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Updated: June 7th, 2010 5:14pm
Pelissero: Everson Griffen 'the next great pass rusher?' Frazier believes

Pelissero: Everson Griffen 'the next great pass rusher?' Frazier believes

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

It's too soon to say for certain that Everson Griffen has changed.

It's early June -- a time when the Minnesota Vikings are practicing in shorts and plenty of NFL rookies are standing out before inevitably fading in the August heat.

But watch Griffen stick around to work on pass-rush moves after practice, then listen to defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier sing his praises, and it's tough to dispute the quick, chatty rookie end has taken the first step toward capitalizing on the talent he too often wasted during an inconsistent career at Southern Cal.

Frazier doesn't stop there either.

"He could be the next great pass rusher in our league," Frazier said recently. "He just has to know how important it is to go hard all the time, and I get the impression he understands that now."

Griffen's skill as a speed rusher is indisputable. He registered 18 sacks in three college seasons, and with an NFL-ready build at 6-foot-3 and 273 pounds, he widely was regarded by observers as a borderline first-round pick entering April's draft.

"I think he's a gifted pass rusher, I really do," a personnel director for an AFC team said. "This is a guy that can come off the edge, he can flatten down, he can close on the quarterback -- he's a really good athlete."

Yet on draft weekend, first-round ability wasn't enough to make up for the lapses on and off the field that maddened Griffen's coaches at USC. He disappeared for stretches there, seemed uncompetitive at times and gained a reputation for being immature and high-maintenance.

At least one NFL team took Griffen -- whom the Vikings ended up selecting in the fourth round (100th overall) -- off its draft board altogether in the weeks leading up to the draft. Asked why, an executive for that team said, "Once you start interviewing him, you'll call me back."

Griffen does have a rambling way with words, and the Vikings felt compelled to spend extra time -- including campus visits by three scouts and one-on-one conversations with vice president of football operations Rick Spielman and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar -- checking into his background before the draft.

But Griffen comes off as sincere when he talks about "doing my freshman year all over again" as an NFL rookie, saying he views himself as a leader who's ready to put his shortcomings in the past.

"You've just got to come out here with a chip every play," Griffen said. "You've got to come out here and sprint to the ball and just be that team player and come out and give it your all. You're in the NFL now, and your expectation is high, for everybody. You've just got to come out here and just work and work and work and get the job done when the coach asks you to."

If he continues to embrace that mantra in the competitive, veteran-laden environment of training camp -- still a big "if" at this stage -- Griffen will be a good bet not only to make the Vikings' 53-man roster, but to factor in pass-rushing situations at all four defensive-line positions as a rookie.

Even without an effective counter move, Griffen offers far more as a rusher than try-hard street free agent Michael Montgomery, and the team believes he'll benefit from working alongside the likes of Jared Allen, Ray Edwards and Brian Robison.

Considering Edwards' uncertain status as a restricted free agent, and with Edwards and Robison possibly headed for free agency in 2011, there could be bigger things for Griffen in the not-too-distant future as well.

First, Griffen has to prove -- every day, every practice -- the changes he seems to be making are more than spring smoke and mirrors.

"I've been impressed with his work ethic and his desire to put that (inconsistency) behind him," Frazier said. "He knows what the knocks were on him coming out of college. We talked to him about it. He's making a conscious effort to rev his motor up and to go hard every play.

"We're always on him about it, because we don't want him to slip back, and we've got players on him as well. The fact that he's responded to that gives me hope that he will reach the potential that we think he has."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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