Everson Griffen is highly excitable, but during the final days of minicamp he was preaching patience with the Minnesota Vikings defense.
There is a lot new with the defense, from free agents expected to start (like nose tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn) to rookies expected to make an immediate impact (like linebacker Anthony Barr). Combine that with the new scheme the returning players are learning and Griffen sees a lot of work to be done.
In the end, though, Griffen, believes Mike Zimmer’s defense, combined with the flexibility of several defensive players, himself and Barr included, and the Vikings could have an “awesome” defense.
“(The flexibility) can help a lot. I’m very versatile. We could play inside, I could go outside, come off the end,” Griffen said. “I feel like what they’re going to do with the whole defensive scheme and everything we’ve got going, it’s going to be awesome.
“We’re going to get there, but it’s just a matter of time because we’ve got to just keep working. This is a working game. It’s a job. We’ve got to keep working to get where we want to go.”
The Vikings will have a lot of ground to make up if their defense is to ascend to “awesome” status.
Last year, the Vikings finished 31st in total defense (measured by yardage yielded), 31st in pass defense and last in points per game. Those rankings likely had a lot to do with why the Vikings got away from one defensive-minded head coach, Leslie Frazier, and moved to another one in Zimmer.
With that change comes a dramatic shift in defensive philosophy and the personnel to fit Zimmer’s preferred scheme. Three of the four starters from last year’s defensive line – Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Letroy Guion – are now with different teams.
Griffen will be expected to step in for Allen at right defensive end. He didn’t get starting status last year, but he might as well have. He played in almost 60 percent of the defensive snaps (compared that to Guion, who was essentially a starter in name only, playing in 33 percent of the defensive snaps).
“I’ve always been a leader. Now it’s my time to really lead these guys and show them the right way to go and how to work and how to stay consistent,” said Griffen, who signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract in March to take over for Allen.
While Allen continued to build a Hall of Fame-worthy résumé with the Vikings at defensive end, Griffen brings loads of athleticism and versatility. He played often at defensive tackle in pass-rushing situations.
Griffen said he didn’t want to talk about how he will be used this year, but said his duties as a defensive end will be pretty straightforward.
“My assignment is easy. I line up in the C gap, I rush and I play blocks, I play the tight end,” he said. “The back end, the way they motion and all that for the safeties, when it comes game time, it’s going to be easy for them to adjust and align to whatever team we’re playing.”
First-round pick Anthony Barr offers similar flexibility in that he can play linebacker or could be used as an extra rusher on the line of scrimmage.
“He’s good. He’s quick. He’s a big-sized guy,” Griffen said of Barr. “We’ve just got to keep working. Work, work, work, work, work, work and we’re going to get where we want to go.”
Third-round pick Scott Crichton could also contribute at defensive end, but Griffen said the rookie will have to adapt to the techniques being taught in a hurry after missing most of the offseason practice while he was required to finish school at Oregon State.
The starters on the defensive line are expected to be Brian Robison and Griffen at end, and 2013 first-round pick Sharrif Floyd and free agent Joseph at defensive tackle. But there is also the expectation of more rotation on the defensive line.
“We’ve got all the potential in the world, but without work you’re not going to get any action. You’ve just got to keep on working,” Griffen said. “… We’ve got (training) camp and then we’ve got the games, preseason, so it’s a long ways away. You’ve got to keep working and keep building.
“We’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to set the tempo.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Griffen: Defense could be ‘awesome’
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