigue sets in? When you carry that extra weight, thatís all a factor. From an ideal situation, yeah, we would like, as would Korey, I think, to get his weight down. But can he play at 340, 350 pounds? Yeah, he can.
VU: Has he gained any quickness since his rookie year?
BB: Itís hard to say. You know Korey is really quite a good athlete and is so powerful and so strong, once heís got his hands on a defender, heís got him. And thatís a great attribute to have at tackle. Itís hard for me to quantify, to say if heís any quicker. He was pretty quick when he came in for a man that size. Heís certainly gained more experience. And youíve got to remember how young Korey was, coming out as an underclassman. [He] would just be coming out this year, actually, in normal circumstances. So anything he has is above the curve or ahead of the learning curve so to speak. His best football may very well still be ahead of him.
VU: When Randall McDaniel does finally retire, would you see Todd Steussie stepping in as the leader of the offensive front line?
BB: Yeah, that group is a group that certainly there will be a leader who will emerge but itís [a line] that tends to be very close knit and works together from the standpoint that there doesnít necessarily need to be one definitive guy. Randallís not a particularly vocal individual, although he certainly leads by his example and leads by his performance. Ultimately, a leader, thatís the only way he really can lead - via performance. Jeff Christy, by nature of the position, has taken on a great deal of leadership qualities because of the nature of what he does, the line calls. And the guys rely on him in that way.
Obviously if Randall were to leave, Jeffís role would be even more increased than it is even now, and he has kind of taken on a leadership role of that group, as well. Although in terms of the heart and soul of the group, the anchor of the group, yes, certainly Todd with his abilities, his experience now, I could easily see Todd with his mental approach to the game, with his toughness, his work ethic, I could see Todd kind of absorbing more of that role.
VU: A person like Steussie, who gets involved in the community as well as the team, must be a joy to coach?
BB: Oh, absolutely, heís one of the few guys we have who stays here year round. He has a home and makes his home here year round. And for obvious reasons, during the winter thatís a hard thing to get players to do, particularly players from a warm climate area, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, California, Arizona. Those are awful nice places to be in January and February. So when you have someone of Toddís playing ability, his caliber, his commitment to the team, stay here year round and then, thus, be a part of the community on a day-to-day basis, itís a real positive for the organization and for us as the coaching staff.
VU: Who do you think will be your starting tight end this year?
BB: Well, you know [when] we came out of [the season], we rotated the tight ends in a number of ways. Hunter Goodwin, I guess, came out as the most identifiable starter for us, had a tremendous rookie year. Youíd like to see that kind of quantitative leap in ability and in experience take him to that next level. Andrew Jordan, weíve had a lot of hopes in his first couple of years. [He] showed a lot of promise, struggled a little last year, but is one of the best workers, so I can see Andrew exerting himself this year.
The tight end position is an interesting one, in that, being a former tight end myself, obviously I lean towards that. We have to have 50 or better receptions from that position, not an individual necessarily, but from that position. We had that every year up til last year and it made a difference for us. It made us put more pressure on the outside receivers. It limited the quarterback in certain aspects. So one of our goals this year is to clearly establish the tight end position as that viable receiving position. And the best way to note that is, again, weíre talking between 50 and 60 receptions on the year.
VU: From the following list which answer best describes Texas standout Hunter Goodwinís size A) a Texas BBQ B) a stallion C) a cattle ranch D) the Alamo?
BB: Well, I tell ya, heís a stallion from the standpoint that he is a much better athlete, an all-around athlete, than a lot of people know. They think of Hunter, he was a tackle at [Texas] AM, coming in as a heck of point-of-attack guy for us. You can quantitatively measure the difference in our running attack and what we were able to do from that Oakland game on, when he and David Dixon were inserted into the lineup. So people think of him in that capacity.
What that belies is his overall athletic ability. Heís probably as fast a tight end as we have on the club, has excellent hands. So the only thing thatís really limiting him right now in terms of being that all-around tight end is really experience. Itís not like weíre trying to take just a point-of-attack tight end and trying to see if thereís things he can do down the field. He has the athletic ability to do that. So if he can get experience from a comprehensive stand point, you could be seeing one of the top tight ends in the NFL.
VU: Hunter plays hard and was involved in several training camp fights with Jeff Brady last year in Mankato. Has he been able to keep his head on the field to this point?
