Full-time role ‘tough duty’ for Griffen

Everson Griffen is adjusting to life as a full-time starter and doing it pretty well. Actually, at an elite level.

Everson Griffen called being a full-time start “tough duty.”

After four years as a backup to Jared Allen, Griffen is finally getting his chance to be a full-time starter. He might be making it look easy, but he admitted that’s not the case.

“It’s tough duty, me going from playing 25 plays a game to playing 60 plays, average 60 plays,” he said. “It’s tough duty.”

Still, the fourth-round draft pick is excelling in that role after receiving a five-year, $42.5 million contract, despite never being a full-time starter previously. After 12 games this season, Griffen has 11 sacks – twice as many as any other Viking – and a team-leading 44 quarterback hurries.

There is no doubt double-digit sacks was one of his goals this year.

“Hell, yes! 100 percent,” Griffen said. “But our coaches are always telling us if you rush together, everybody is going to eat – everybody’s going to get sacks, and that’s what we do as a unit. I’m happy I got 11 sacks, but I’m happy we’re playing well as a defensive line, too. Without them, there’s no way I could have got 11.

“You can’t be a one-man wrecking crew and go out there and get 11. What I’m doing is being relentless and just going out there and making plays. We’ve got some more coming and we’ve just got to keep on working and keep on doing what we’re doing.”

Head coach Mike Zimmer has been preaching a team concept for rushing the passer. His belief is that lane integrity is important to avoid creating escape routes for the quarterback, and as a team the Vikings are fourth in the league with 35 sacks. Zimmer said he doesn’t care how many sacks Griffen has, but he is happy that his right defensive end is buying into the new defensive system.

“I could care less if he gets three sacks next year or 28. The thing that impressed me more this week about him was he got double-teamed and chipped a lot with the backs, and sometimes those guys get frustrated and they kind of go off the reservation a little bit and try and do their own thing and he did not,” Zimmer said. “He stuck with the plan and when he got the opportunities to get some one-on-ones he took advantage of them. Those kinds of things, to me, are where I see progress.”

Griffen plays with a relentlessness that embodies a defender who has fought to earn playing time. In his early years, he was moved inside and out on the defensive line and even saw some duty as a specialty linebacker.

Despite having double-digit sacks as his goal in his first year as a starter, he said there was no specific number he put on it.

“I promise you – people always ask me, ‘Do you have a number’ – I don’t have a number,” he said. “The only thing I want to do is just play my best and beat my guy, because once you get caught up in how many sacks you need, that’s what you focus on the whole day. You don’t focus on the run. I just focus on beating my guy and getting to the quarterback.”

Griffen is tied for seventh in the NFL with 11 sacks and second in the NFC. He is third among defensive ends – Mario Williams has 12 and J.J. Watt 11.5.

Griffen said his two-sack performance against the Panthers was “a good day,” but he was happier about the Vikings getting their fifth win rather than him getting two sacks.

“I don’t care if I don’t get any sacks in a game and we win the game, as long as the team is winning,” Griffen said. “That’s what we are here for, to win games. Getting the numbers is great, but at the same time winning the game is even better.”

Of course, Griffen also returned a punt that was blocked by Jasper Brinkley for a 43-yard touchdown. That came after Adam Thielen blocked a punt and returned that one himself for a 30-yard touchdown. The excitable Griffen just about lost it after that one, having no idea that he was about to return one himself.

“That’s unbelievable. He blocked the kick, he picked up the kick, and he scored, so he got like 10 points in one play,” Griffen said of Thielen’s return. “That’s awesome for him; I’m happy for him; I was cussing on the sideline. We play as a team, we play hard and we fight. We never give up. People, they always count us out but we never give up.”

That could apply to Griffen as an individual as well, except no one is counting him out of the starting lineup anymore.

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