MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings are doing the linebacker shuffle.
Kailee Wong has moved from strong side to the middle, where he can use his size (6-2, 260 pounds) and smarts (Stanford) to decipher plays and shed lead blockers.
Playmaker Dwayne Rudd has shifted from the weak side to the strong side, where his quickness and athleticism allows him not only to cover the tight end but also frees up the defensive backs.
And Eddie McDaniel has gone back to the weak side, where he can read plays easier and slice through the line with fewer opponents in his way, like he did in 1994-95 when he amassed a league-best 32 1/2 tackles for loss.
Coach Dennis Green hatched the idea one gray winter afternoon when he was in his office reflecting on the Vikings' failed 1999 season.
"Right now it looks like an excellent move," said new defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas, whose first duty was to make the change.
The Vikings always envisioned Wong as a middle linebacker even though he was a defensive lineman in college.
"Anywhere you put those three young men, I think they'll play well," Green said. "But I think Kailee is a bigger guy, a stronger guy who can take on the guards inside. Rudd has great man-to-man coverage skills, so he can get his hand on the tight end and run with them. And that lets McDaniel roam the weak side and do what he does best."
So, the Vikings got better at linebacker without adding any salary or losing any experience, always a tricky matter in this age of
the salary cap.
"Our ability to put those guys in what we think are their optimum positions should make it a strength for us," Green said.
It had better be because the Vikings lost run-stuffer Jerry Ball and ends Duane Clemons and Chris Doleman from last year and their starting cornerbacks are second-year pro Kenny Wright and converted receiver Robert Tate.
McDaniel, who had an incredible 19 1/2 tackles for loss in 1995, said he feels at home with the switch.
"Oh yes, yes, yes, yes," he said. "I love it."
So does Wong.
"It's a lot cleaner in the middle. It's easier to see things develop," he said.
But what about Rudd? He amassed 265 total tackles, including 18 for loss, while playing the weak side the last two seasons, and those stats might diminish at his new position.
"This switch is suiting all of our abilities," Rudd said. "We're very happy about it. We help each other. With Emmitt Thomas' this switch is perfect for our abilities. It makes sense.
"Statistically, I've come out and put up great numbers two years in a row and we've still come up short and couldn't get to the big dance," Rudd added. "We want to get the chemistry together, we can get to the Super Bowl. We don't care about tackles, Pro Bowls and things like that."
Rudd knows his stats may diminish, but he doesn't think his impact will.
"I've made some big plays in this league already, made a name for myself," he said. "But I don't want to be stuck in my seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th year like some of my veteran guys on this team without a Super Bowl."
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