Brett Favre has been throwing the ball for the Minnesota Vikings much more than he thought he would.
Another surprising development? Coach Brad Childress is encouraging it.
When Childress and the Vikings finally persuaded Favre to sign with them, many fans and analysts skeptically predicted injuries and interceptions – and butting heads. How was the cautious coach with a preference for flat-line emotions and making the safe throw going to fit with Favre, one of the all-time great free-stylers?
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Well, perceptions are often exaggerated. And people change.
Favre didn’t have firsthand experience with the before version of Childress, but he echoed the sentiment of his teammates after the coach’s contract was extended that Childress has become more willing to listen to input from his players.
“Guys go up, ‘Hey, I can beat him on a post. We can run over here,”‘ Favre said. “He’s open to that. I think as a head coach the give-and-take has to be there, especially with a veteran team like we have here.”
Favre has a lot of freedom to read the defense at the line of scrimmage and change the play from a run to a pass, or vice versa, and he’s called a lot of audibles. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe joked Favre does that about “63.7354 percent” of the time.
He’s also not shy about lobbying for an aggressive approach when he comes to the sideline between series and shares with Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell what he’s seen. During one recent game, Favre reminded Childress how open wide receiver Sidney Rice was, and the coach told his 40-year-old quarterback that he tells him that all time.
“Right. Now you’re starting to believe me,” Favre fired back.
Childress wouldn’t have pursued Favre so persistently this summer if he didn’t believe the NFL’s all-time leading passer would thrive – assuming he was healthy – in this West Coast offense he knows so well. Nor would he have wanted Favre on the team if he didn’t feel his personality would mesh with his or in the locker room.
Even Childress, though, couldn’t have envisioned having this much faith in Favre’s surgically repaired right arm. In the first half of Minnesota’s win on Sunday over Chicago, the Bears were consistently blitzing defensive backs and stacking the line to leave man-to-man coverage on the outside against the wide receivers.
“Hey, Bev, throw it again. That’s a first down: Throw it again. Keep throwing it,” Childress recounted his advice to Bevell before noting his conservative preference for play calling: “That’s almost heresy. I can’t believe that’s coming out of my mouth on the sideline.”
Confidence is the word to explain the willingness by Childress to give Favre a long leash and let him go to work. Clearly, in addition to an upgrade at quarterback and an improvement by the receivers, the coaches have called a more aggressive and effective game this season than in the past.
“We know what we’re doing with the pass game. We trust what we’re doing with the pass game, the protection game,” Childress said. “Let’s move it this way.”
When Childress picked Favre up at the airport in his own vehicle, their link to this fabled 2009 Vikings season – be it success or failure – was sealed. Childress, predictably, downplayed his chauffeuring as a “civil thing to do” and hasn’t given any indication he listens to Favre more than he does the team’s other veteran leaders.
“Any professional you ever find that’s worth his salt can take coaching,” Childress said, adding: “Brett’s been tremendous that way. The system has changed a little bit … but I think he’s got a pretty good mastery of what it is we’re doing right now.
“He’s all ears.”
Favre casually refers to the coach as “Chili,” the only player who’s ever done that in public. He has expressed nothing but respect, though, for the guy who wouldn’t stop asking him to come and play for the Vikings this year.
“He’s exactly what I thought he would be. Guys like him,” Favre said, adding: “He caught a lot of heat throughout the whole courtship or whatever you want to call it, but I give him an ‘A’ for effort. The team has thankfully welcomed me in. He had to overcome some things with the team, as well as myself, by the way it went down. But it seems to me that the guys have not only accepted me, but how the process unfolded. Obviously winning helps with that. It’s been everything that I expected it to be, and he has been a blast to work with.”
Favre, too, has morphed from a risk-taker into more of a system manager, though he is making plenty of bold throws as Rice, Shiancoe and Percy Harvin continue to prove his decisions right with tough catches in traffic.
Ultimately, the faith in Favre by the coaches comes from his ability to help do their jobs on the field and in the huddle, where they’re not allowed to be.
“He knows what buttons to push on each guy,” Bevell said. “He knows when to get them to laugh. He knows when to get them serious. He’s just phenomenal with his leadership skills.
“Then you can see he’s always communicating, whether it’s when they come off after a play and say ‘Hey, I’m seeing this,’ or looking at the pictures and saying, ‘I’m seeing this.’ There’s always constant dialogue and communication.
“I think it’s important as a coach to know what your players are seeing.”