BB: Well, thatís something that Denny Green in particular has always stressed that we canít tolerate. Just the lack of focus, the lack of professionalism, what that represents when an athlete reacts in that way. But itís a very fine line. This is a very aggressive, combative type of profession. And you ask the players to walk a very fine line and maintain that mental attitude, that aggressiveness and assertiveness but keep it right at a point where it doesnít spill over after a play.
Itís something that Hunter has to work on, something that weíre consciously working with him on. Mike Tice, in particular last year. And as the season progressed, Hunter had the good sense not to let it spill into a game. So when you see that, you begin to recognize thatís something heíll be able to deal with and control, and I doubt that weíll have a lot more instances like that from Hunter.
VU: How is Robert Smithís knee doing?
BB: In talking with the doctors and the trainers, they feel extremely good about how his ability to come into training camp from day one and be one hundred percent.
VU: Has he been doing just light running drills at this point?
BB: No, I think heís actually been more assertive than that. Robert doesnít train here in the off-season. Heís back in Columbus [Ohio] going to school and fulfilling other requirements that he has toward that. But Robert has always been a diligent trainer. From what I understand heís ahead of schedule and should be ready to go by training camp.
VU: James Stewart, howís his leg looking?
BB: Again, heís someone who has responded very well to the training, should be ready to go here in this mini-camp and into training camp one hundred percent. Heís another one that obviously, itís time for him to stay healthy. Itís time for him to see what his abilities and potentials can provide for us. And weíre looking for a big training camp from James.
VU: With the signing of Leroy Hoard and the eventual signing of Smith, do you plan on using a two back set at all this season?
BB: Well, we were in a lot of two back last year. We were in more two back last year than we have been at any point since Iíve been here. The problem with the two back that people have to consider is, when you have two backs, you only have one ball. And if you give it to Robert Smith, Leroy Hoard has to be a blocker. If you give it to Leroy Hoard, Robert Smith has to be a blocker.
Now thatís not to say they canít do that, but if youíre talking about x-amount of snaps that you want to put an athlete through, the idea of having a Leroy Hoard and a Robert Smith, the positive is that they can balance each other. No one guy has to take the entire load for a very long sixteen game season. So to use them up in that lead back capacity, you might not be using them at their optimum level of efficiency. Although having them both in the backfield is something we would do.
Certainly, having Chuck Evans and now a Harold Morrow, and we used Chuck Evans in that capacity a lot last year, we increased our two back offense by a good 20 percent last year having Chuck Evans in the backfield. And Greg DeLong to a certain degree, even though heís a tight end, is more in the H-back or full back capacity. The two back mentality, whether it be a Greg DeLong or Chuck Evans or an Amp Lee and a Robert Smith or a Robert Smith and Leroy Hoard, will account for probably close to 50, maybe even 60 percent of our attack.
VU: You have an exciting season approaching in the quarterback department. My contacts at Florida State tell me that Brad Johnson wants to show everyone that he is ready to earn that big contract he signed last year, as opposed to a certain Lions QB, and has been working out alone on the FSU campus. To what extent have you and quarterback coach Ray Sherman been working with Brad during the off-season?
BB: We work with Brad extensively. Brad in his first five years here, no one spent more time here in the off-season doing more than Brad Johnson. But Brad has reached a point, both in the terms of his status as a starter, his knowledge of the system. As we alluded to, this is a very long season. You have to have a very specific program in the off-season as to how you want to progress. Athletes can actually do too much. Particularly with the quarterback, you can throw too much.
We have three, three-day quarterback schools beginning in the beginning of March up to training camp. We have one in April that weíre about to do here on the 14th, 15th and 16th of next week. And then weíll do one prior to mini-camp. And each is designed with a specific task of working out, throwing, working into that familiarity with your receivers, going over different aspects of the offense. But it still gives the players enough time off so that they come into training camp fresh.
So we have a very specific program with Brad that weíre right in the middle of. Brad is constantly receiving tapes and contact from us. Brad is one of those athletes you donít worry about where he does his training because you know heís going to train. Heís very diligent about it. Heís not someone that you have to have here and have to constantly monitor it, much like Warren [Moon]. Warren was a meticulous trainer and Bradís taken on those same qualities and will be in great shape when he comes to training camp.
VU: What single thing impressed you the most about Brad last season?
BB: People donít understand just how difficult it is to come in and perform at the level Brad did coming off the bench to do so. For him to accomplish what he did, if you take Bradís 300-some odd throws, which accounts for better than 55 percent of our attack last year, and you extrapolate that over the entire 565-some odd throws that we took.
