Everson Griffen is getting advice from one of the best defensive linemen in Minnesota Vikings history.
Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle is a big fan of Griffen’s and, in fact, sees a lot of similarities between his game that made him a dominating force for the Vikings in the 1990s and Griffen’s emergence with the Vikings this year.
Randle visited Winter Park last week, talked to the team and found out there are some similarities in what he brought two decades ago and what Griffen brings to the same franchise, even if it is at a different position.
These days, Randle is as quick with an answer as he was with a spin move to get to the quarterback, but it seemed one question slowed his roll. After talking extensively about Griffen’s game and what Randle likes about the Vikings, he was asked who Griffen reminds him of. The inquisitor knew who he would choose – the still-intense Randle – but wanted to see if the man himself had the same analysis.
Turns out, he did.
“From watching him play, I can see him playing, I see myself,” Randle said. “I see his style of play is very unique. He’s an edge (rusher). He can beat you on the corner, but at the same time he can overpower you. Just watching him, I see that. He’s an all-around player basically and I like his play. His quickness and the hand usage, which is going to be exceptional for him because he’s starting to learn more about these techniques – you just watch his game grow because he’s just hungry for knowledge. He’s asking me so many questions. I was like, OK, let’s take them one at a time here. I was just excited to watch him play.”
Randle is the same way. A fast talker that complemented his quick-twitch skills that brought him from undrafted rookie to Hall of Fame inductee during his 14-year career, one that started in 1990 with the Vikings and ended in 2003 after four years with the Seattle Seahawks.
Griffen didn’t fall out of the draft completely, but he was considered a potential first-round talent whose maturity issues at USC knocked him down to the fourth round before the Vikings felt the talent outweighed the risk and draft value. But both Randle and Griffen had an attitude that reflected a feeling of under-appreciation. From a dirt-poor upbringing Randle forged himself into a millionaire force with unquenchable desire.
Randle earned a starting spot in his second season with the Vikings, but Griffen had to wait until his fifth season to earn a starting spot and the big bucks associated with an elite pass rusher, even if there was no guarantee that he would be elite.
Now, however, quickly and seeming unequivocally on that path, Griffen already has 12 sacks in his first year as a starter. Randle earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 1993, his fourth year in the league, when he had 12.5 sacks. In his first year as a starter, he record 9½ sacks.
But Randle believes Griffen’s time spent behind Jared Allen is paying off now. He is already second in the NFC with his 12 sacks and second in the NFL among defensive linemen.
“Having the other guys around, Jared and those guys, when you take those guys out of the equation and you give a young guy an opportunity to play, he basically now has gotten used to playing and he’s more comfortable in that position,” Randle said. “His maturity is coming out. That’s what you’re seeing, his maturity, where he’s like, ‘OK, I’ve been in this situation.’ I think if he’d done this two years ago it wouldn’t have been the same; he had Jared and it’s almost like, ‘I’ve got to play this the way Jared is playing it.’ Now, he’s come into his own.”
Yes, he has. Griffen said two weeks ago that it’s tough being a full-time starter and a big adjustment playing roughly 60 snaps a game compared to 20-some as a reserve.
Both Griffen and Randle were known for their position flexibility early in their careers. Randle played defensive end, too, before settling in more at tackle the more established he became. Griffen was somewhat opposite. He played the role of pass-rushing defensive tackle along with end before he became a starter, and he was even tried on occasion as a specialty linebacker.
In Mike Zimmer’s defense, Griffen has been a defensive end exclusively and used heavily there. But Zimmer said there has been consideration to use Griffen inside at times … if the matchup is right.
Randle seems to like that idea.
“He’s a guy that I would tell him that if you can play inside and outside, there are endless possibilities of what you can do,” Randle said. “Say if a defensive tackle would get hurt, you could play inside. That really elevates your game and all the sudden you can play inside, where a lot of defensive ends, you couldn’t do that. Like Jared played it, he could only play (inside) on third down. Everson can play it in any situation. For him, that opens his game up. That gives him so many more opportunities. If they’re playing against a guard who is not playing well, he can go play over that guard and take advantage of that.”
While it’s worth considering in the future, right now Griffen is excelling at his right end spot, and the Vikings are deeper at tackle than end.
Randle’s visit to the Vikings didn’t seem to elicit much reaction from Griffen when asked about it, but Griffen showed his predecessor by two decade due respect.
Ironically, it was Randle that seemed more excited to get a chance to see and talk with the Vikings, and then afterwards express his excitement for their future.
Through a couple of mutual acquaintances, Randle has learned more about Zimmer and likes what he sees and hears there. Conversely, Zimmer joked that he tried he tried to get Randle to play. While he’s been done for 10 years, Randle still looks like he could and still sounds excited by the game. And there is a mutual link between Randle and Griffen. Both have been coached up by Andre Patterson, who returned to the Vikings this year coaching the defensive line for Zimmer.
“Andre’s stuff that he taught me, it simplified the game. It matures you,” Randle said. “It gives you a lot of confidence, the stuff Andre Patterson teaches you. Once you started getting more familiar with it, it’s going to open so many things for you in your game.”
Randle, like many others, simply sees big things ahead for Griffen.
“Man, it’s endless possibilities,” he said of Griffen. “I think if he keeps up his play, he could be another guy (with a banner) up on that wall (in the Vikings fieldhouse).”
Sunday slant: Randle likes Griffen’s game
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