Griffen eying a starting (linebacker) spot

Athletic defender Everson Griffen wants to see the field more often and believes it's possible he could win a starting linebacker spot this year, despite just making the transition from defensive end. That transformation is starting in earnest at training camp.

Everson Griffen said his goal was to be a starter by his third NFL season and he's not backing down from it. Even with his move from defensive end to linebacker.

"Anything is possible. There's nothing impossible," Griffen said Friday after going through his first training camp practice as a full-time linebacker. "Football, people thought I couldn't make it to the league. That was impossible, but I made it possible. That's the only thing I'm trying to do. Nothing's impossible, so I'm just trying to make it possible. I've just got to go out there and give it my best.

"That's my goal, by my third year be starting somewhere on the defense."

Griffen played his first NFL season behind a defensive end corps that included starters Jared Allen and Ray Edwards. With Brian Robison waiting in the wings to take over Edwards' spot, Griffen only saw 65 out of 1,000 defensive snaps in his rookie season compared to the 165 special-teams snaps he saw.

Last year, in a rotation between the defensive line and a specialty "joker" position at linebacker, his role increased significantly, playing in 271 (or just over 25 percent) of the defensive snaps. But a part-time role isn't enough to satisfy his competitive nature.

"Man, I just want to play football. I just want to be on the field at all times. I just want to be on the field first, second, third down and just be on the field at all times. That's my goal right now," Griffen said. "Honestly, just get a full-time job on the Minnesota Vikings defense. That's my goal right now."

In Friday's opening walkthrough practice, Griffen was on the field with the first-team defense often, but he was a 12th man crouching down with his hands on his knees and taking in the assignments of the linebackers. Eventually, he became an active participant with the second- and third-team defenses.

He wasn't sure if his transition to linebacker would become a full-time move, saying he doesn't control it and he'd leave it up to the coaches.

Head coach Leslie Frazier didn't leave much doubt, saying he wants Griffen to concentrate solely on getting better as a linebacker.

"I do. I want him to show us that he can play that position," Frazier said. "We feel like we've got two outstanding starters at defensive end – he was our third defensive end. But, we want him to show us that he's now a linebacker."

There also isn't much doubt about Griffen's dedication to doing whatever he has to find a starting niche. He dropped significant weight – from somewhere around 275 pounds in the spring to 258 pounds in the offseason – in order to make the most of his opportunity at linebacker.

"He's one of those guys who can carry some weight and not let it interfere with his play, but ideally we'd like for him to be in that 260-265 range and I talked to him about linebacker and where I thought he could really help us at, and why I thought he could help us there," Frazier said. "Not that he can't play defensive end – he's a very good defensive end – but you're always trying to get your best 11 on the field. He's one of those guys who has enough athletic ability to be able to do that."

Frazier called Griffen's weight loss after finding out that he was to concentrate on linebacker "incredible" and a testament to his motivation to see more playing time.

Griffen is working at weakside linebacker, where Erin Henderson became a starter in 2011 and is expected to start again this year. Henderson, however, was offered only a one-year deal to return to the Vikings.

That could leave an opening for Griffen in the future. The 2010 fourth-round draft pick has a contract that extends through 2013, giving him an opportunity to embrace the linebacker role even if he doesn't win a starting spot this year.

"I get to play free. I'm still going to be rushing off the ball. I just still have to adapt to the position and focus," he said.

"Nothing's easy playing football. Playing defense is not easy. Playing linebacker, most times the linebackers are the heads of the defense and you've just got to make sure you're right and you've got to make sure the D-line is right. At the same time, I'm just ready to go out here and focus and try to earn the starting job somewhere."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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