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Updated: June 21st, 2014 3:59pm
Zulgad: DE Griffen looking forward to playing an attacking style on defense

Zulgad: DE Griffen looking forward to playing an attacking style on defense

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Questions about the Tampa-2 defense appear to be the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard at Winter Park.

This observation came to mind last week as defensive end Everson Griffen was asked about the difference between the scheme the Vikings used the past eight years and what new coach Mike Zimmer is installing this offseason.

"The Tampa-2 was fun, but let's get away from the Tampa-2, let's talk about this," Griffen said.
Griffen made it clear that Zimmer's defense will have nothing in common with what was employed in the past.

"We attack now. Our coach lets us attack now," Griffen said. "We make plays. I feel like we're go-getters. We're not waiting for them to strike. We're going to strike them before they strike us. That's what our defense is.

"We're high tempo, high speed and we're smart players. We just need to play as a team and be ready to dominate. Know that we're going to dominate every single play in every single game."

Dominating every play in every game might not be realistic, but Griffen's reference to playing an attacking style is good news for Vikings fans.

The Vikings finished next to last in the NFL in 2013 in total defense largely because they either lacked talent at certain key positions (for example, Chris Cook) or didn't use the personnel they had in a proper manner (thinking Josh Robinson could be used inside in the nickel package was a gross miscalculation).

Another part of the issue was the Tampa-2 had become far too predictable and made it easy for quarterbacks to pick it apart. It's interesting that Griffen applied the word attacking to what Zimmer wants to do because the Tampa-2 also had some passive tendencies.

The Vikings defense might struggle at times this season but it should not be because anyone is playing passive.

"We're going to attack and we're going to be smart," Griffen said. "We're not going to worry about what the other team is doing. We're going to play our style of ball and they are going to have to adjust to what we do."

Griffen, a fourth-round pick by the Vikings in 2010, is expected to play an important role, replacing Jared Allen as the starting right end. Griffen has played in all 16 games the past three seasons but still has only one career start.

The Vikings experimented with Griffen at linebacker during training camp in 2012 but quickly moved away from that idea. He finished with eight sacks that season and had 5.5 in 2013.

That production, and his potential upside, earned Griffen a five-year, $42.5 million contract in March that includes $19.8 million in guarantees.

"It lessens the pressure," Griffen said of the contract. "I get to go out there and have fun. I get to go out there and really become a master of my craft. Learn different moves and different techniques. I'm just ready to take it to the next level."

It will be interesting to see if Zimmer moves Griffen around. It was clear in minicamp that Zimmer will provide opponents with a variety of looks.

"Of course I want to be at right end. I'm a very versatile guy," Griffen said. "Whatever they have me do, I'm just going to do to my best ability and go out there and dominate and listen and learn.

"Absorb all the knowledge from the coaches. We have coaches that teach you here. Andre Patterson, coach (Robb) Akey. They are the best group of defensive line coaches I've been around. If you listen to them and adapt to what they are giving you that's the only thing you can ask for."

Griffen will enter the season with 17.5 career sacks and the fact he's replacing Allen could lead to an assumption that he will be collecting more quarterback takedowns. But Griffen's sack total might not be skyrocketing.

That's because Zimmer wants his linemen to occupy blockers and enable the linebackers to run free. This is why the Vikings took Anthony Barr in the first round and will line up the rookie at different spots.

So is Griffen concerned he won't get the type of opportunities that will come Barr's way?

"We're going to rush the passer. I'm not worried about the sacks, the sacks are going to come," he said. "You can't have a set number, you just have to go out there and play. I'm not worried about that. Coach Zimmer is going to let us play and let us do our thing within his scheme. The only thing I can do is go out there, be consistent, read my keys and execute my assignment every time. Then big plays are going to happen." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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