One player who appears to have taken one of the biggest leaps forward under coach Mike Zimmer is unheralded defensive end Justin Trattou.
When Zimmer arrived last winter, he inherited Trattou, who joined the Vikings midway through the 2013 season. Trattou played just one game for them that season after the Giants, his first NFL team, released him.
Zimmer thought enough of Trattou to keep him around on the practice squad, and the 6-foot-4 defensive end was promoted to the active roster late in the 2014 season, playing a role in the team’s final four games.
So far in the preseason, Trattou has made a positive impression.
“Definitely being in the second year in this system, I feel much more comfortable,” he said. “I’m playing faster. I’m playing more up to my ability because there’s no thinking anymore. It’s just react.”
Trattou has tallied six tackles, a sack and two passes defended. Against the Raiders, he nearly intercepted Christian Ponder when he leapt to bat down a pass at the line, but he couldn’t pull the ball in as he tumbled to the turf.
Finishing that play off would have been nice, but Trattou isn’t here to pick off passes. He is a speed-rushing end who has been one of the NFL’s most productive pass rushers in the preseason. He has recorded 11 total pressures, per Pro Football Focus, though he benefits from an extra game.
“I’ve definitely improved my pass rush with technique, learning from [defensive line coach Andre] Patterson a lot over the years,” the 26-year-old New Jersey native said. “I used to just run around and try to make moves. Now there’s actually a plan and I’m using my hands correctly.”
Trattou knows Everson Griffen and Brian Robison are the starters. He also knows that Scott Crichton and Danielle Hunter, the two young defensive ends he is competing with for whatever snaps are left behind, are recent third-round picks. But the one-time rookie free agent has stood out.
Zimmer wouldn’t say if Trattou has a leg up on Crichton and Hunter at this point. But he did say he likes what he has seen from Trattou.
“I thought he did well [Saturday], like he always does. He continues to get better. A lot of effort. Helps on special teams,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s improved a lot since we got here. So it’s just keep going on the process.”