One reason the Vikings defense ranks seventh in the NFL is the presence of linemen Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph, who signed contracts in March 2014 that look like steals now.

In Joseph’s case, he joined as a free agent after four years with the Giants. The Vikings signed the 6-4, 329-pound defensive tackle to a five-year, $31.5 million deal. A second-round pick in 2010 out of East Carolina, Joseph played all 16 games last season but had to battle a number of injuries, and for the season he had 48 tackles, three for loss. He had 59 tackles each of his final two seasons with New York.

But this year, Joseph is putting together his best season as a pro, being named the NFC defensive player of the week after recording a team-high 10 tackles, including three for loss, in the Vikings’ 21-18 overtime victory over St. Louis last weekend. He is on pace for 70 tackles and 14 tackles for loss, both of which would be career highs. In his previous five pro seasons he posted a total of 14 tackles for loss.

Asked if anything has changed that has led to him having more success this season, the 27-year-old said: “I think it’s just now is my sixth year in the league and I have a lot more experience now. Things are easier for me to recognize, and I guess everything is just falling in place right now.”

The word around the Vikings is that Joseph, who was a starter for the Super Bowl champion Giants in his second NFL season, has become a much more vocal presence on the field and in the locker room. He said that’s simply about trying to make everyone better.

“I think so, more comfort level and I just want everybody to be great,” he said. “I want everybody to do their job, and if I can help, I’m going to try to help. That’s how I am. I’m bringing that out more this year because we all have to stick together. I’m going to do what I have to do to help this team.”

Praise from, for Zimmer

Joseph came from playing for a tough-minded defensive coach in Tom Coughlin to playing for another tough-minded defensive coach in Mike Zimmer.

“We all love Zimmer,” he said. “Zimmer is a good guy. He coaches small ball, everybody do their job, and that’s what we’re doing. Right now, everybody is really just in tune and in sync and we just want to keep winning.”

Zimmer said this past week of Joseph: “I don’t want to get too gushy, but I’ve had a couple of really good nose tackles in my career, this guy may be the best.”

Joseph was asked what it’s like to have a coach say those kind of words about him. “It means a lot to me, because everybody works hard, and just to hear Zimmer talk about how well I’m doing or how well the team is doing, it just feels good to know he’s one of us,” he said. “He has my back and I have his back. We just want to win for him, and everybody wants to be a family.”

The Vikings have a tough test Sunday when they visit a Raiders team that ranks eighth in the league in total offense.

“Oakland is a very good team,” he said. “They have a good, strong running back [Latavius Murray]. Their quarterback [Derek] Carr is throwing the ball really, really well this year. Right now, that is the topic. This week we have to prepare for them really well and go out there and get the win.”

Gophers’ hard luck continues

The Gophers are now 4-6 on the season, but perhaps no team has had a tougher schedule, as five of their losses have come against Top 25 teams. And in their past three losses, to No. 15 Michigan, No. 3 Ohio State and, on Saturday, No. 5 Iowa, the Gophers were just a couple of plays short of pulling out big wins.

If you want to be positive, Mitch Leidner is playing the best football of his career. Saturday he completed 19 of 27 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 32 yards and a score. Leidner proved what I’ve been saying for some time, that he will go down as one of the better Gophers quarterbacks.

Consider that Iowa came in ranked eighth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 16.6 points per game, and the Gophers scored 35 on the Hawkeyes.

Even though the Gophers lost this game, and hurt themselves by allowing two drives of over 90 yards and committing 12 penalties for 87 yards, I still believe they will beat Illinois and Wisconsin and earn a bowl bid.

But against Iowa the Gophers had no defense for LeShun Daniels Jr., who rushed for 195 yards and three touchdowns — the final one coming when the Gophers were within one score of winning the game, something they might have accomplished had they gotten the ball back, based on how the offense was moving.

Still you have to credit new head coach Tracy Claeys for the moves he made at halftime. The Gophers outscored the Hawkeyes 21-16 in the second half because of effective defensive adjustments.

SID’s JOTTINGS

The passing of Bruce Dayton at 97 reminded me of how important the Dayton family was in its contributions, financial and otherwise, to making this area a big-league community. Gov. Mark Dayton has continued the family legacy with the new Vikings stadium just one example.

Interesting note from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King: There have been 530 overtime games in the NFL, and Mike Zimmer’s decision to play defense after winning the coin toss was only the 10th time that has happened.

• You might recall that John Ryan Murphy, the new Twins catcher acquired from the Yankees for Aaron Hicks, hit a go-ahead three-run homer off Glen Perkins on July 25 when the Twins closer was struggling.

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Raiders receiver Amari Cooper were high school teammates at Miami Northwestern. Cooper was the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft and Bridgewater was the No. 32 pick in 2014. Cooper, who might not play Sunday because of a quadriceps injury, has 45 catches for 653 yards through eight games. According to the Contra Costa Times, the two also were great students who helped their high school go from getting failing grades in the state evaluation to becoming the first Miami inner-city school to get a B grade, in 2011.

Former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen caught a break when the Bears traded him to Carolina earlier this season. The Panthers are 8-0 and might be headed to the Super Bowl. Allen is helping to lead their defensive charge with 11 tackles and two sacks in the past three games.

Gavin Bassett, a 6-1, 205-pound linebacker from Farmington, is headed to Army to play football. Bassett had 73 tackles and three forced fumbles for the Tigers this season.