In other words, if you were to take Bradís eight games and extrapolate that out to an entire season, and I don't think thatís a far-fetched notion, and itís not like taking a guy that performed well in two or three games, and say ďOh, well, if he did this over 16, this is what it would amount to.Ē He had good games, he had not-so-good games, so itís a representative picture over what he might do over the entire season
Youíre looking at a 4000-plus yard, 31 touchdown, only 27 sack and 18 interception year. That would have ranked clearly in the top four or five in the league last year. That would put Brad in the top ten of all-time years in the history of the Vikings, only behind the two that Warren had in Ď94 and Ď95. So you can see where our excitement comes from.
And for Brad to have done that, in many instances where the game plan was really wrapped around Warren, Warren goes down, and Brad comes in and has to execute [Warrenís] game plan, not that thereís a huge amount of difference, but one that maybe wasnít built with necessarily with his strengths in mind. And to come in and win the games that Brad did and then to be in and out as a starter, to have the run of starting games that he did as we were able to wrap the offense more around him, I think, is a real indicator of his talent. And I really think we have one of the good, possibly great, young quarterbacks in the game right now.
VU: Was there any thing last season that did disappoint you about Brad?
BB: You know, Iím so close to Brad, weíve been together since day one here, that itís hard for me to verbalize those. There are any number of things that as a coach, yeah, you wish you could have back with regard to certain throws. It also applies to calls I may have made, so itís not simply geared towards Brad. Brad remained tough, positive, confident, executed the offensive level far beyond my expectations, and I had pretty high expectations of Brad, more so than probably anybody. I just really donít see any negatives. I know the Dallas game was a disappointment for him. Some people point to that.
And with regards to Bradís contract, Bradís already earned that contract. Just by what heís done with this organization, heís paid his dues. Weíre not a benevolent organization here that just hands out money because theyíre good guys. Brad earned that contract. Now whether he lives up to it, or earns the next contract, weíll find out, but heís earned every dollar of that contract he got. People will look at it and think that we overpaid for Brad. I think by yearís end, people will look back and say, ďBoy, theyíre stealing from this kid. They got him for a bargain basement price based on what he was able to do.Ē
So there are positives from both standpoints. I donít see any negatives for Brad. I really donít. Coming in, I just think heís going to have an excellent year for us. Obviously there are going to be some ups and downs. There are with quarterbacks but Brad has proven that heíll handle those well.
VU: Did you work out Randall Cunningham today?
BB: Yeah, sure did.
VU: How was your assessment of him?
BB: Looked great. Physically, I donít think thereís any question that Randallís in great physical shape. He threw the ball very effectively. He has the athletic skills heís always had. Now obviously at the stage heís at, 32, 33, whatever it is exactly, you know, heís not what he was at 25, 26. But heís still quantitatively better than 90 percent of the guys in the league, probably in terms in of his ability to run around and make something happen. I hope that we can get that done.
I think [the Vikings are] the right fit for Randall. I think Randall thinks itís the right fit for him. Obviously the finances have to be a factor, based on whatever opportunities he may have, but I think heíd be an excellent addition for us to work in conjunction with Brad Johnson. He understands clearly that Brad is the starter and that he is here simply to give us veteran experience if something should happen to Brad.
VU: What kind of teacher do you think he would be for Brad?
BB: I think heíd be excellent. Now Bradís been around some pretty good people. Some different personalities from Sean Salisbury to Warren Moon to Jim McMahon. Brad is at that point in his career [when it comes time] to assert his own personality. He doesnít need a lot of mentoring as he did early in his career. But to be around a guy like Randall Cunningham whoís been in the Pro Bowl, whoís had a certain level of success, who has a very positive, upbeat outlook on life, as does Brad, I think theyíll get along real well and learn a lot from each other.
VU: Last year after observing Jay Walker at mini-camp and training camp, I personally predicted heíd be the third quarterback over Chad May. I came away very impressed with him. How has Jayís development been this off-season and could he feasibly be the No. 2 guy this year?
BB: He could. Like everybody, when you bring someone in with that lack of experience as your number two guy, you worry. And many teams are in that predicament. But my biggest, oh what am I looking for, my biggest..., the most positive aspect about Jay Walker to me is that he certainly brings all the attributes you look for in a quarterback. Heís got size, extremely mobile, excellent athlete, quick release, accurate, strong arm, extremely intelligent.
