Griffen benefiting from more focused approach

When the Vikings put an end to the Everson Griffen linebacker experiment, it came as a relief to him. Griffen talked about the challenges he faced, the production he's putting up now and his ideal position – one that doesn't exist with the Vikings.

The label of "starter" can be a bit deceiving. Everson Griffen isn't in the Vikings' starting lineup on the first play of games, but that doesn't mean he isn't a key to the Vikings defense.

After playing 42 percent of the plays on defense in the regular season opener, Griffen has played 50 percent or more of the defensive plays the last three weeks (52 percent vs. Indianapolis, 53 percent vs. San Francisco and 50 percent vs. Detroit).

His impact on the game has been pronounced. He leads the team with three sacks, two of which came Sunday against the Lions and both were critical. One came in the red zone late in the game on a fourth-and-goal play from the 7-yard line. The other came on the final play of the game with the Lions setting up for a Hail Mary pass in hopes of tying the game.

Griffen said he has earned his additional playing time because he has been working hard on the practice field, in film study and, clearly, on the field on game day.

"That's just me going out there and showing them what I can do every play and just whatever they teach me to do," Griffen said. "I'm putting it on tape using their techniques – just listening to the coaches. They are only here to help you. My biggest goal is to help this team win. Anything, special teams, anything they need me to do, I'm just here to make the team win."

As the team floundered late in the 2011 season, Griffen saw considerably more playing time. While listed as a defensive end, he was seeing time at defensive tackle and outside linebacker as well. It opened the eyes of the coaching staff and, when training camp opened in July, the Griffen Experiment was underway. Head coach Leslie Frazier and defensive coordinator Alan Williams had concerns about linebacker depth and felt Griffen would be a nice insurance policy.

However, thanks to the team's confidence in their linebacker corps two weeks into camp, the linebacker experiment ended and Griffen moved back to the defensive line.

It was a big relief for Griffen, because he felt he was stretching himself too thin by bouncing back and forth from one group to the other during training camp. Being able to put all his energy in working with the defensive line was a welcome relief.

"It really helped me focus in," Griffen said. "I was kind of late getting my reps because I was doing linebacker the whole time in camp. But just coming out here, getting the extra work at D-line and just coming out and working with (defensive line) Coach (Brendan) Daly and (assistant D-line) Coach (Diron) Reynolds and just help us out a lot."

Just because Griffen is concentrating on the defensive line doesn't mean that his versatility isn't being utilized. He has played on the outside spelling Jared Allen and Brian Robison and has played inside at defensive tackle on passing downs. He has dropped into coverage like an extra linebacker, too. It would seem much hasn't changed other than a positional designation, but he said he is feeling much better about his new role than what was planned for him when training camp opened.

"I'm pretty much comfortable doing anywhere," Griffen said. "Playing a little nose, dropping from anywhere, standing up a little bit, wherever they need me at, just to use my ability to help this team win, I'm willing to do and give my full effort every time."

With the success Griffen has enjoyed, moving back to linebacker isn't in his thought process. Injuries could change that, but that is more of a defensive ace in the hole for the coaching staff than anything that is being planned. He's a defensive linemen. Period. For now.

"I like D-line," Griffen said. "That's where I live. That's where I belong. It's doing me well. Whatever I can do to help this team win, that's the biggest thing."

As the Tennessee Titans broke down film of the Vikings, the defensive effort the last two games has been dominant. The defense wasn't horrible against Indianapolis, but penalties derailed their effort and put them in a hole that they had to face most of the game. But against the 49ers and Lions, the Vikings overwhelmed two of the more potent offensive attacks in the league. Against Detroit, they were constantly frustrating Matthew Stafford and, when he did complete passes, there was a price to pay for the receiver.

"We had 11 players going all out every play, running to the ball, finishing – just all the things Coach Frazier and Coach Williams harp on every day. Just executing and finishing and that's what we put on tape. The D-line, we took control and we were running to the ball and making big plays out there. It all starts with us and its always going to start with us. With our effort that we put out there, it's going to be hard for us to get beat."

So, where is Griffen most comfortable playing? Posed with the hypothetical that, if every player could step out on the practice field the first day of training and pick what position he would want to play, Griffen remained just as versatile as he is with the Vikings.

"I like playing defensive end, but I also like standing up sometimes and rushing – being like a 3-4 outside linebacker even standing up and rushing on the inside," Griffen said. "With my athletic ability, coming out of my stance sometimes slows me down. I like to see what's in front of me."

Unfortunately for the Vikings, they don't play a 3-4 defense, so Griffen's ideal position doesn't exist. But, given what he provides the Vikings defense, he doesn't have a set-in-stone position anyway, so that's fine with him. He feels he is making a big contribution to the team – a sentiment echoed by his coaches and teammates – but believes the best is yet to come.

"I've done pretty well so far," Griffen said. "There's always room for improvement. The only thing I can do is improve and compete on every single down I'm out there. Only great benefit is going to come out of that."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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Griffen said he has earned his additional playing time because he has been working hard on the practice field, in film study and, clearly, on the field on game day. \"That's just me going out there and showing them what I can do every play and just whatever they teach me to do,\" Griffen said. \"I'm putting it on tape using their techniques – just listening to the coaches. They are only here to help you. My biggest goal is to help this team win. Anything, special teams, anything they need me to do, I'm just here to make the team win.\" As the team floundered late in the 2011 season, Griffen saw considerably more playing time. While listed as a defensive end, he was seeing time at defensive tackle and outside linebacker as well. It opened the eyes of the coaching staff and, when training camp opened in July, the Griffen Experiment was underway. Head coach Leslie Frazier and defensive coordinator Alan Williams had concerns about linebacker depth and felt Griffen would be a nice insurance policy. However, thanks to the team's confidence in their linebacker corps two weeks into camp, the linebacker experiment ended and Griffen moved back to the defensive line. It was a big relief for Griffen, because he felt he was stretching himself too thin by bouncing back and forth from one group to the other during training camp. Being able to put all his energy in working with the defensive line was a welcome relief. \"It really helped me focus in,\" Griffen said. \"I was kind of late getting my reps because I was doing linebacker the whole time in camp. But just coming out here, getting the extra work at D-line and just coming out and working with (defensive line) Coach (Brendan) Daly and (assistant D-line) Coach (Diron) Reynolds and just help us out a lot.\" Just because Griffen is concentrating on the defensive line doesn't mean that his versatility isn't being utilized. He has played on the outside spelling Jared Allen and Brian Robison and has played inside at defensive tackle on passing downs. He has dropped into coverage like an extra linebacker, too. It would seem much hasn't changed other than a positional designation, but he said he is feeling much better about his new role than what was planned for him when training camp opened. \"I'm pretty much comfortable doing anywhere,\" Griffen said. \"Playing a little nose, dropping from anywhere, standing up a little bit, wherever they need me at, just to use my ability to help this team win, I'm willing to do and give my full effort every time.\" With the success Griffen has enjoyed, moving back to linebacker isn't in his thought process. Injuries could change that, but that is more of a defensive ace in the hole for the coaching staff than anything that is being planned. He's a defensive linemen. Period. For now. \"I like D-line,\" Griffen said. \"That's where I live. That's where I belong. It's doing me well. 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