Mike Zimmer is both the director and the recruiter.
As the new head coach of the Minnesota Vikings rebuilds a defense that finished last in points, he wants players that have different characteristics than the previous defense under former head Leslie Frazier. In addition to the money they are getting, two of the biggest signings on defense – nose tackle Linval Joseph and defensive end Everson Griffen – were attracted to Zimmer's coaching style, they said.
"When I saw them put together a coaching staff like this and having Coach Zimmer and (defensive coordinator) George Edwards and all of the guys they brought in, my D-line coach, Andre Patterson – when they brought all of them guys in, I just knew this was the right place for me and the Minnesota Vikings," Griffen said. "… I'm just happy to be a part of this new movement that we have going and that's the winning movement."
Griffen spent his first four seasons in Frazier's defense with Alan Williams, Fred Pagac and Frazier as his defensive coordinators. He also spent a lot of time moving around, mostly on the defensive line. During the 2012 offseason, the Vikings even gave Griffen a try as a weakside linebacker before moving him back to the defensive line in mid-August.
But even there, Griffen didn't have a permanent home. Playing time behind starting defensive ends Brian Robison and Jared Allen was at a premium, so Griffen has spent plenty of time rushing from the defensive tackle spot. He might continue to get some snaps there, but he is expected to be the starter at right end.
Whatever his role is, he sounds sold on the idea that Zimmer will get the most out of him.
"Me and Zimmer had a conversation and the way he talked about me, and not just about me, about the team and the coaching staff he (brought) in, about how they're going to teach us technique, how they're going to teach us to be a smarter football player, how to be a more disciplined football player and the reason I know that is because he's a disciplined guy," Griffen said. "He wants the most out of you. He's going to pull the most out of you, he's going to find what you're made of. He's going to make sure that he gets the best out of this team. He's going to be disciplined and he's going to be ready to coach."
Linval Joseph, who signed a five-year, $31.5 million contract with the Vikings after four years with the New York Giants, can relate. Joseph played for Tom Coughlin, considered one of the biggest disciplinarians in the NFL. Joseph sees similarities in the two coaches.
"He's straightforward. I can tell he's straightforward and he's defensive-minded and he wants to win," Joseph said.
Although Joseph didn't visit the Vikings before agreeing to terms with them, he did talk to Zimmer. He said it was apparent that the Vikings coach wants hard-working players.
Despite Griffen spending his first four years with the Vikings, he re-signed with them knowing they had a new head coach, new defensive coordinator and new defensive line coach.
"I've got to earn their trust and I've got to earn their respect. We're starting fresh now. We've got a new coaching staff; we've got this," Griffen said. "We're starting fresh. This is a whole new slate. I just know that he expects the most out of us and he's ready for us to compete and that's what I'm about. Back at USC, that's all we did is compete. … He's going to play the best players and I'm ready to compete."
Griffen said Zimmer reminded him of his former coach at USC, Pete Carroll, who led the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl this year. "Competing" seemed to be a key buzzword Griffen heard from Zimmer, like he did from Carroll in college.
It doesn't hurt that Zimmer also comes with a track record of turning castoffs and draft rejects from other teams into key contributors with the Cincinnati Bengals. From Adam Jones to Terence Newman to Vontaze Burfict, Zimmer's reputation is earning him quick credibility with defensive players.
"Did you see him coach in Dallas and Cincinnati? And what he did with Vontaze? Vonteze was undrafted and now he's a Pro Bowl player," Griffen said. "It has a lot to do with Vonteze and his work ethic, but you need a coach to use you in the right way and he was used. I just feel that he's going to use all of the players here in the right way. He's going to use us; he's going to put us in the right situations at the right time."
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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