Everson Griffen re-signed with the Vikings a month ago. Last Sunday, he showed signs of his old self.
In the third quarter of Minnesota’s 30-17 victory over Seattle at U.S. Bank Stadium, using his familiar spin move, the defensive end sacked Russell Wilson for a nine-yard loss, and did his “Sack Daddy” dance as the fans roared their approval. It was the first Vikings sack for Griffen, who re-signed Aug. 23 after spending last season with Dallas and Detroit, since Dec. 8, 2019.
“It’s a blessing just to be back with the fans and being able to get my first sack back in the stadium, my first home game,” he said. “It felt amazing.”
Griffen, 33, played for the Vikings in his first 10 seasons in the NFL, from 2010-19. He had his best years after Mike Zimmer arrived as head coach in 2014, making four Pro Bowls over the next six seasons.
Griffen, now a backup to D.J. Wonnum and a situational pass rusher, played 34 snaps against the Seahawks, finishing with three tackles and two quarterback pressures. Zimmer liked what he saw.
“He looked good to me,” the coach said. “He looked like the old Everson. He rushed good. He rushed inside, rushed outside, played inside on a couple of early downs in the running game. I thought he did a good job. He showed some acceleration and things that he probably does well.”
Griffen was relieved to be back on the field against the Seahawks. He played in the regular-season opener Sept. 12 at Cincinnati before being involved in a car accident on Sept. 16, when he swerved to miss a deer and sustained a concussion. That kept him out of the Sept. 19 game at Arizona.
“Deer hopped in front of me and my natural reaction is to not hit anything, and I swerve, and I glanced and hit a tree and then I just went sliding,” said Griffen, who said he was going between 45 and 50 mph at the time. “I was like two feet from the lake, so it was scary. I’m a survivor, happy to be alive.”
Griffen went through the NFL concussion protocol after the accident. He said he felt “good” going into the Seattle game.
“I made sure to be real with it, to make sure I didn’t have any symptoms before I came back,” he said.
Still, Griffen said he has some work to do to get fully comfortable in his second stint with the Vikings. He signed with Minnesota four weeks after players had reported to training camp, and then missed additional time following his accident.
“I’m still working on getting back in my groove. Still need to polish up some stuff,” he said. “It’s not exactly where I want to be right now, but I’m getting there with the practice reps and game reps. … But my groove is coming. It’s only going to get better.”
Griffen not only has to adjust to coming off the bench but also to playing inside more.
“It’s different,” said Griffen, in his 12th NFL season. “Inside happens quicker. … It’s just the reaction time and me getting those reps in during the week to be able to adapt in the game situation, and that’s all it is. It takes a couple of reps. I’m not a spring chicken like I used to be, but we’re going to get it right.”
Nevertheless, Griffen’s teammates like what they’ve seen so far. Center Garrett Bradbury said he “produces” on the field and provides “energy for the locker room.”
Some of Griffen’s former teammates are thrilled to see him have a second act in Minnesota, as well.
“Last year it looked like he might have gained a little weight, but this year it looks like he’s in great shape,” said Kevin Williams, a defensive tackle who was Griffen’s teammate from 2010-13 and will be inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime of Sunday’s game against Cleveland at U.S. Bank Stadium. “He looks smaller than he used to be, and it seems like he’s moving better.”
During Griffen’s first go-round with the Vikings, he and Danielle Hunter formed one of the NFL’s best defensive-end combinations. Last year, with Griffen gone and Hunter missing the entire season with a neck injury, the Vikings had a meager 23 sacks.
“I think Ev will reap the benefits of coming back to where he’s in a comfortable system,” said Jared Allen, a retired defensive end who was Griffen’s teammate from 2010-13. “And with Danielle Hunter, he’s just absolutely a man-child; hopefully they can get back to turning that defense around a little bit and get back to having a solid year.”
Vikings rookie running back Kene Nwangwu could return to practice as soon as Wednesday, a source said. He has missed the required three games on injured reserve after suffering a hyperextended knee in the preseason. Once a player is designated for return off injured reserve, a team has 21 days to activate him. Nwangwu did work on the side last week… Through three games, Pro Football Focus ranks Minnesota’s Oli Udoh tied for 12th among all NFL guards. “There’s no ceiling for him,’’ said center Garrett Bradbury. “He can be as good as he wants to be.’’