Hartman: Vikings try improving flexibility, pass coverage

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 2, 2014 - 12:23 AM

Linebacker Chad Greenway says coach Mike Zimmer wants more versatile and aggressive defenders.

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Coach Mike Zimmer worked with linebacker Chad Greenway during a recent Vikings practice.

Photo: Mark Vancleave, Star Tribune file

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Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said the defense under new coach Mike Zimmer will be mostly a 4-3 alignment, as it was under the previous coaching staff, and not a 3-4 as has been speculated.

“We’ll look like a 4-3 defense, which is what we are for the most part,” said Greenway, coming up on his ninth season with the team. “ Of course, Coach Zimmer and Coach [George] Edwards are very good at manipulating the front and making it look different.

“But really, you’re going to notice the biggest difference in our coverage. We used to sit back in a zone the majority of the time, for the past eight years, basically. Now we’re not going to be doing much of that at all. We’re going to be playing a lot of matchup stuff. That makes defenses a little more difficult to learn. There’s a lot of moving parts to each defense, and they’re all a little different, and you just have to work through those kinks. And now is the time to do it.”

While 2013 was not a good season for the Vikings defense, Greenway said: “We had some good years in that defense that we ran. Having said that, obviously, Coach Zimmer has had success wherever he’s gone. I’m really not one to question his ability to coach, and he’s done an awesome job coming in, and his defense is proven to work. I think the biggest thing is guys believing in the right thing and working together.”

Greenway, a first-round draft choice out of Iowa in 2006, said he believes the coaches are trying to get a feel for how the players fit into the system. He has started at outside linebacker his entire career but could wind up playing some at middle linebacker this season.

“Coach Zimmer has also preached just being flexible,” Greenway said. “We’re only going to dress five or six [linebackers], and you’re going to have to have the ability to play multiple positions. We’ll see how that all shakes out.

“Starting [at outside linebacker] over my entire NFL career and in college, it’s definitely a different perspective. It’s amazing how everybody thinks it would be the same. The reality is, there are a lot of differences in it. The assignments are obviously different, but you’re also taking on different kinds of people when you’re taking on blocks. You’re taking on a lot more guards … and of course you’re playing in the box. You’ve got to play downhill. So there are different requirements, but very similar to what I’ve always done.”

Greenway welcomed the return of Jasper Brinkley, who played with Arizona last year.

“Jasper has always been very good at playing in the box,” Greenway said. “He can play downhill against the running game. And where Jasper has always been working to improve is his ability to drop into coverage. I think he’s a lot lighter than he was two years ago, and his athleticism is showing, and he’s got a good chance to show us.”

Greenway also is high on Audie Cole, a seventh-round pick by the Vikings in the 2012 draft from North Carolina State.

“When Audie came in last year, I thought he played really well,” Greenway said. “Obviously, coming off the bench and getting thrown in there like he did, you never really know what to expect from a kid. But everybody thought he did a really good job with the opportunity he was given. They’re going to keep giving him opportunities to play, and now they’re going to figure out what the best place is for him.”

Greenway also expects the team to get some help from two 2013 rookie linebackers from Penn State, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, and the Vikings expect top draft choice Anthony Barr from UCLA to contribute.

“We have young guys that are trying to come up and get playing time, we have old guys like myself who are trying to continue to get better, and then we have rookies coming in who are thirsty to see that field.” Greenway said. “In Anthony’s case, it’s going to be to live up to his draft position. But those guys we drafted last year are looking very good.”

The Vikings finished 31st in defense last year, losing many games in the final seconds. The only way to go is up.

“That’s clearly the worst defense I’ve ever been on,” Greenway said. “It was very disheartening to put as much work in as we did, and then go out on game day and just not be able to get the job done. The reality is we’re going to be a lot better. There’s just no way that we can’t be. We know there are a lot of new pieces this year and a lot of new things that look different, especially to our fans. We’re all buying into this, this is the right direction we’re moving, and we’re going to go that way full speed.”

The best news Greenway has had off the field is that his father is doing well after extensive treatments for leukemia.

“My dad is doing well and is back home in South Dakota,” Greenway said. “He’s still going through some things, and I don’t think his treatment ever will truly be over from his leukemia, but we hope it’s as minimal as possible. They’re amazing down there at the Mayo Clinic. It’s a special place, and pretty cool for Minnesotans to know it’s right here and they have access to it.”

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