Jay has a unique background that heís never been able to spend time with an organization for any extended period. He went from pro baseball to Long Beach State. They drop the program, he goes to Howard, immediately raises the level of that program from a mediocre .500 team to 9-2, 9-2, back-to-back championship seasons. Goes to New England, makes that ball club, learning another system. Then goes to the World League to enhance his skills, learning another system. Then comes back, ends up here with us. Hereís another system.
So itís my hope that if Jay can get some continuity of coaching, not to say he wasnít coached well before, but just the same coach over a period of time, that heíll really be able to build on his attributes as a quarterback. Work him into the system that heís with, and all the potential that he shows physically and mentally will come together in a combination to be a true NFL quarterback. And I think he shows signs of being that.
VU: Will we see any turns at QB this year from David Palmer?
BB: Ah, not necessarily, no. Weíve got to inject David into the offense some way. Injuries have been a bit of a problem for him. Thereís a number of different ways we might do that. Weíve got to get David focused on a particular position where he can contribute to the offense, let alone throwing him in for a couple of snaps as quarterback on the goal line or run the option or something of that nature. Certainly if he can establish his place on the offense on a more consistent level, to the point where he becomes comfortable with that, yeah, it could expand to that in a unique situation. But the plans right now obviously are to get David functioning on a regular basis within the offense in a traditional role.
VU: Any more throws by the magic gloved hand of Chris Walsh this year?
BB: (Laughter) Gloved or ungloved? Well, itís a test. Weíll give him another try out on it. And see if Cris wants to, if Cris Carter wants to see if we can do that again. Weíre not a big gadget team, but I know Iíll hear about it all year from Chris, wanting another shot at it.
VU: We know you have two great receivers in Cris Carter and Jake Reed. This coming season who do you see filling in the No. 3 spot in three receiver formations?
BB: Well, we hope to have Qadry back, but, obviously with the advent of free agency, thereís a real chance that we could lose Qadry. If thatís the case, Chris Walsh has deserved a shot, obviously, and has proven very useful to us and very productive when he has been in to play. Tony Bland is a young man that was with us under the developmental squad that has a tremendous amount of physical skills very similar to Jake Reed at this point in his development. And there have been some off-season acquisitions, as well as the [upcoming] draft. That could be a place for us to address that need.
VU: Two seasons ago, the defensive coordinator, Tony Dungy, coached the game from the press box. Last year, Coach Fazio joined you on the sidelines. Did that create any adjustment for you, and how would you describe your relationship with Foge during a game?
BB: Ah, we really donít have that much interaction. Foge and I get along very well, as did Tony and I. Calling a game from the press box or the field, thereís pros and cons to both. I know some people have questioned why I do it from the field. Iíve done it from the field since Iíve been here. Thatís something Denny and I are very comfortable with. Oddly enough, the people that have been most critical of that within the profession, thinking that you can only call the game from the box, are now on the field because of the communicator and are doing that.
You might also note, that as you visit and talk to people like Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs and Norv Turner, these are all people, that in a clinical environment would say, yes, calling from the box is a perspective thatís probably best to call a game from. But they all did their best and most productive play calling as head coaches on the field.
So the advent of the communicator, more than anything else, the quarterback communicator, is whatís brought most coordinators down onto the field. And a majority of coordinators are now on the field, offensively. Defensively, itís a matter of preference. Tony preferred to be in the box. Foge, I know a lot of defensive coordinators prefer to be on the field, to judge, particularly from a defensive standpoint, to get the feel of the game, judge the emotion of the defense, and the pacing of the game. And thatís personal preference.
You really donít have much interaction with one another on the field, so itís kind of a moot point as to one being, one or the other. But Foge and I get along very well, work very well together.
VU: In the upcoming draft on April 19 are there any specific offensive areas you will try to address or will you just get the best person available regardless of need?
BB: Thatís kind of a misnomer. You always want to get the best athlete available. And in the first round, maybe even in the second round, that can be quantified to where thereís some very distinct differences between this position or that. By the time you get to the third, fourth, fifth round where itís hard to quantitatively say, is the lineman or the receiver available truly the 175th best player available or is he really the 180th? You know what Iím saying?
