Vikings look to get versatile LB Leber on field more
By Jon Krawczynski
AP Sports Writer
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Linebacker Ben Leber is one of the Minnesota Vikings’ best defensive players.
He is a sure tackler with good speed and excellent instincts and is rarely caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So it seems silly that for nearly all of his 20 career games in purple, Leber has only played on first and second down. He is almost always on the sideline when the Vikings bring their nickel package on the field for third down, with weak side linebacker Chad Greenway remaining on the field.
Coach Brad Childress wants to see that change.
"Yeah, that is something we are looking at," Childress said. "There is a little disparity there between his snaps and Greenway’s snaps. I think you will see that change."
As the Vikings (2-3) were preparing for a tough game in Dallas this weekend, that news came as a surprise to Leber, who had an interception and a sack in Sunday’s victory over the Bears.
"It’s been talked about in the papers in the last couple of days, as far as me getting out there on third downs, but we’ll see," Leber said Wednesday. "I don’t know. Whatever they present to us as an offense, we’ll just have to roll with it."
In the last year and a half, few teams have lined up against Leber and the rest of the Vikings’ stout run defense and tried to play smashmouth. More and more opposing offenses are spreading the defense out and throwing the ball all over the place.
The strategy helps take two of the most talented Vikings — Leber and defensive tackle Pat Williams — off the field and can open things up in the running game with draws and delays out of the shotgun.
"It’s been a little frustrating. I understand what my role on this team is. First- and second-down player," Leber said. "You kind of see those things coming but at the same time we’re doing such a good job against the run that a lot of people aren’t even putting in regular personnel.
"So it is kind of a Catch-22 in that aspect. When we’re doing good against the run then I just come out. If we can get some schemes or some opportunities then I’d love to take them."
It figures to be more of the same against the Cowboys (5-1) on Sunday. Dallas has two talented running backs in former Gophers star Marion Barber III and Julius Jones. But the Vikings are second in the league against the run, and it would seem logical that Tony Romo, Terrell Owens and Co. would have more success against Minnesota’s last-ranked pass defense.
Greenway is in his second season in the pros, and first on the field after missing all of last year with a knee injury. He has eagerly taken as many snaps as he can get, but is still getting fully up to speed with life in the NFL.
Leber, a fellow South Dakota native, has been there to help him every step of the way. The two friends are very similar when it comes to play on the field, and both the strong and weakside positions are virtually interchangeable in the Vikings’ defensive schemes.
"We will trade off to keep them both fresh because they both have the same skill sets to be able to do that stuff," Childress said.
Greenway is fine with that.
"Obviously, Ben’s a great player so it’s obviously going to be an advantage to have him on the field," Greenway said. "If that means giving up snaps or whatever, whatever it takes to win the game."
As far as Leber is concerned, he is going to believe it when he sees it.
"I’m excited if and when it comes about," Leber said. "But so far, there hasn’t been too many adjustments."