Everson Griffen is ready to start, but needs to embrace system change
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Everson Griffen is entering his fifth year in the NFL, but he knows there's still plenty he has to learn.
Griffen, 26, signed his first major contract (five years, $42.5 million) on Tuesday after one career start since the Vikings drafted him in the fourth round (100th overall) of the 2010 draft.
"[The coaching staff is] going to teach us technique, how they're going to teach us to be a smarter football player, how to be a more disciplined football player and the reason I know that is because [Mike Zimmer] is a disciplined guy," Griffen said on a conference call Tuesday. "He wants the most out of you."
You'll hear about Griffen's lack of experience, even though he played a higher percentage of his team's snaps last season than Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who also re-signed with his team before free agency opened. In the same vein you'll hear some laud Griffen's sack total (17 in the last three seasons) because of his relatively lower playing time -- but his snaps were always set up that way. That will change.
Griffen is finally set to be a starter. He's "ready" to be. He said so nine times in his conference call.
But that roughly equates to 250 [25 percent] more snaps than he took last season. What Griffen's new contract really entails is a pressure to compete consistently, no plays off; a pressure to buy into first-year coach Mike Zimmer's system, which isn't predicated on sacks, and a pressure to be the on-the-field leader his salary cap says he should be.
Jared Allen is gone. There's a new sheriff at right end.
"They signed me to this deal for a reason. They have high expectations of me on and off the field, not just on the field, and off the field, too. I've got to be a man in my household and I've got to be a leader on the field with these guys," Griffen said. "I've got to earn their trust and I've got to earn their respect."
At 57 years old, this may be Zimmer's first head coaching job - but it's not his first attempt in maximizing the production from an either previously underachieving or underused defensive lineman.
A major part of that is getting the player to embrace major change in how he plays.
"I've always taken guys in Cincinnati, Dallas and gotten them to believe that this is the right system for them. I've always used guys in the right way, but I've also got them to believe that this is a team game," Zimmer said last week. "This isn't an individual game. I don't know how, but I'm going to continue to do it.
"I've taken guys, you look at Carlos Dunlap. He was no more of a team run player than anybody when we got him or guys that we've had as free agents. La'Roi Glover when we got him in Dallas, he never had been in the left-handed stance before so I don't have any problems convincing guys to do it, but I'm upfront with them in the beginning: 'This is what I expect, this is how we're going to do it and this is what we're going to do.'"
Griffen was primarily used as a pass rusher in his first four seasons. Of his 1,389 snaps across the past two seasons, 900 [65 percent] of those were pass plays, per ProFootballFocus.com. That's how he got 13.5 sacks in the last two seasons.
While his sack totals may climb with more playing time, don't expect Jared Allen-type production.
Griffen will play more as an every-down player, but he's going to play differently.
A key to Griffen's future success will be buying into Zimmer's system, one that asks its defensive linemen to stop the run first. Even if the Vikings have enough depth along the defensive line to shift Griffen into the interior on passing downs - more than two-thirds of the time he'll be asked to crash the line of scrimmage and/or contain a running back first before looking to take down the quarterback.
The Vikings went all-in on Griffen with this contract and it sounds like he's already bought in.
"These guys here, they know how to use their players. I feel that just talking to the coaches that I sat down with a little bit, they know how to use their players, they know how to put you in the right situation at the right time to make a big play," Griffen said. "I just feel with [Zimmer's] mastermind skills and what he brings to the table, he's going to use not just me, he's going to use every single player on the team the right way and that's what we need. We've got all the talent in the world but when all the talent is used right, then the sky is the limit."