Vikings' Everson Griffen blossoms into leader on and off field
MINNEAPOLIS - Everson Griffen attacks conversation like it is a quarterback.
MINNEAPOLIS – Everson Griffen attacks conversation like it is a quarterback.
Eyes on his target, he inhales deeply and the Vikings defensive end relentlessly takes his questioner to the end of the rush when asked what has been most special about his sixth year in Minnesota.
“Our discipline, our hustle, our mind-set, our determination,” Griffen said this week. “We compete. We don’t give up. We always find that inner heart, that inner drive, to do whatever it takes.
“It’s not easy to win in this league. You can’t take any wins for granted. In order to win in this league you’ve got to be consistent and you’ve got depend on your teammates.”
The Vikings depended heavily on Griffen in last week’s NFC North Division-clinching victory at Green Bay. His two second-half sacks of Aaron Rodgers were game-changers.
The first forced a fumble which Captain Munnerlyn returned 55 yards for the winning touchdown. The other was on third down in the red zone, forcing the Packers into a field goal.
Moreover, his relentless pressure against overmatched guard-turned-tackle Josh Sitton helped contain Rodgers and prevent him from rolling out and inflicting his usual passing damage.
Griffen had a season-high six tackles, including three for a loss, and finished 2015 with 10-1/2 sacks – his second straight season with double-digit sacks.
His ability to harass and limit Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson will be among the key matchups to follow in Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game at TCF Bank Stadium.
“I think Everson has been a terrific football player,” said Seattle coach Pete Carroll, who recruited and coached Griffen at USC. “The fact that he’s got double-digit sacks again and he’s been such a force doesn’t surprise me.
“He’s certainly improved as a pro and shown terrific staying power. I’m really excited for him to see him do it. He’s got a great spirit about him, and I know he adds a lot to that football team.”
Griffen, 28, is still having a ball, but the wiseacre whose voice boomed across the locker room toned down his playfulness as this season progressed.
“I’m having fun, but it’s a business. I’m here to win,” he said. “That’s my mind-set right now.”
One of four captains elected by teammates, Griffen has established himself as a premier pass rusher and alpha male on the NFL’s fourth-ranked scoring defense. It is quite a turnaround for a supremely talented athlete whose renegade behavior sabotaged his early career.
Griffen was TMZ fodder during a lost weekend in Los Angeles in January 2011, when he was arrested twice in a 72-hour span for public intoxication and scuffling with a police officer after fleeing a traffic stop.
Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen celebrates after sacking Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston in the first quarter of the Vikings preseason game
Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen celebrates after sacking Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston in the first quarter of the Vikings preseason game against Buccaneers at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Saturday, August 15, 2015. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)
Then-Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and team executives had a scared-straight meeting with Griffen, whose partying days with the Trojans raised questions about the Vikings’ decision to take him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.
“When you’ve got to get your act together, you’ve got to get your act together,” he said. “I put my nose in the right areas and figured out that football’s more important to me than anything else. God, family, football – you figure out what’s important and you go from there.”
No more a gullible goof mercilessly hazed by veterans Pat Williams, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams in defensive line meetings, Griffen became a professional. He bided his time in a multitasking role before succeeding Allen at right end and earning a lucrative contract extension before the 2014 season.
It was a five-year, $42.5 million show of faith by the Vikings considering Griffen only had started one game. But his speed and raw power were omnipresent, and he has rewarded the Vikings with two strong seasons as coach Mike Zimmer’s attack dog.
“He’s a kid you love to have,” Zimmer said Friday. “He works extremely hard. He wants to be good. He helps bring a lot of excitement to the team.”
And a level of maturity that was elusive five years ago. Griffen identifies two seminal moments for helping him take control of his life and career.
In October 2012, he returned to his Chaska house and found his mother, Sabrina Scott, dead on the floor. Visiting from Arizona, Scott, 52, died instantly from spontaneous artery dissection.
Griffen, whose father has been in prison since childhood, was devastated.
Three months later, Griffen’s fiancee (now wife), Tiffany, gave birth to their son, Grayson Scott. The middle name celebrates the woman who continues to inspire Griffen.
“When my mom passed away in 2012, it brought me to the realization that life is too short to give up on what you want to do,” Griffen said. “Being a father really allowed me to hone in on what was important to me, my family. And support my family through the years.”
Lead and others will follow.
“I knew I was always a leader, but I wasn’t ready to take on those responsibilities on this team,” Griffen said. “I always felt I had the leader mentality. It just took a while to get there. Now I’m figuring out that leader is not just what you do on the field but off the field as well.”