So at that point it tends to fall a little bit more to need, as to what you need, whether it be a receiver or quarterback, a DB or lineman. And you can pretty much talk yourself into saying, ďYeah, the 200th rated player on the board really is a lineman as opposed to a wide receiverĒ if thatís what your need is. In the early rounds youíve got to go with the best athlete available, regardless, and thereís always enough needs across the board that youíre gonna get somebody that can help you.
VU: If you could draft one running back from this yearís college draft, who would you pick?
BB: Oh, gosh, thatís, I don't know that you could bring it down to a particular running back. Guys like [Corey] Dillon from Washington, [Byron] Hanspard, [Jay]Graham at Tennessee, youíve got some excellent athletes in there. Davis, Troy Davis from Iowa State is very impressive. I mean, you have a nice diversity of big, strong, physical backs that have a great deal of speed. So, to quantify which one, weíll probably have to wait for the draft to see, if indeed, we take one. And thatíll answer your question directly. But any of those show, like I said, you could see anywhere of six to eight backs, which would be inordinately high, six to eight backs go in the first two rounds.
VU: A quarterbackís not a need this year, but who do you see going as a top-rated quarterback?
BB: Oh, I think that [Jim] Druckenmiller is pretty much established as the top quarterback prospect this year, particularly with [Peyton] Manning not coming out. You could see him in the first round. You could see him in the second round. I think youíll see, similar to last year, really the last two years, that thereís one or two guys whoíll go relatively high. Then thereís some guys that were expected to go [high] but all of a sudden drop into the third, fourth, fifth round. I think youíll see that this year. I think youíll see Druckenmiller go high. You could see, say, a Pat Barnes from Cal go in the second round.
And then, depending on just how the way it falls, you could see a guy like Jake Plummer, go in the third round or drop to the fourth or fifth round. Brad Otton from USC could be in the third round, second round, drop fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh round. So, as it was last year, you had two guys taken in the second round, everybody else dropped into the fourth round, and there were a couple guys in the sixth, seventh round. Itís not a particularly big year for quarterbacks. Thereís no, certainly not one marquee, top-five pick.
VU: Any college tight ends stand out for you?
BB: [There are a]Number of good college tight ends. [Tony] Gonzalez from Cal is gaining a lot of ground. [David] LaFleur from LSU is an excellent athlete, an excellent all-around, point-of-attack tight end. Those are the two most prominent ones that come to mind.
VU: Many analysts pick the Packers to repeat in the NFC this coming season. Except for Hank Stram. He says that the Packers have seen their receiving corps depleted and donít run the ball as well as they would like. Who do you see emerging as the top three NFC teams this coming season?
BB: Well, I think obviously, youíve got to look at the Packers as the reigning Super Bowl champs. Youíre the champs until someone knocks you off. Theyíve got balance, theyíre very well organized, excellent coaching staff, outstanding organization. Thereís no reason not to think theyíre not going to be one of the top teams.
Obviously you have to go with the past history of teams like San Francisco and Dallas. Itís always premature to eliminate teams of that caliber from the upper echelon, although, clearly they are in transition and thatís something we will see as the season progresses. But Dallas, regardless of the transition they go through, when you talking about a Michael Irvin, when youíre talking about an Emmitt Smith and an [Troy] Aikman, you still have the core of an outstanding football team. As long as Steve Young and Jerry Rice are on the same team, theyíre going to be outstanding. So, [the teams] are going to have to reestablish themselves in that upper echelon, and theyíre certainly capable of doing it.
[Then] you have teams like ourselves and Philadelphia and Carolina. Although [Philadelphia and Carolina] had excellent seasons last year, I think they would be clumped in that [second] level. I think San Francisco and Dallas may have come back into that level with the rest of us. These five, letís say, are teams that will be scrapping around with one another to push ourselves into that next echelon. And I think weíre in that echelon. I think we deserve it. Four out of five years in the playoffs.
I think I read in one publication, not that they tend to know, but, I read one that struck me as being fairly accurate. [It describes us as] a team with, a playoff caliber team that does not have a lot of apparent weaknesses, that is able to move into the next echelon if their young and up-and-coming quarterback has the type of season that last year boded and if our running attack via Robert Smith and a Leroy Hoard can maintain itself through the entire sixteen games. And I think thatís a very accurate assessment.
VU: At the end of last season the local media had you in as a shoe-in for another job. Can you briefly describe that experience and has that disappointment strengthened you in any way?
