Few NFL players have improved from season to season as much as Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen. He is entering his eighth season with the club and posted one of his best statistical seasons in 2016 with 48 tackles, eight sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 2016.

After being drafted by the Vikings in the fourth round out of USC in 2010, Griffen broke out in his third pro season and recorded eight sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception. His impressive play in limited snaps led the Vikings to sign Griffen to a five-year, $42.5 million deal in 2014.

Griffen said more and better preparation in the offseason is one key to his improvement.

"I think just going out there and finding new ways to work out," Griffen said. "Just working with my movement guy Shawn Myszka, we work on range, how to bend. And this year I really implemented my hand specialist Rick [Faye] at Minnesota Kali Group [a martial arts school], I'm working with him now two days a week. We just are going to keep on doing that.

"If you stay the same in this league and you're not improving, that's the fastest way to be out of the league. So that's my biggest thing is to stay in this league and find ways to improve my game so I can have longevity."

Patterson's influence

The Vikings have had a fair amount of coaching staff turnover during Griffen's career. But his defensive line coach, Andre Patterson, is entering his sixth overall season with the club (Patterson was the Vikings' defensive line coach in 1998-99, then rejoined the team in 2014 when Mike Zimmer was hired as head coach).

Griffen talked about his relationship with Patterson.

"The biggest thing with him is he brings it for every player," Griffen said. "He doesn't coach anyone the same. He brings the attitude and he doesn't talk X and O, he talks reality. He knows we have moving bodies and we're moving fast out there. He really teaches everybody different. Everybody has different abilities and different strengths, and he works on your strengths and helps you with your weaknesses.

"Also what he does great is he's a great football coach, but he talks about being a man and how being a man correlates to being a great football player, too. He brings everything into his coaching that allows us to go out there and perform at a high level."

Griffen said that kind of personality makes for a strong relationship.

"You know he loves us like we're his own kids. He's so proud," he said. "He wants us to be the best person that we can be on and off the field, and that's what I love about him. He's the best D-line coach I've ever had from top to bottom. His personality, his drills, with everything he brings, he's the best D-line coach in the league by far."

Defensive specialists

Griffen has worked with some great defensive-minded head coaches in college and the NFL, from Pete Carroll at USC to Leslie Frazier and Zimmer with the Vikings.

Griffen recorded 18 sacks in his three seasons with the Trojans and made second-team All-Pac-10 before leaving and entering the NFL draft after his junior year. He said Carroll liked to challenge his players mentally and physically.

"He wanted to see your mental capacity, to see what he could throw at you and still have you focus on football," Griffen said. "That was his goal. He was a good coach, a positive coach, and we won a lot of games at USC.

"He really instilled a lot of values in all of his players … to go out and compete every single day. Competition Mondays, Turnover Tuesdays, No-repeat Wednesdays, different things like that he implemented into his philosophy and what he did on a daily basis."

With Zimmer, Griffen said he sees a brilliant defensive coach who surrounds himself with other great coaches.

"[Zimmer is] a mastermind," Griffen said. "But we have to take this into account, too, he has some of the best working for him. Being a head coach is just like us being out there with our teammates. It's a team game, so I mean he has a lot of help. But he's a mastermind, working under Bill Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys, and he just brings that different type of vibe for everybody. He's just a mastermind. He's a very good coach, and he's always the same guy. He's outstanding and he never backs down."


• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck was asked how his coaching staff has already started assembling what appears to be a top-20 recruiting class for 2018: "We're just us. We have a lot of energy and passion, and like I've said from the start, I think this is a sleeping giant. That's why we came to the University of Minnesota, with a $166 million Athletes Village being built to being able to have one of the best facilities in the country academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. It encompasses all four of those.

"We have one of the best cities in America, one of the safest cities in America, one of the best institutions in the world and we're very, very excited about the future of Gophers football. I think a lot of young people see that, too, and they see our energy and understand this is going to be the next place in college football to be at."

• The Twins are planning a special night celebrating local music icon Prince. On June 16 they will host "Prince Night" during a game against the Indians and the first 10,000 fans will receive a "Purple Rain" umbrella.

• Early in the season it seemed that Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau wasn't planning to keep point guard Ricky Rubio. But Thibodeau said Rubio got better each month and that might change how he fits with the Wolves in the future. "The second half of the season, he was one of the better point guards in the league," Thibodeau said. "We're very pleased with his progress. But we also know there's a lot of work for us to do."

• The Twins' new front office is trying new things, and Derek Falvey said one thing the club has done is hire a sports therapist. "I think it is essential. It's a big part of our game," said Falvey, the team's president of baseball operations. "We talk about the coaching side quite frequently, we talk about strength and conditioning and what we do on the fundamental side, but performance psychology is something that's very important. We've seen that over the last several years in every sport. We want to make sure we're supporting the mental side as much as we are the physical side."

Sid Hartman can be heard Mondays and Fridays on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: shartman@startribune.com.