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Updated: June 17th, 2014 6:18pm
Zulgad: Vikings hopeful Floyd will emerge in middle of defensive line

Zulgad: Vikings hopeful Floyd will emerge in middle of defensive line

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Vikings had three selections in the first round of the 2013 draft, two of whom made solid contributions as rookies.

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, taken 25th with a pick obtained from Seattle in the Percy Harvin deal, saw more playing time as the season progressed and showed enough that he has earned the right to enter this season as a starter.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, selected 29th with a pick acquired at the last minute from New England, was inexplicably underused early in the year but still finished third on the team with 45 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns.

The dynamic-playmaker also led the NFL by averaging 32.4 yards on 43 kickoff returns with two touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl roster as a return specialist.

The Vikings' other opening-round pick was their first choice and might have been the player they were the most surprised to get. Many projections had Sharrif Floyd going early in the first round but the defensive tackle from Florida fell to 23rd and Minnesota pounced on him.

Floyd's rookie season proved to be underwhelming.

He injured his left knee in the Vikings' preseason opener against Houston and underwent arthroscopic surgery after the second exhibition game. Floyd returned for the regular-season opener against Detroit and finished with 19 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two pass breakups and a forced fumble in 16 games.

There will be far more expected from Floyd this season.

Kevin Williams, a fixture at the 3-technique position for 11 seasons in Minnesota, turned down a late opportunity to return to the Vikings last week and signed with the Seattle Seahawks.

Asked what he learned from watching Williams, Floyd said: "Honestly, just keys on what he's looking at out of his stance. Things like that. Where he had his hands at and the way he knows that different blocks are coming."

The Vikings' late pursuit of Williams, after the team initially expressed little interest in retaining him, showed potential concern about the position.

Floyd can end the worry if he takes hold of this opportunity. There is nothing blocking his path from spending the season lining up alongside veteran nose tackle Linval Joseph, who signed with the Vikings as a free agent after spending time with the New York Giants.

"(He) has a lot of energy and he's willing to learn," Joseph said of Floyd. "(You) can't asking for nothing better than that. I feel like we have a good opportunity and a good chance to be very great inside."

Tom Johnson, a fourth-year player who signed with the Vikings this offseason after a three-year stay with New Orleans, also will be on the depth chart at the 3-techinque but this is Floyd's job to lose.

Floyd knows this but said his motivation doesn't come from proving he was worthy of being a first-rounder. "I was a first-round pick for that day," he said. "After that, I'm here and I'm playing football again so I'm not really focusing on that either. I'm out here to get better as a football player and not as a first-rounder."

Floyd is a well-spoken and sharp 23-year-old who clearly realizes the art of giving a quote in the NFL is to provide nothing that could be construed as headline worthy. Thus, he keeps his answers very neutral when talking about making the transition from the Tampa-2 system used under Leslie Frazier to the defense that new coach Mike Zimmer has spent the offseason installing.

"Being able to play in it," Floyd says when asked about what he likes most about Zimmer's scheme. "Understanding what they want. ... Certain things you have in your head, as far certain type of plays you've been playing, you've got to get that out of your head because they want you to play it a certain way. Just understanding the role that you play and doing your job."

Zimmer said the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Floyd is "doing a great job," adjusting to the new system.

"He's improved tremendously, he's using his hands well, Zimmer said. "He's a very dedicated kid. He's done a great job in the weight room as far as changing his body and his strength levels and he shows great quickness. We're very, very excited to have him and I look forward to having him have a good year."

Given the Vikings' lack of depth at the position, Zimmer needs Floyd to have a very good season if his team is going to show substantial improvement.

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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