Griffen gets a new beginning

Defensive end Everson Griffen survived a drop in the draft and showed up at Vikings rookie camp looking to disprove a reputation he gained in college that contributed to his falling draft stock. See what the defensive end had to say about his first practice and his transition to the NFL.

Everson Griffen had a productive college career. It was enough to have most draft analysts in the media pegging him as a potential second-round pick, if not moving up into the first round.

Then it happened. Every year there is a high-profile player that slips. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen went from being considered a top-10 talent to being bypassed twice by the Vikings before the Carolina Panthers grabbed him in the middle of the second round. Griffen had his own, even more precipitous, slide.

In the new three-day draft format, Griffen had to wait through two overnight breaks before the Vikings made him the 100th overall selection – the second pick of the fourth round.

"The man above has a set plan for you. Whatever that plan is, you've just got to go with it. I'm going with it and working hard every day," Griffen said. "I'm loving my new D-line coach, Coach (Karl) Dunbar. He's a great guy. I'm happy to be a part of it. You've got Jared Allen and Ray Edwards. It's going to be great here."

"Working hard every day" wasn't the perception that Griffen garnered at the end of his USC career, at least not by NFL scouts and personnel men. Griffen was passed over in the draft three times by his head coach at USC, Pete Carroll, who is now head coach with the Seattle Seahawks. In fact, most teams decided he wasn't worthy of a third-round value.

"It was tough, but I made it through. I'm here now. I'm a Viking and I'm proud to be a Viking," he said matter-of-factly after a recent practice in the Vikings' rookie minicamp.

His success in college started early. After a decorated high school career that included the Player of the Year, he became the first true freshman at USC to start the season opener on the defensive line since Tim Ryan in 1986, and he had early success, racking up 5½ sacks in 12 games (two starts).

Another round of honors was bestowed on him and he had similar success in 2008. But last year was his breakout season. He became a full-time starter, had 45 tackles, 8½ for a loss, seven sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, one pass breakup and one quarterback pressure.

"I worked hard in college and I'm going to keep on doing what I'm doing. If I didn't work hard, I wouldn't be here right now," he said.

The Vikings said he was the highest rated player on their board at the time they took him, but in this case that's not hard to believe. Despite not having a pressing need at defensive end, Griffen's talent was too much for the Vikings to pass up.

"He can run. He's athletic. The consistency level has to improve somewhat in his play," said director of college scouting Scott Studwell. "There were games where he was a first-round pick and games when he would disappear."

It will be up to Dunbar, the Vikings' defensive line coach, to get the most out of Griffen. Dunbar was one of the men running drills for defensive linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and got an up-close look at Griffen.

"I talked to him a little bit, but not that much," Griffen said about meeting Dunbar in Indianapolis. "I'm happy to be here and happy that Coach Dunbar gets to coach me. He's a great coach and there's good pros on this team that I get to learn from. It's the next steppingstone for me."

But it will up to Griffen to prove himself over and over again to his new coaches and teammates. They all know the reputation he developed in college.

They also know that it's a transition for a rookie on the defensive line. Offensive tackles in the NFL are bigger, quicker and stronger. To counter that, Griffen will be taught new techniques.

"It's a learning process. You've just got to learn. It's like your freshman year. You've got to learn new techniques, new coaching and just the atmosphere. Just work hard every day and make your chores. Just keep building off this," he said.

"It's a lot. It's like your freshman year all over again. You've just got to learn and listen. That's it, learn and listen and apply what they taught you."

Griffen maintains that he's a hard worker and he doesn't want to let the opportunity before him slip and justify his drop in the draft. Over the weekend, it was a surreal feeling for him to be working in the NFL.

"It's been my dream my whole life and now it's here and I've got to make the most of it," he said. "I'm going to work here every day and just show the coaches what I've got. It's a business. You've got to work hard every day. It's a puzzle, you've got to be that piece of that fits. If you don't fit, you know what's going to happen, so I'm just trying to make sure I fit in the puzzle.

"Whatever my role is, I just want to play my role. If it's a big role, I'm going to play the big role. If it's a small role, I'm going to play the small role. Whatever my role is, I'm going to do."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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