The next few months could determine whether Sharrif Floyd remains with the Vikings for the long haul. But as the fourth-year defensive tackle heads into the most important season of his career, he said he has no individual goals in mind.
But here is one number Floyd should shoot for — 16.
In the two seasons after Mike Zimmer arrived and tabbed him as the replacement for Kevin Williams as the starting three-technique tackle along the Vikings defensive front, Floyd sat out five games because of injuries and left a few others early. He played all 16 games as a rookie part-timer but has not done it as a starter.
His long list of nagging boo-boos in three years in the NFL includes injuries to his knee, ankle, back, shoulder, elbow, and then his ankle and knee again. And that’s just what the Vikings felt obligated to list on their official injury reports.
“They’re more annoying than anything,” Floyd said of the injuries. “It’s the name of the game. It’s a grind. If it was easy, the pizza man would be doing it.”
And that would have to be a pretty big pizza man, right?
“Yeah, a big pizza man,” Floyd said Wednesday with a laugh.
Not many men, whether they deliver pizzas or not, have the combination of size, strength and quickness possessed by Floyd, a first-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2013. And on the occasions when the 25-year-old has been relatively healthy, he has flashed the ability to be one of the NFL’s better defensive tackles.
But his frequent injury issues have frustrated Zimmer’s coaching staff. And if the injuries continue in 2016, they surely will give General Manager Rick Spielman pause as he considers whether to offer a long-term extension to Floyd after the season.
The Vikings this spring picked up Floyd’s fifth-year option, keeping him under team control through 2017. But it is their preference to finalize lucrative extensions for their young, ascending keepers a year before they hit free agency, as they did in July when they briefly made Harrison Smith the NFL’s highest-paid safety.
“It’s not really on my mind. I know it’s there, it’s coming,” Floyd said. “But outside of that, I’m just trying to focus on the team and what this year has in store for us. Nothing personal for myself. I’m just worried about us.”
He added: “Everything else just falls into place if you’re doing your job.”
Floyd’s job is an important one in Zimmer’s defense. The three-technique tackle must be a disrupter against the run and push the pocket when opponents throw. And Floyd also is supposed to fill an important role as an interior pass rusher in the vast and complex double “A’’ gap blitzes that Zimmer schemes up for third-and-long.
So why has Floyd only scratched the surface of his NFL potential?
“One of the things is to continue to stay healthy,” Zimmer said.
When Floyd missed three consecutive games in the middle of last season because of knee and ankle injuries, the Vikings were forced to turn to veteran tackle Tom Johnson as the starting three-technique. Johnson struggled against the run and then appeared to lack juice in the pass-rushing situations in which he had thrived.
Veteran defensive end Brian Robison, meanwhile, had to move inside to fill Floyd’s role in some of Zimmer’s passing-down blitz packages. He fared well.
This summer, Floyd still was bothered by the knee injury from 2015 and missed two full weeks of practice during training camp and the first two preseason games. But with the regular-season opener against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville looming in a few days, Floyd wasn’t listed on the first injury report of the 2016 season.
“We’ve been told since we got in the league that we ain’t never going to feel fresh again,” Floyd said. “But I feel good going into the week.”
The Vikings have prepared themselves, though, for another potential injury to Floyd by readying third-year defensive tackle Shamar Stephen to be his backup in some situations. Stephen was used mostly at nose tackle in his first two seasons.
The Vikings hope Stephen won’t be needed to play more than a minor rotational role this season. If Floyd can stay out of head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman’s office and finally become a consistent force, Floyd and nose tackle Linval Joseph can form one of the league’s most destructive defensive tackle duos.
“Last year he had a couple of injuries that held him back,” Johnson said of Floyd. “I think this year you’ll be able to see him excel.”