HEAD COACH LESLIE FRAZIER
How do you formulate a plan for the Chargers, a team that you don’t see often, coming off a lockout with a lot of new personnel?
I think it’s a challenge for every team in the National Football League without having an offseason and beginning your preparation in late July, but all teams are in a similar situation. You do what you have to do to try to prepare. Our guys have taken a great approach and they’ve had a terrific attitude since they reported on July 31. All things being considered, I think we’re in the right frame of mind.
I have so many fun memories of working with Bob. He’s a tremendous competitor, a game-changer, a guy who has great passion for the game and he practices that way. I think one of the reasons I have a second Super Bowl ring is because of Bob Sanders. He’s that type of player. He’s an impact player and just a terrific person as well. I love Bob to death. He’s a great person and a great player.
What was he like as a rookie compared to the guy you see playing now?
I didn’t have him his rookie year but in the early stages when I got there with him, I looked at him and said, ‘This guy’s going to be a Pro Bowl player one day.’ Sure enough, he became a Pro Bowl player while we were there. Just to see the transformation, he was so much (an in-the-box) safety and then he grew into being an overall good safety and a guy who could play well in coverage. He always could play well close to the line of scrimmage but he improved in the coverage aspect and really became a quarterback for our defense. He wasn’t just a guy you treated like a fourth linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. As he evolved, so did our defense because he had such an impact on everyone else.
When he first came in, were there those kinds of expectations?
Everybody knew he was a tough guy and could hit but I don’t think anybody expected him to be Defensive Player of the Year in the National Football League. I think everybody thought he was a good player but he just continued to improve and play with such passion. He’s making plays that, wait a minute, that’s not his play to make, and there he is making a play that should be the linebackers or should be the defensive end. Just everywhere. Those guys don’t come along very often. When he’s healthy, there’s no one better than Bob playing safety.
Has new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had the time to make his mark on the team, and if so, what is that mark?
I think he’s making his mark when you look at our preseason games and you watch how our offense has continued to improve game by game. You can attribute that to Bill. When you evaluate what Bill has done, you look at the way Donovan has continued to improve as well at quarterback. There was so much made of Donovan McNabb coming to Minnesota and whether he’d be able to pick up a new offense without an offseason, and the same with our young quarterbacks, and they’ve all three just gotten better every single game that we played in the preseason, which tells me that Bill and the rest of our offensive staff are doing the right thing. (Musgrave) is putting his imprint on our offense and it’s shaping up to be what we’re hoping that it will be.
Would it be fair to say he thinks more run first than pass first?
Yes. That’s one of the reasons he’s here. We really feel like everything revolves around our rushing attack starting with Adrian Peterson. Coming from Atlanta, it was similar with Michael Turner. As good as they were as a football team, it really started with their rushing attack in Atlanta.
McNabb isn’t young. Are you talking about his improvement in terms of his adaptation to an environment or just as a quarterback?
Just understanding the new offense and improving as we went along through the preseason. He’s already an established player in our league, a great player in our league, but to come in and grasp a new offense, there’s some nuances along the way that you have to get better at and he has.
What’s the difference between Donovan and previous quarterbacks that have been there?
I don’t know that you can compare him to other quarterbacks. I just know from my history with him in Philadelphia and just watching him here with our guys, he does a great job of interacting with his teammates. Right away you can see his leadership qualities and the affect he has on our football team. He brought instant credibility to our quarterback position the day we signed him here in Minnesota. That lifted everyone’s spirits when they saw he had the potential to be our starting quarterback. His interaction with our team has really helped our chemistry leading up to the San Diego game, which has probably at this point been his biggest contribution.
What do you see when you watch
He’s truly an All-Pro quarterback. It reminds me so much of those guys who are great in basketball who lift everybody else’s play. There aren’t many things he can’t do from the quarterback position. He’s a terrific young player.
Has it been less of a circus-like atmosphere in Minnesota this year? Last year seemed kind of crazy.
