Everson Griffen’s high-strung energy is meeting opportunity this year. After spending four seasons working behind Brian Robison and Jared Allen, Griffen got his opportunity for a big-buck contract and full-time duty.
He insists his focus is on the team and not himself.
“I want to make the plays together. Let’s party together and everybody celebrate. It should be a celebration out there,” Griffen said. “I’m here to do just do my job. I’m not putting a number on it. I’m out here to do my job and help this team win in 2014.”
He hasn’t seen enough of that since arriving as a fourth-round draft pick in 2010. That year, Brett Favre fizzled, and the Minnesota Vikings fired head coach Brad Childress and finished with a 6-10 record. In 2011, they were 3-13 before a bounce-back season to 10-6 in 2012, which remains the only year that Griffen has been to the playoffs. Last year, they were 5-10-1.
With Allen leaving for Chicago in free agency, Griffen is emerging as a starter on the defensive line and a player more willing to speak his mind.
“You’ve got to embrace it. I’ve been dreaming of this,” he said. “So the only thing I can do is just hold myself to a high standard and go out there and compete each and every day and become the player I want to become, and for my team. … We’re here for one thing and that’s winning games – no if, ands or buts. We’re here to win games and win games and that’s all we want to do here. That’s our motto. We want to win.”
The talent has always been there for the 100th overall selection in the 2010 draft. He is a defensive end by nature, but at one point the Vikings experimented with him at linebacker because of his athleticism.
That didn’t last long, but throughout his first four years in the league he was a contributor special teams and a valued rotational player on the defensive line. He could play defensive end or offer more of a pass-rushing presence at defensive tackle on pass downs.
But when it came time to make a decision on keeping either Allen or Griffen, the Vikings went the younger (and more affordable) route. Despite singing a five-year, $42.5 million contract that included $19.8 million in guarantees and gave him the third-highest average annual salary on the team, that annual salary was only about half of what Allen made last year.
Quickly, though, Griffen has made an impression on head coach Mike Zimmer.
“I like Everson a lot. He’s very eager. That’s one of the things I like that he would be. He’s very eager. He wants to please,” Zimmer said. “He wants to do good. He’s excitable. But obviously I’m spending a lot of time in the defensive meetings, so I get a chance to talk to him quite a bit. But he wants to do things right and he’s a good kid and I’m glad we have him.”
With the backing of the head coach and the big contract come higher expectations on and off the field.
“Yeah, just becoming a leader. If the guys need help, you go and help them. You give them the right guidance. You tell them when they’re doing wrong, but I expect them to hold me to the same standards,” Griffen said. “You’ve got to take that criticism and run with it because it’s only going to benefit you in the long run. Our communication is even better. We’re talking to the young guys. We’re talking out on the field to one another to be in the right place, echoing in the calls. At the end of the day I feel we’re doing a lot better than we have before because (Mike) Zimmer, he wants us to do that and he’s getting it out of us.”
Defensive line coach Andre Patterson has been praised for teaching players more individually. For Griffen, that has meant honing his pass-rushing skills and becoming a smarter player.
“Technique is everything. That’s how guys fade out in the league because they lose their technique,” Griffen said. “Technique and mastering your craft, that takes you the distance. I could be the most physical, the most talented, gifted player out there, but if I don’t have any technique, it’s not going to get me nowhere. Technique is everything in this game. You’ve just got to become a master in your craft. Once you get that down, you just keep building on it and building on it and building on it; then you become a great player.”
Last year, Griffen played in almost 60 percent of the defensive snaps and finished with 5½ sacks, including 2½ in the final two games. The year before, he has a career-high eight sacks and 36 tackles, including 10 for a loss.
There have been changes off the field, too.
He was married in the offseason and has a 1½-year-old son. Griffen bragged up the size of his son, rattling off the size numbers as if he attended the NFL Scouting Combine – 30 pounds, 5 ounces, 34 inches tall with a “head size” of 20, “so he’s off the charts.”
That’s what he wants people to be saying about him, too, during his first season as a starter.
“I want to become a great player. Every guy here should be striving to be the best,” he said. “I just want to be the best player possible, not just for me, for my team.
“… We’re going to be physical. We’re going to play old-style football. We’re going to be coming from each and every direction. We’ve just got to be smart and do all the small things correctly.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Griffen hungry: ‘Let’s party together’
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