MANKATO — Part way through Monday morning’s walk-through practice at Minnesota State University, a group of Minnesota Vikings defensive linemen walked onto the fields together.
Everson Griffen was not among them.
Griffen was already on the field, working on special teams and his new position — linebacker.
“I love it, man,” said Griffen, a third-year player out of Southern Cal. “I just love playing football. If I’m playing D-end, linebacker, it really doesn’t matter. I just want to get on the field.”
With superstar Jared Allen and Brian Robison locked in as starting defensive ends, coach Leslie Frazier said it made sense to move Griffen to linebacker.
“Not that he can’t play defensive end — he’s a very good defensive end — but you’re always trying to get your best 11 on the field,” Frazier said. “He’s one of those guys who has enough athletic ability to be able to do that.”
So the coaches asked Griffen to drop some weight for a different position. Griffen did and surprised Frazier by shedding about 18 pounds. While listed at 273 on the initial training camp roster, Frazier said Griffen reported to camp at 258.
“That’s just a testament to how motivated he is to do well and play well and really adhere to what the coaches are looking for and what his teammates expect of him,” Frazier said.
Griffen played in all 16 games a season ago, starting none, but compiled four sacks and 21 tackles. He also forced one fumble and recovered another. He played in 11 games as a rookie.
Griffen said he took the position switch as a challenge to earn a starting job. He even changed his diet to help him lose the weight.
In camp, there have been some adjustments — getting used to coverages and recognizing different situations — but nothing he can’t handle, he said. He said that his athleticism and versatility have made for a smooth transition, but he also has to think a little more like a coach.
“It’s an adjustment, but I’m a pro at the end of the day, and we’ve got to learn how to adjust to anything,” he said. “Like I told (the coaches), I’m just looking to get on the field at all times. I just want to be one of the guys that they can count on day in and day out.”
Frazier describes Griffen as “an outstanding athlete,” who did some great things on special teams last year. As a result, he wants to get Griffen on the field more.
“I want him to show us that he can play that position,” Frazier said. “We feel like we’ve got two outstanding starters at defensive end, and he was our third defensive end. But we want him to show us he’s now a linebacker.”