It’s been a different offseason and the approach of this regular season has been different as well. It was an unusual training camp. Our guys have been able to focus on what is, and that’s preparing for an NFL season and that’s where our attention has been. I don’t think anybody on our team has tried to look back or look beyond what we have to get done this coming Sunday and that’s where our focus has been. That’s where it needs to be. There were a lot of things that happened in 2010, but the guys that are here are really focused on 2011.
How close is your defense heading into Week 1 to being similar to defenses you’ve had there in recent years?
Without (nose tackle) Kevin Williams (suspension), that has an impact on how close we are to being what we were in the past, but the guys that are going to play on Sunday will give us a chance to be successful and they’ll step in and do a good job. We’re changing on defense and we’re asking some young guys to step up and help us to be the defense that we were in the past. That will be determined over time. I don’t know if this one game will determine that.
Obviously the Vikings are more than running the ball and the Chargers are more than passing the ball, but seeing as how you’re both good at those things, is getting a lead early and being able to play with your strength important in this game?
I think it is. But I don’t think it’ll be enough. San Diego is a very talented football team and I expect it to be a four-quarter football game. If they’re scoring or we’re scoring early I don’t think the game will be over. They are such a high-powered offense and they have a very good defense as well. I’m hoping that they’re not able to run away from us and I don’t think we’ll be able to run away from them.
McNabb and the receivers, how is the chemistry going and does he seem to be clicking with certain guys?
I think it’s been coming along well. He and Bernard Berrian seemed to have made a good connection, which we were hoping would happen. Michael Jenkins has made some good plays for our offense and been a recipient of some of Donovan’s passes. He’s connected well with (rookie tight end) Kyle Rudolph. The one area that we’re not certain about when it comes to the chemistry of our receivers is he and Visanthe Shiancoe. Shank missed the entire preseason so we haven’t had the two of them really working together and this will be the actual first week since the first week of training camp that they’ll get to work together. We’re hoping that they’ll develop a rapport because Shiancoe is a big part of our offense.
Donovan makes rapport come pretty easily, doesn’t he?
He’s tremendous in that way. He just is a guy who is easy to approach, a terrific teammate who wants to see other guys in the locker room succeed. When you have a superstar or a great player that’s like that, it just eases the tension on the football team because other guys are able to let their guard down and be teammates and think about the team as opposed to individual achievements. It’s a credit to him. He’s terrific in that way.
QUARTERBACK DONOVAN McNABB
What’s it been like to spend so much time in Philadelphia and then in three years be three different places?
The way that I try to look at the whole situation is like I’m still back in Philly and just preparing myself to go out and have a great season and lead this team to a playoff berth and an opportunity to do bigger and better things. Once you’ve been in a place 11 straight years and have a lot of success, it becomes routine. That’s the way I came in as far as the mental aspect is concerned.
Is there something you learned in Washington last year in terms of adapting to a new environment?
You learn that there’s different coaches everywhere you go. There’s different mentalities and different attitudes. There’s different approaches. You learn that aspect of it. There’s things that you take from each and every spot that you’ve come from and you use it to the best of your ability. I think it’s going to benefit me in so many ways and I look forward to this year and years to come and having more success than I’m used to having.
Have you ever had a running back quite like Adrian Peterson?
You try not to put people on the same page. I played with a dynamic running back slash receiver slash leader in Philadelphia. Obviously they’re two different types of runners but two that are very effective no matter how you look at it. A guy that can run the ball hard like Adrian and pick up blitzes well and very intelligent and a leader, and I think one thing that we want to open up this year for him is people recognize in him as a full-time back. A guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield as well.
What do you think of Musgrave?
A guy who’s truly talented and smart who’s played the game and been in different systems himself and a guy who understands about catering to the strengths of your players. Not to sit there and try to harp on making sure that your system is the one that’s engraved into all the players, but understanding and recognizing what you have out on the football field and coming up with plays that everyone is comfortable with, can understand and can go out and execute.
Do you remember what your first thought was when you were approached about the possibility of a trade?
I was looking forward to it no matter what. No matter where it might have been. I’ll start by saying that. Secondly was the opportunity to play with a guy like Adrian Peterson and our receiving corps with Percy (Harvin) and Bernard and Shiancoe. And to be re-uninted with a guy who I’ve known for 13 years now, a guy who knows me as a player as well as a person, and one that you don’t feel like you have to go out and put your Superman cape on and do everything so perfect to try to get things in the right direction.