BB: Well, the nature of the position is that opportunities come along. Iíve had people approach me in varying degrees every year since Iíve been here about a head coaching position in the college ranks. Some intriguing, some not. The Fresno State job was one in particular because of being from California. The familiarity with who they play and what theyíre about was very intriguing to me.
When they contacted me, I set some very clear cut parameters as to what the circumstances would be that would get me to leave this position which I enjoy very much. You canít work for a better guy than Denny Green. I love what I do. I love where I live. My family loves Minnesota. So these are all factors that have to come into it. Unfortunately Fresno was not able to meet the total criteria that I had set.
So it really wasnít as much of a disappointment. It was a interesting experience, and any time you go through that experience, you learn something about yourself. Any time you have to verbalize yourself and put what youíre about up in front of somebody or a group of people, it tends to force you to clarify your position on some things and think about some things that are kind of in the back of your mind until theyíre brought to the forefront, in that circumstance.
But I love the job I have. I love working for the Vikings. Being an offensive coordinator in the National Football League is a very coveted position. Thereís only a handful of them, and I feel lucky and fortunate to be one of them.
VU: Whatís Brian Billicksí goal this year?
BB: Well, you have to be careful about the goals that you do want to set for two reasons. One, you may be limiting yourself too much and not setting the bar high enough. On the other end, you may be setting it at a level where you donít have the physical abilities to back it up and may be putting players in a positions with unreal expectations [of them].
I think, as we alluded to before, I think we are a solid playoff caliber team. We are fighting and scratching and doing everything we can to take ourselves to that next echelon. I think people are beginning to realize just how young a football team we are. And with every year, that experience will begin to pay off.
This off-season was an example in that we did not make a lot of huge free agent signings but only in the sense that we signed our own. Had anyone signed Randall McDaniel, they would have hailed that as ďtheĒ signing of their off-season. As the major addition to their team. All we did was maintain something we have. Jeff Brady, the same way. Getting Leroy Hoard signed back, hopefully Robert Smith. So weíve tried to focus on maintaining our own, of signing our own.
If we can do that, I think we are very much a playoff caliber team. Weíve proven that we can play with the best and can beat a Green Bay Packers. We have to be able to continue to do that. I think specifically, offensively, if thatís the nature of your question, I donít want to be self-serving here, but only three teams have been in the top five in the NFC offensively for the last three years in a row: Green Bay , Minnesota and San Francisco.
So I think weíre in pretty elite company in that regard. I see no reason that we will not maintain and be in that company again this year. And weíre going to have to be in order for us to succeed in the level we want. And take it a step further. Two of the last three years, weíve produced more yards and more points than in the history of the Vikings. And I think this team, if we can stay healthy, keep our goals in front of us, that thereís no reason this team isnít capable of breaking its own records.
VU: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to the great Vikings fans of Viking Fans On-Line and the Viking Underground web site?
BB: The bottom line that I try to communicate whenever I do anything of this nature or on a radio show or TV show is that Iím above all else a fan. Have been since I was a kid, like most of your patrons out there. I obviously want whatís best for the Vikings. The comments, even sometimes the criticisms, come from the fans who genuinely want whatís best for the Vikings. Iím constantly getting mail.
I enjoy it. I enjoy it when people recognize me, when Iím out in public, when I go to a movie or out to dinner. People come up, and I will say this, in the five years that Iíve been here, Iíve never had anybody come up that wasnít positive, upbeat, wanted the best for the Vikings. Now, yeah, maybe they want me to throw more, or run more or do more specials or throw more screens or hand the ball off to Robert Smith more or throw the ball more to Jake or whatever it may be, but thatís just being a fan and I love that. And I enjoy that and I try to propagate that as best as I can.
From that standpoint, I hope the fans can stay interested in what weíre doing, keep a high energy level for the Vikings, be realistic and see what is going on with regards to the Vikings, with regards to the youth that we have and some of the financial limitations that we have that do exist given the size of the market. And that weíve had some success. Over four of the past five years in the playoffs, there are any number of teams that would kill to get to that level, that would love to reach that level. Maybe our fans have become a little used to it. Weíre kind of a victim of our own successes.
If we can build on that [success] and if they will continue to generate the enthusiasm that I know is out there for us, we do feed on that. When we are home and the fans can get rockiní in the Dome, that that is a major plus for us.
And if we can build on that and they stick with us in that regard, I think weíll have the kind of season everybody wants.Posted by maasx003 at November 18, 2004 8:26 AM