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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Notebook: Starting spot up for grabs, veteran Michael Griffin ‘just trying to fit in’

By Andrew Krammer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Michael Griffin and Harrison Smith each knelt a couple feet apart on the sideline of Wednesday morning’s practice, leaning on helmets in hand as they watched young teammates run through drills.

Griffin, the 10th-year veteran safety, isn’t holding back on what he can share with young teammates, even one as respected around the league as Smith. After all, if Griffin can earn his keep in Minnesota, he may be the steady presence Smith has been lacking next to him through four seasons with the Vikings. The pair’s sideline conversation flowed effortlessly during just the second Organized Team Activity practice together.

“I keep telling [Smith] one day he’s going to get paid,” Griffin said. “I don’t know when. But my little, what I made back in my career is going to be nothing compared to what he’s going to get.”

Griffin, 31, knows his acclimation into “the Viking way,” as he called it, is just starting a couple years into a rebuilding process that began with the hiring of coach Mike Zimmer. The foundation has been laid, but there exist a few cracks, or positions without clear starters, that present opportunity.

One of those spots is safety, where both Griffin and last year’s starter, Andrew Sendejo, took the field this week on new deals. After his nine-year run in Tennessee ended by getting cut in February, Griffin signed a one-year deal in Minnesota worth up to $2.5 million with $750,000 guaranteed. Sendejo’s four-year extension is worth up to $16 million, includes $4 million guaranteed.

“[Griffin] understands how to play and play at a high level,” defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said. “The good thing is our guys play at a high level now. I think he’s going to get a chance to compete and that’s all you can ask for. Especially coming here, you’re playing against some guys that know how to play — and that’s a good thing.”

Sendejo retook his spot with the first-team defense on Wednesday, running through drills alongside Smith. Griffin worked with the second team next to Anthony Harris, who landed one of two interceptions during the practice.

Gray insists a clean slate with no favorites being buoyed at cornerback or safety. That includes second-year corner Trae Waynes, who still worked behind Terence Newman during drills on Wednesday. It also counts for Griffin, who brings 133 starts worth of experience and a rapport with Gray. The two spent three seasons together in Tennessee, where Griffin started 46 of 48 games under Gray, then the defensive coordinator.

Though that connection only helped him get a foot in the door, not a starting spot.

“That’s what we told your guys on the back end,” Gray said. “You’re going to get a chance to compete for a starting job, but it’s not going to be handed to you.

“To me, being here for three years, we’ve had an evolution where guys have had jobs, competed and they’ve actually gotten better in practice and it’s shown up on Sunday. And whoever shows up next to Harrison, that guy is going to be able to do whatever he needs to do help Harrison get better.”

The Vikings’ hunt for Smith’s long-term teammate on the back end continues. Back in February — before signing Griffin — Zimmer said he was still looking for the ‘right kind’ of player to pair with Smith. The goal being to get more out of Smith’s talents in the system, according to Zimmer.

“This defense is already good; the sky is the limit,” Griffin said. “I’m just trying to fit in.”

Sendejo and Griffin figure to be the frontrunners, though young players like Harris or Antone Exum Jr. could surprise. For Griffin, a toughened veteran who played through a torn labrum during the Titans’ 2-14 season of 2014, a clean slate is welcomed. The Vikings brought him in, Gray said, because of Griffin’s proven track record as well as his ability to play both strong and free safety.

Having two interchangeable safeties is still something sought by the Vikings. Sendejo is more of a strong safety and has improved under this coaching staff’s tutelage. While Griffin, a former first-round pick (19th overall, 2007), has made his money as a predominantly free safety.

Griffin has only known being a starter in all of his nine seasons, recording at least one interception in each (25 total). He said he likes having to prove himself all over again, which he said is something he respects about the Vikings culture.

“[Zimmer] doesn’t treat nobody different than the next man,” Griffin said. “That’s one thing I can respect. You can respect a man that doesn’t have any favoritism. He treats everybody the exact same way. That’s what I realized coming here was everything is on one accord. Everything is done one way.

“They do it the Viking way.”

When he signed the contract in March, