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Updated: January 23rd, 2012 12:32am
Zulgad's Roundup: Decision to hire Fred Pagac as DC was a curious one

Zulgad's Roundup: Decision to hire Fred Pagac as DC was a curious one

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

One of the things that factored in Leslie Frazier and Fred Pagac receiving promotions after the 2010 season was the Minnesota Vikings' surprising 10-point victory at Philadelphia in the second-to-last game of the year.

Frazier was the team's interim coach at the time, having succeeded the fired Brad Childress, and Pagac had moved up from linebackers coach to take over Frazier's duties as defensive coordinator.

The Vikings' defensive game plan against the Eagles proved to be surprising and successful, with cornerback Antoine Winfield blitzing on several occasions.

That served as at least part of the blueprint for how Pagac wanted to run his defense. The aggressive nature, with a variety of blitz looks, wasn't true to the Tampa-2 scheme that Frazier favored but it certainly worked in the 24-14 victory over the Eagles.

When Frazier was named the Vikings' coach a day after the 2010 season ended, Pagac was given the coordinator's job.

A year later, with Pagac having been demoted back to coaching linebackers last week, there remains one important question about Frazier's initial decision.

Why was it made?

More than one person has mentioned that injuries made it impossible for Pagac to run the aggressive, Cover-1 scheme that he wanted to employ.

But the fact is that Frazier and Pagac did not see eye-to-eye on how the Vikings' defense should operate and at times during the season the head coach took over the duties of making the defensive calls.

This wasn't done because of injuries, it was done because Frazier didn't like what he was seeing from a scheme standpoint.

But shouldn't Frazier have realized that he and Pagac would differ on defensive philosophy long ago? Frazier became the Vikings' defensive coordinator in 2007 and oversaw Pagac's work with the linebackers for three-plus years before Childress was fired.

After Frazier was hired as coach last winter, he immediately went to work making changes on the offensive side of the ball, as well as special teams. The defensive staff was left intact with Frazier's good friend, Mike Singletary, brought in to handle the linebackers.

Frazier sounds as if he will be more involved with the defense in 2012.

That shouldn't be an issue given that new coordinator Alan Williams spent two seasons on the Indianapolis Colts' coaching staff with Frazier, and both men have a background in the Tampa-2 system that Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin put into place years ago with the Buccaneers.

Honestly, a guy like Williams would have made more sense than Pagac from day one given that that scheme is what Frazier is most familiar and comfortable running.

Perhaps when Pagac was promoted, Frazier thought he would be so busy with other facets of the team that it wouldn't bother him when the scheme and techniques were changed.

If that was the case, Frazier should have known better. His area of expertise is defense and there was no way he was ever going to relinquish complete control of how that unit operated.

A year later that is now clear to everyone.

No time to reflect

Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, whose 22 sacks this season left him a half-sack short of tying Michael Strahan's single-season record, said he has not had time yet to reflect on the success he had in 2011.

Allen and his wife, Amy, have been too busy taking care of their three-month old daughter, Brinley Noelle.

"With the baby, you don't really have time much to think about it," Allen said. "We're getting ready to go to the Pro Bowl, so I'm pretty sure come February, when things kind of mellow out for me and I'm not in workout mode or anything like that, then I'll sit back and really reflect.

"Especially come March and April, when I start breaking down film again and re-watching the season and just kind of going through that process. I'm sure it will kind of hit me more."

Allen had 3.5 sacks in the Vikings' regular-season finale against the Bears, falling just short of Strahan's mark and breaking Chris Doleman's single-season franchise record of 21 sacks set in 1989.

"It's definitely something I know how close I was and I know how big of a deal it was to break the franchise record," Allen said. "I'm very proud of it, but I feel like I didn't accomplish it yet. Does that make sense? I feel like I was a half-sack short."

Accountability is key

Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver said the biggest difference between this season under Rick Adelman and last season under Kurt Rambis is that there is now a focus on accountability.

"Last year, we didn't have that," Tolliver said. "We didn't keep each other accountable. I don't feel like there was much (accountability) around the whole organization. But now if you don't play defense, you're coming out of the game. Period.

"That's just how it is and that's how it has to be in order to get something done. Guys have to really concentrate and make sure that they are out there and playing on the defensive end. If you're making shots, that's great. But if you're missing shots, you can still contribute by playing great defense."

Tolliver said being successful in this way means having a focus that did not previously exist.

"It's focus, it's guys buying in, guys just trusting that you're back is going to be taken care of," he said. "If I go help, somebody else helps me. We didn't have that last year. This year we're developing that trust and just continuing to get better."

The Wolves, who will play host to the Kevin McHale-coached Houston Rockets on Monday, lost 108-98 Saturday at Utah. The defeat cost the Wolves (7-9) a chance to reach .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2006-07.

Spark off the bench

Guard Wayne Ellington had 10 points in 24 minutes off the bench against the Jazz.

Ellington led the Wolves' reserves Friday with 13 points in 31 minutes in a last-second 101-98 victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles. He had seven key points, including a three-pointer, in a 93-85 victory last Wednesday over Detroit at Target Center.

"It feels pretty good," Ellington said of his role. "Whatever the team needs me to do to win, that's what I'm about. I came into this league off of winning a national championship at North Carolina (in 2009) and that's all it was about. Winning basketball games.

"No matter how you do it, no matter what you've got to do to win the basketball game. So that's the most important thing."

The 28th-pick overall in the first round of the 2009 draft by the Wolves, Ellington played for an organization that won 32 games in his first two years.

That's not exactly what he was prepared for coming out of North Carolina.

"It feels like a world of difference," Ellington said. "It feels so much better. It feels like we're playing basketball the right way. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody is in it to win it. Nobody is just caring about themselves or individual stuff. At the end of the day, I think we all understand that it's about winning basketball games. We're starting to put it together."

As for his mindset when he's on the bench and not playing, Ellington said the important thing is to stay as focused as possible.

"For me, I'm over there, I'm just staying into the game," he said. "I'm watching the game closely. I'm cheering on my teammates. I'm getting up when guys are making big plays and that really keeps you involved. It feels like you're out there. So then when you get out there, you see what's going on. You can come in and provide that spark. Give us what we're not having at that time."

Passing fancy

Point guard Ricky Rubio, who was featured in Sports Illustrated and USA Today last week, had 11 assists in the Wolves' loss at Utah.

As usual, a few of Rubio's passes were highlight-worthy and had the ability to catch an unsuspecting teammate off guard.

"You just have to always be ready," for him to pass, Tolliver said. "When the ball is in his hands, you have to just be ready to catch it even in a position that you don't think he can get you the ball.

"From day one, I could tell that he was going to be a guy like that and everybody is starting to get used to it. Not as many balls are hitting people in the face or anything like that. He's definitely doing a great job for us."

Adelman agrees and admits he didn't know what to really expect from a 21-year-old rookie who had been playing professional basketball in Spain.

"I knew he had great vision and everything. We saw that in camp," Adelman said. "The thing about it that I think really makes him good is he's a competitor. He just competes all the time.

"If you look at this stats across the board, he gets rebounds, he gets his assists. He just keeps playing. That's something that you need. For a young guy not to get too down, not to let things affect him. ... He just plays."

Happy in his role

Twins reliever Glen Perkins agreed to a one-year contract last week that will pay him $1.55 million to pitch in a set-up role. That's a raise from the $700,000 Perkins made last season.

Perkins went 4-4 in 2011 with a 2.48 ERA in 65 relief appearances. That success in a down season for the franchise has led to speculation that Perkins could end up in the closer role for the Twins this coming summer.

Especially if Matt Capps doesn't rebound from a disappointing 2011.

But Perkins said he prefers his current role as a set-up man.

"To be honest with you, I like where I was last year and where I'm going to be this year," he said during an appearance on "Judd & Phunn" last Thursday while taking part in the Twins winter caravan trip "I like the pressure of coming in with guys on base and in situations where you can really impact the game.

"Sometimes you can't do that as much (as the closer). If I come in in the eighth inning with a guy on or two guys on and I get out of that, then the next time through Capper will start a new inning. I like that pressure coming in in the middle of the inning and putting out the fire. I'm happy where I'm at and we'll go from there."

While there is plenty of concern about the Twins bullpen, Perkins thinks it's in good shape and likes the recent addition of the oft-injured Joel Zumaya.

"(Manager Ron Gardenhire) and I talked a little bit on this trip about getting guys in there to be able to shorten the game," Perkins said. "You try to play a six or seven inning game and then you can turn it over to the bullpen.

"If we can get our starters to go seven and with me and Joel and then you've got Capps in the ninth, that's pretty good. That shortens the game. ... It's a good start so far. We've seen what Zumaya can do and how hard he can throw and how dominant he can be. I like where we're headed right now." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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