As bland a person as you seem to be, were you pretty beaten down by the end of last year?
Not at all. For everything that’s been said and that’s leaked out, which was garbage, I never let it affect me mentally. Once it begins to affect you mentally, then you’re done. It’s hard to overcome that. I’ve been through some trials and tribulations throughout my life and throughout my career so far. I think I know how to handle situations that I’ve been a part of.
What do you remember about your last game here? Your right arm just about fell off.
Stats mean nothing to me. It’s about the end of the day when you look up at the clock. Did you win the game? I remember we lost. That hurt.
Bob Sanders is here now. How does that influence a quarterback’s thinking?
Obviously we’ve known what he’s been able to do over the years. This is an opportunity for him to have a second chance. To bounce back strong. He’s flying around the ball and making plays like he did when he was in Indy. It seems the coordinator out there is trying to put him in the best position possible to be successful and help the team. For us, obviously we recognize where he and Weddle are and the linebackers. They’re playing well right now. They’re playing with a lot of chemistry and balance, so it’s going to be a task for us.
How much time does a team usually need to develop its own chemistry?
It really all depends on how things are going throughout training camp and how things are going during preseason. I think the best way of handling a situation is getting to know the person on and off the field. I think that’s very important for all players. When you’re on a unit together, get to know that person because things really translate on the field and I think once you have that chemistry off the field as well as through practice and communication and the film room, it really cuts time down where you feel like you’re on the same page.
But you’ve really had to expedite that process, haven’t you?
We have. And I think we’ve all benefited from it. We went out to lunch together. We sit down in the cafeteria together. We communicate in the locker room. Guys are asking questions, ‘What would you do in this situation?’ or ‘When you see this on film, what do you expect?’ Those are things that really pay big dividends for a lot of players as well as teams.
If you were to go back five years and look at film of you playing quarterback and compare it to now, how much difference would there be?
Obviously minus last year, I’m playing the same way that I played then, and probably better. I say that because as you get older you learn more about the game. You learn about things that you really don’t have to do a lot of times. You watch games that you play, and you make mistakes throughout games. ‘Well, I could’ve gone here instead of going here. I could’ve made this decision a little bit quicker.’ Those are things that you learn over time when you’ve played this game for so long.
What was it about last year that you want to throw that one out?
I didn’t play as well as I wanted to. There were ups and downs. That’s a different offense than what we’re doing now. It’s a different attitude. A different approach. The mentality is different. And it’s going to be a whole different outcome.
What about this specific matchup on Sunday do you think is going to be important?
Playing against a tough team like San Diego, we all know the capabilities they have on offense and what they were able to do last year on defense. It’s going to be a game of eliminating turnovers and field position. I think for both offenses it’s important to sustain drives and come out with points. Defenses, stop on third down and force offenses off the field. It’s going to be one of those games that you see every week. You hear coaches say the same message to guys and you just really have to go out and play the game.
What does a quarterback see when he watches Philip Rivers play?
He’s continued to progress each year. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the game. His decision-making. Guys are making plays around him. As a quarterback, you’re only as good as the guys around you. He’s got one of the best tight ends in the game, one of the best receivers in the game. They have a young running back that’s really been playing well for him. He’s got an older running back in Tolbert who’s really done a great job for him and an offensive line that’s built chemistry together. The list goes on of the guys around him that have really stepped up and made plays.
What’s the difference between San Diego’s continuity on the offensive line and the transition in Minnesota?
I wouldn’t say it’s much of a transition. We brought in a new tackle. I’m new myself. Other than that, Percy’s been here, Bernard’s been here, Shiancoe’s been here. (Steve) Hutchinson has been here. Our offensive line has been here for a couple years now. There’s just different pieces of the puzzle that you add in. It’s quite similar to what they have in San Diego. It’s not a rebuilding year or (a situation where) you’re drafting all young guys to play in key roles. We have some guys that are filling in that are playing well for us. Guys that we drafted like Kyle Rudolph. But we look forward to the challenge.