Everson Griffen should be on the field when the Vikings face Detroit, which would be excellent news for coach Mike Zimmer and his staff after the defensive end showed up ill before the Kansas City game last week and couldn’t play.
Griffen has been a great player ever since the Vikings made the decision to not re-sign Jared Allen after the 2013 season. The Vikings instead decided to go with Griffen, a fourth-round pick in 2010 out of Southern California who had shown signs of great potential, as he had eight sacks in 2012 and 5½ in 2013. Still, it was somewhat surprising the Vikings gave Griffen a five-year, $42.5 million deal before he had played a full season at defensive end.
But the contract has proved to be one of the Vikings’ best decisions. Griffen set career highs in tackles (75) and sacks (12) last season and was named the NFC defensive player of the month last October. He finished in the top 10 in the NFL in sacks.
Now Griffen is anchoring a young Vikings defensive unit. He was asked if this year could result in even greater accolades, such as a trip to the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro designation.
“If I keep doing my job and doing my assignment on every play and listen to the coaches and just go out there and perform, anything is possible,” said Griffen, who has three sacks in the four games he has played this season. “Am I aiming for the Pro Bowl? Yes, of course. But right now my whole purpose is to help this team win.”
He said that when it comes to receiving praise for being one of the best defensive ends in the league, he doesn’t let it go to his head.
“If [people] say that, then thank you to them,” he said. “But I have to go out there each and every week to prove it, so that’s my job to prove that each and every week that I am the best.”
Asked if he can continue to improve season to season, Griffen said he could under the instruction of Andre Patterson, who is in his second stint as Vikings defensive line coach after also serving in that role under Dennis Green in 1998-99.
“I listen, I adapt to what the coaches give me, I can learn on the fly, and I work hard each and every day,” he said. “Along with the rest of my D-line, we have the best D-line coach in the whole game, Andre Patterson, he’s the best. He got Sharrif [Floyd] right, me right. I’m at this stage because of him and myself working hard with the rest of the coaches putting us in the situation to win each and every week. That’s what we want to do each and every week to win. Having him and Linval [Joseph] and B-Rob [Brian Robison], we have a chance to be a pretty good D-line.”
Griffen is pleased with his play this season. “I’m just trying to take each day as it presents itself and learn and respond,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. Most of the things that happen to you it’s how you respond to it. You know so if you respond well and bounce back from it and learn from it, that’s how you know you’re getting better.”
Not just about sacks
One of Zimmer’s central beliefs as a coach is that the Vikings are only going to succeed if players put aside their personal goals and focus on team goals. So how does Griffen avoid simply trying to get sacks?
“They’re important, but the most important thing in football should be winning,” he said. “Your individual stats should come second to winning. Yeah, your individual sacks should be the last thing you should think about besides winning the game. You should want to win the game each and every week before worrying about getting three or four sacks or making a touchdown or getting an interception. The whole purpose of the game of football is to play as a team, win as a team, and I want to win games.”
Griffen said he has enjoyed playing with the young defensive players. He was asked for his impression of rookie Eric Kendricks and the linebacking corps.
“I love Kendricks,” Griffen said. “He’s young, he can tackle, the biggest thing is he can learn on the fly. Everybody was at the stage he is now last year — this is our second year underneath the defense and it’s his first year. He’s learning on the fly.
“We have a lot of young guys out there that are really developing and showing they can help this team win. That’s our whole goal is to help this team win, and he’s a big part of that. We’re happy to have him and Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway. We have a lot of guys that are contributing to the team. But in order for us to win, we have to do it each Sunday and for 60 minutes.”
The Vikings are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They haven’t won the NFC North since 2009, but asked if Griffen believes they have a chance to compete for a division title, he said: “Can we win the division? We’re not thinking about winning the division right now. My whole goal is lining up each and every game to help this team win, along with Captain [Munnerlyn] and Harrison Smith and Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd, the guys that put out there on the line each and every day. That’s our whole team. We have a chance to win, but we have to bring it each and every week.”
• The Gophers football team has 19 seniors on the roster, but injuries have forced many of them to miss games since the season opener with TCU: offensive linemen Joe Bjorklund, Brian Bobek and Josh Campion; defensive linemen Scott Ekpe and Robert Ndondo-Lay; running backs Miles Thomas and Rodrick Williams; and defensive backs Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Damarius Travis. Tight end Lincoln Plsek has missed the entire season because of a back injury, too. The other seniors are receiver KJ Maye; offensive linemen Foster Bush and Jon Christenson; defensive linemen Theiren Cockran and Alan Keith; linebacker De’Vondre Campbell; defensive backs Eric Murray and Antonio Johnson; and punter Peter Mortell.
• In the Arizona Fall League, Twins prospect Mitch Garver is off to a good start, batting .462 (6-for-13) with a homer and five RBI, getting two hits in each of his first three games with Scottsdale. Other Twins prospects there are catcher Stuart Turner, outfielder Adam Brett Walker and pitchers Nick Burdi, Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers and Jake Reed. … Former Gophers lefthander Tom Windle, a 2013 second-round pick of the Dodgers who was traded to Philadelphia last year, has struck out three in two innings for Glendale.
• In the United States Hockey League, a few Gophers recruits are off to good starts. Edina native Ryan Zuhlsdorf has eight assists in nine games for Sioux City and was named the USHL defenseman of the week this past week. Goalie Ryan Edquist, who led Lakeville North to the state title last season, is second in the USHL with a 2-0-1 with a 1.35 goals-against average for Madison. Brannon McManus has two goals and three assists in nine games for Omaha, and Tarek Baker has two goals and five assists in nine games for Bloomington.