Everson Griffen moved to linebacker, likely to play there on Thursday
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Two of the challenges facing Minnesota Vikings coaches throughout the preseason have been linebacker depth and finding a way to get end Everson Griffen on the field.
They may have found a way to solve both issues with one position switch.
Griffen worked at weak-side linebacker for part of practice on Monday, a day after coaches approached him about making the surprise move two weeks before the regular-season opener.
"We have some packages where we want him to stand up sometimes," coach Leslie Frazier said, "and we thought that this would give him an opportunity to get comfortable doing that when we go to some of those packages during the course of the year."
If all goes well, the plan is play Griffen at linebacker in Thursday's preseason finale against the Houston Texans.
"For my size, I'm pretty versatile," said Griffen, who stands 6-foot-3 and 273 pounds.
"I can play down. I can play up. They asked me. I'm going to try it out and see how it works out. Whatever they want me to do. It's all about Coach Frazier and the team and making us right, making us better."
Teams that play 3-4 defenses evaluated Griffen as an outside linebacker prospect in 2010, when he fell to the Vikings in the fourth round (100th overall) in part because of concerns about maturity and consistency.
The 23-year-old is unusually heavy for a 4-3 linebacker. But he's a talented speed rusher, has been one of the Vikings' standouts since training camp began and wouldn't see much time working behind right end Jared Allen, who played 93.3% of the defensive snaps last season.
"He's a tremendous athlete," Frazier said. "A guy that weights 270 pounds, can run a 4.6 or 4.5 (in the 40-yard dash). He's just a tremendous athlete with good football intelligence and has some playmaking ability. So, we want to utilize his athletic ability."
Erin Henderson has taken the lion's share of reps at weak-side linebacker since the start of training camp, in part because Jasper Brinkley has been battling a hip flexor injury -- he was sent to see a specialist on Monday, Frazier said -- and Kenny Onatolu missed several weeks with a stress fracture in his foot.
"We just have a lot of assignments you've got to read," Griffen said. "We have to read the wide receiver, just getting the technique down and just knowing your keys, what to key and what not to key."
Asked if Griffen's move is about depth or Henderson's performance, Frazier said, "Depth. Nothing to do with Erin in that regard. We're pretty depleted right now at linebacker. But we also wanted to see Everson in a stand-up role and just be able to evaluate him also. But a lot of it has to do with where we are depth-wise."
The Vikings also have been without linebackers Heath Farwell (hamstring) and Ross Homan (concussion), who both practiced on Monday. Another reason for moving Griffen: the strong preseason of rookie Christian Ballard, who has been working at defensive tackle but will get some time at end on Thursday, Frazier said.
Griffen was an end throughout his career at USC and also played defensive line in high school. So, his experience in coverage is limited to dropping on zone blitzes.
"I've just got to study my book," Griffen said. "That's what it's about. Trying to transition to a new position, I've just got to study my book and get into my book and know the play calls and know my assignments."