Everson Griffen's voice trailed off in midsentence into silence. And then he smiled.
He misses his mom, he said. Sabrina Scott's unexpected death in October while in town visiting her son remains as painful now as that horrible day. He takes solace in knowing that she would have loved his "Sack Daddy'' celebration, which he dedicates to her. And he knows she would have been proud of him.
"I always talk to her," Griffen said. "I feel her all the time with me."
Inspired by his mother's death, Griffen has energized the Vikings defense as a pass-rushing specialist. His late-season charge culminated with a three-sack performance against the Green Bay Packers last week that helped set up Saturday night's rematch at Lambeau Field.
"A game like that gives you more confidence, gives you more attitude and a little bit more swagger," he said.
Not that Griffen ever has lacked confidence, attitude or swagger. Just the opposite.
Griffen played the part of problem child as an NFL rookie, becoming a bigger distraction than any fourth-round pick ever should be. He barely made a ripple with his play, and off the field, he registered two separate arrests in the same weekend and conceived an ill-advised Las Vegas Super Bowl party that he ultimately canceled because of the negative publicity it received.
Freakishly athletic for a defensive lineman, Griffen also was undeniably immature, and his football career seemed destined to flame out before he had a chance to realize his true potential. His actions tested the team's patience and necessitated a few stern lectures from his head coach.
"We had a lot of talks," Leslie Frazier said. "A lot of talks, a lot of conversations."
Griffen rewarded the Vikings' loyalty by becoming a positive story. Now in his third season, he has amended his standing inside the organization by projecting a more professional approach to his job. He is still as hyper as a sugar rush, but he seems to accept his responsibilities better now.
"He's a great example for other young players that come into the league, because there are some traps if you're not careful with how you deal with certain things," Frazier said. "This is not a college atmosphere. We still have to continue to work in a lot of areas, but he has made drastic improvements."
His mother's death and the upcoming birth of his son -- Grayson Scott, due Jan. 27 -- lent new perspective on life. Sabrina Scott died while her son was at Winter Park. She was 52. Police officers broke the news to Griffen in Frazier's office. The cause of death was coronary artery dissection, Griffen said.
"It's hard every single day," he said. "But she's happy and smiling down. She couldn't be happier with what I'm doing and my progress and how I'm maturing and everything that's going on in my life right now."
Griffen credits his mother for helping him navigate his rocky 2010 rookie season. His career was headed down the wrong path after a pair of arrests in January 2011 -- one alcohol-related, the other for fleeing police during a traffic stop that ended with him being tased. Griffen refers to them as "mishaps," but he didn't exactly endear himself to his employer.
"My mom was my rock," he said. "I went to her for anything, and she always had my back. My biggest thing was staying focused, and that's what I'm showing now. That I can be that guy that they can count on and be a leader on this team one day. My past is behind me."
His future looks promising. Despite playing a part-time role, Griffen finished third on the team in sacks (eight), second in quarterback hurries (25) and third in tackles for loss (10). He also returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown against St. Louis last month.
Not many NFL players can match Griffen's unique skill set. He has played defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker this season. He weighs 273 pounds, runs like a safety and is probably one of only a few defensive linemen in NFL history who has manned the gunner role on the punt team.
"Whatever they have me do," he said, "I can handle it."
That's the dilemma for the coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams wants to maximize Griffen's explosive burst without compromising his effectiveness. Williams said coaches monitor Griffen's snaps -- or "pitch count" -- to prevent diminishing returns.
"We have to be careful that we don't do too many things with him and water down what he does best," Williams said. "And what he does best is get off the ball and get after the quarterback."
The Vikings hope Griffen gets after Aaron Rodgers in the same manner he did last week. Even more, they hope Griffen continues on this same course. He's even talking about becoming a locker room leader some day, a scenario that seemed laughable two years ago.
Only one person can prevent that from happening.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org