MOBILE, ALA. - Standing just in front of the south end zone at Ladd Peebles Stadium on Monday afternoon, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier showcased that familiar pose: left arm wrapped across his chest, right hand resting on his chin and eyes surveying all the action unfolding in front of him.
During the first official Senior Bowl practice, Frazier had plenty to observe. Yes, there were the 52 players assigned to his North team for the week, all looking to improve their stock as NFL prospects. Yet the Vikings coach also had great interest in watching his recently modified coaching staff in action, with Fred Pagac and Mike Singletary now sharing work with the linebackers, Brendan Daly breathing fire among the defensive linemen and new coordinator Alan Williams overseeing the entire defense.
Consider this week a trial run for what's ahead. Oh, and just to make it perfectly clear, Frazier is excited about the new coaching setup and even more giddy about what this week offers as the Vikings attempt to bury last season's 3-13 misery and plant the seeds for a 2012 rebirth.
"This is beautiful," Frazier said. "I'm telling you, this is a blessing to be able to do this. Because it gives us a head start on 2012. That extra minicamp we didn't have a year ago, this is it. This is big for our staff, big for our coaches. It kind of helps put the bad taste of 2011 out of your mind for a little bit. Because we have to be so focused on what we need to get done here."
Frazier has made it perfectly clear, both with his rhetoric and with his recent coaching changes, that improving the defense is a top priority. On Monday, he revealed that Pagac will now take the lead in coaching the linebackers with Singletary chiming in some but also serving in his assistant head coaching role, a role in which he can help Frazier with other big picture matters.
Frazier remains reluctant to specify the reasons for Pagac's demotion, a move he called "a hard, hard deal."
"This is the decision that was made. And I asked him to accept it, which is hard to do," Frazier said. "I didn't want him to leave. But I understood if he had told me, 'I can't take it. I want to leave.' But he didn't say that. He decided he wanted to stay on the staff and help our football team in 2012."
This week's workshop in Alabama certainly helps to quell any potential awkwardness on the Vikings staff, with all of the coaches settling into their new roles and establishing new dynamics.
For Williams, who spent 10 years in Indianapolis coaching defensive backs, the leap to become a coordinator for the first time will come with many challenges.
Frazier remembers when he made the leap in 2003 with the Bengals, pointing out that he had to make strides in learning how to communicate effectively with an entire defense.
On Monday, Frazier reaffirmed his intention to be very hands-on with the defense in the immediate future, vowing to set a tone and establish clear expectations for how he wants things to evolve. That said, he's promising not to usurp Williams' authority, wanting the new coordinator to establish his voice in his new surroundings.
"One of the things I talked to Alan about was don't just look at our defense and say, 'OK they've played some good defense in the past. So let's just stay with what they've done,' " Frazier said. "I told him, 'Go in, bring some of your own ideas. Whatever changes you think are necessary to make, make those changes. Everybody will get on board.
"Whether it be the language, whether it be the scheme. Whatever it is, just peel it back and figure out what you think is going to be best for us and we'll talk it through and just see if we can get the personnel to make it work."