For most of the season, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen had in the back of his mind that he was going to be facing Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Griffen was also in the Class of 2010, taken 96 picks after Williams. It isn’t reason enough to hold a personal grudge, but, when you’re from the same class, there are always comparisons made and there is a little extra juice when you meet up with them.
However, those plans got scuttled in a big way. The Redskins, who are coming off their bye week after a tie in London in Week 8, announced last week that Williams had been suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
In the world of “next man up,” that man for the Redskins is Ty Nsekhe.
That’s exactly the point, which is what makes the lining up of Griffen opposite Nsekhe this week’s key matchup.
How anonymous is Nsekhe? Griffen knows who he is from watching film – primarily from preseason games – but doesn’t know his name. He’s No. 79.
“Trent Williams is out, so we have to take advantage of that,” Griffen said. “No. 79, he’s a big dude. He likes shooting his hands. We’re just going through the game plan and need to rush him.”
It’s not unusual that Griffen doesn’t have a full dossier on Nsekhe. It takes forensic science to find it. Undrafted out of Texas State University in 2009, he started his pro career – if you can call it that – in the Arena Developmental League – where players were paid $100 a game, $150 if they won. He got a tryout in Miami in 2011, but, when the NFL lockout happened, his expected offer went away and he played for the Dallas Vigilante and the Philadelphia Soul of the AFL.
In 2012, he played for the AFL’s San Antonio Talons, which got him noticed by NFL scouts. He spent the offseason on the Colts’ roster and subsequently played in two games before being cut by the Rams.
In 2013, after being cut by St. Louis, he was out of football until the summer of 2014, when he briefly played with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes before going back to the AFL with the Los Angeles Kiss.
In 2015, he signed with the Redskins and saw action in 13 games, making two starts. He has been on the game-day roster every game this season, but Sunday will be his first action.
“I don’t know too much about him because there isn’t that much tape on him,” Griffen said. “He’s got some big shoes to fill. Trent Williams is one of the best left tackles in the league. Each and every week, I study the guy I’m going up against and you can learn things about everybody. He hits high and is a decent player. But, I’m just going to be me and help my team win.”
Nsekhe is a giant at 6-8, 335 pounds, but his first challenge as a starter is going up against a player who has posted double-digit sacks in both of his seasons as a full-time starter and is on pace to do that again this season.
Griffen has been able to figure out what Nsekhe’s strengths and weaknesses are, but he doesn’t plan on changing up things too much. In the end, he still comes out with the same attitude of taking his game to the blocker and seeing how he holds up.
“We change up stuff week by week, but, at the end of the day, I work my move,” Griffen said. “I use what I use. I don’t really diverge from what I do. If he wants to double-hand punch me, I’m still going to take it to his face and make him sit down. I really just stick to my game plan.”
It’s rare to see a game where one of the most critical man-on-man battles on the field involves a Pro Bowler against a journeyman with a lot of stops on his football resume and only two starts – from back in 2012.
The Vikings need to get their swagger back and Griffen would have been all that Williams could handle. The potential to overwhelm Nsekhe is potentially devastating, which will make their hand-to-hand combat this week’s matchup to watch.