MANKATO – Not long after Mike Zimmer was hired by the Vikings and put his coaching staff in place, Sharrif Floyd got a phone call from Andre Patterson. His new position coach cut right to the chase.
“How much did you weigh at Florida your last year?” Patterson asked the second-year defensive tackle.
The veteran defensive line coach had been digging through Floyd’s college game tape to see what he would be getting in the 2013 first-round draft pick. What he saw was a disruptive lineman who recorded 46 tackles and three sacks as a junior while leading the Gators with 13 tackles for a loss.
Two hundred ninety-five pounds, Floyd replied.
“Well, I want that guy,” Patterson said.
A few months and countless Caesar salads later, Floyd arrived at Minnesota State Mankato feeling like his old self. This will be a big training camp for Floyd, who played behind veteran Kevin Williams during his rookie season. Now, the Vikings are counting on him to live up to his promise as a former first-round pick and step into a starting role, and they feel with a slimmer waistline and a year of NFL experience under his belt, Floyd isn’t going to let them down.
“We’re counting on him to be a really good football player for us. Big time,” Patterson said. “If Sharrif can be physical, quick and explosive, if he can bring those things to the table for us every single day, it’s going to give our defense a chance to be successful.”
After Floyd, who some analysts thought could be drafted as high as third overall in 2013, fell into the Vikings’ lap, he played only 39.3 percent of the defensive plays due to the presence of Williams, a perennial Pro Bowler as their three-technique tackle. Floyd made minimal impact with 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 16 games.
“What did you expect? He had a future Hall-of-Famer in front of him,” said Patterson, who is in his second stint as the team’s defensive line coach. “Sharrif was not going to get a whole lot of reps because of the guy who was playing in front of him. To me, you can’t count that against him.”
With Williams gone, having signed with the Seahawks after some late flirtations with the Vikings, a path to a starting spot has been cleared for Floyd. He feels more comfortable after “learning the ropes” from Williams during his rookie season, and while he would prefer to play at his college weight of 295 pounds, he was relieved to hear that the new coaching staff wanted him to be leaner.
Former coach Leslie Frazier’s staff asked Floyd to bulk up as soon as he arrived as a rookie. Floyd obliged and reported to camp at 315 pounds. During the season, he weighed closer to 320 at times.
“They wanted more beef on me,” he said, shrugging. “I never played at that weight until last year.”
This summer, Floyd arrived in Mankato at 303 pounds and feels significantly less sluggish.
It is a delicate balance for a defensive lineman, shedding weight to gain quickness, explosiveness and stamina without sacrificing strength. But both Floyd and the coaching staff believe he hasn’t lost so much weight that he will get pushed around at the point of attack.
So how did Floyd lose the weight? “Just self-control,” he said. His go-to meal was a grilled chicken Caesar salad. Sure, Caesar dressing isn’t the healthiest thing to consume, he acknowledges, “but it’s better than bacon.” The hardest thing to cut out of his diet? Chips.
“I can’t lie. I like chips,” Floyd said. “I like Tostitos scoops, but I get the whole-grain wheat.”
Now that he has redesigned his diet, he is trying to refine his game with Patterson.
The coach placed the biggest emphasis on Floyd’s footwork and use of his hands. Floyd also is trying to hone his pass-rushing moves. He has flashed some already in camp, but he says he has been unable to finish plays because of poor technique after his initial moves.
Zimmer has said that often Floyd has tried too hard to be perfect. Patterson agrees.
“You’re going to get blocked sometime. It’s going to happen,” Patterson said. “So he’s just got to let it go and trust that he knows what to do and just go play. And you learn that over the course of time as a young player and start to get more comfortable in the scheme. I think that process is happening.”
A week into camp, Floyd continues to line up next to nose tackle Linval Joseph with the first-team defense. But he has brushed aside questions about stepping into the starting lineup to replace Williams. Whatever his role his, he says, he plans to “attack it” — just like he did with his diet this spring — and start making a major impact.
“If all eyes are not on me, that’s OK,” he said. “I’ll get them back soon.”