Cornerback Cedric Griffin is still adjusting to life in the NFL, but he believes his long-term success lies in how patient he can be.
As a second-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Griffin has proved be a player with starting potential and a player that needs the seasoning that comes with repetition and getting used to life in the NFL.
"My adjustment has just been more about the mental game and learning how to be patient out there on the field. I don't think it's a real big adjustment from college because the speed of the game is all the same. I really believe so," Griffin said. "The adjustment is more on the mental game, just staying focused on what the coaches tell you and learn how to be patient on the field because wide receivers and the offensive guys, they'll try to set you up in ways to run different routes. It's all about being patient and learning to read your keys."
But patience can be hard for a rookie who wants to prove he can play in his first season in the league. Just ask cornerback Ronyell Whitaker, who splits time with Griffin in the different nickel packages the Vikings employ.
"You go out and you want to play so hard. Especially as a rookie, you want to make that play, the play that's going to change the game on every snap. When you look at it that way, you kind of get caught up and make a few mistakes here and there," Whitaker said. "Ced's just a competitor. He just likes to compete. You can't fault him for that. That's the nature of the business – it's either eat or be eaten. That's the mentality that he takes in, and Ced's a tough kid."
Griffin's toughness comes from a childhood in which he was essentially raised by a close friend's parents during his formative teenage years, and by spending his college days in Mack Brown's system at Texas.
After being a big part of the Longhorns' National Championship team last year, Griffin, like many NFL rookies, entered the league as a backup.
"I think it's always tough for athletes coming from the college to the pros because they expect to play, they expect to contribute, which I am on special teams and which I love to do. I don't have any problems doing that, but I think it's tough for a lot of players coming out straight from college to be patient and not try to rush the process and get on the field from the defensive or offensive side of the ball," Griffin said.
"I definitely want to show them what I can do, but (the coaches) are professional in what they do, so they know I need some improvement. I know I need some improvement in some areas. I'm going to take my time and when I go out there I'm going to be ready, go out there at 100 percent and make plays."
Griffin is also adjusting to life on special teams in the NFL, where some rules are different than the college version.
On Sunday, Griffin was penalized for going out of bounds as a gunner on punt coverage and being the first man to touch the ball.
"I've just been overly aggressive taking guys down," Griffin said of the penalties. "The one where I can't go out of bounds, I had no idea about that. It's a little adjustment and I'm learning on the run. That's what it's all about your rookie year – it's a curve."
Griffin is currently on that curve on both special teams and defense, but he appears to be a player that is contributing here and there on defense and trying to make a difference on special teams. He has been active for both games so far and registered one tackle on special teams.
But he wasn't drafted to simply play special teams his whole career. Although it might take some time to crack a bigger role on defense with Antoine Winfield, Fred Smoot and Whitaker ahead of him, eventually that time is expected to come, and Whitaker says the mental aspect of playing cornerback is the hardest part.
"It's the toughest position on the field, period, hands-down. It's probably the toughest position in sports, maybe other than boxing or something like that," Whitaker said. "At corner, you have to have that mindset that if something happens, you have to forget about it – whether it's good or bad. One minute you'll have an interception and take it to the yard and the next play you come back and get beat for a touchdown.
"Playing corner, you've got to understand that when you make your mistake, everybody sees it. It's a little different from the other positions. You could see a linebacker miss a wrong gap or a defensive lineman miss a wrong gap and no one is really paying attention to that. But that 18- or 25-yard pass on that corner, everyone sees that and they're going to point it out. You have to have a tough mind to play cornerback."
Griffin has made some mistakes and has yet to register a tackle on defense, but Whitaker says he hasn't seen the rookie get down on himself. Instead, he's in full learning mode.
"I'm sitting back and learning from Ronyell and from Antoine because I'm trying to get that position. I'm focusing on what they're doing and what they're not doing right and I'm going to try to get better."
TOGETHER THEY WIN
The Vikings defense is ranked seventh in the league so far, a vast improvement from the unit that finished 21st last year.
According to Darren Sharper, the difference can be attributed to better chemistry and attention to details.
"This year we have a little bit better chemistry with one another because guys have been here. We have just two new starters from last year, so guys are little more familiar with each other. That helps," Sharper said. "But I just think how we're schooled up, how we're taught, where you need to be day after day and day after day, how it was engrained in us is why we're not having the mental breakdowns. And our menu is not that thick, too, so that helps out."
KEEPING A ROOKIE IN PLACE
Last week, defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin was asked for his assessment on the progress of rookie defensive end Ray Edwards. Tomlin said Edwards needed to focus on special teams … and then Edwards had a big role in the rotation on the defensive line against Carolina.
"(He's) just making sure I'm staying on my P's and Q's," Edwards said of Tomlin's comment.
Edwards figures to garner even more playing time now that Erasmus James was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
Notebook: Griffin Staying Focused
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