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Friday, January 23, 2009
Minnesota was Linehan's original proving ground

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

If you're a Lions fan, there are a number of reasons to be enthused about Scott Linehan's arrival as your offensive coordinator. A few might surprise you.

Most everyone knows Linehan experienced significant success as Minnesota's offensive coordinator from 2002-04. Yes, he had a talented group that included receiver Randy Moss and quarterback Daunte Culpepper. But few people remember that Linehan walked into an established offensive system and tweaked his own approach to fit it.

Linehan arrived in Minnesota after a career spent running college offenses, most recently at Louisville. But he quickly learned the Vikings' "three-digit" passing scheme, one passed down from Dennis Green to Mike Tice, and implemented it in a way that impressed players with its creativity while also adhering to some specific requests.

In 2002, for example, Tice asked Linehan to ensure that Moss saw 40 percent of the Vikings' passes. As a result, Moss increased his reception total from 82 in 2001 to 106 in 2002.

Linehan is now an experienced NFL coach, but this inherent malleability makes him a good match for Detroit; new coach Jim Schwartz has some strong ideas about his offense and isn't looking to have his coordinator implement an independent scheme. Linehan leans toward the passing game, but he is just as comfortable running a power offense. In fact, the Vikings had the NFL's No. 1 running game in 2002.

Another overlooked part of Linehan's resume: Culpepper's rise to near-MVP status coincided almost directly with Linehan taking over as his quarterbacks coach.

Tice unofficially assigned Linehan that duty midway through the 2002 season; Culpepper had a 70.1 passer rating and was close to being benched. Over the final six games of the season, Culpepper compiled an 80.2 rating. Linehan officially doubled as quarterbacks coach in 2003 and 2004, arguably the best two seasons of Culpepper's career.

Linehan grew close to Culpepper and had a thorough understanding of what he could do well. Culpepper was at his best when he could move in the pocket and find an open receiver, so Linehan maximized those opportunities. Culpepper was devastated when Linehan departed after the 2004 season and he looked lost on the field in 2005 before suffering a major knee injury.

We're not yet certain if its merely a coincidence that Culpepper is on the Lions' roster. He is owed a $2.5 million bonus in March, so the team must decide soon whether it considers him a likely starter in 2009. I'll say this: Linehan can get the most out of Culpepper, whatever it is that he has left.

The Lions have a long way to go, but bringing in Linehan and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham this week has given them a much-needed shot of credibility. Players are the most important piece to this puzzle, but it seems clear they'll get every chance to succeed.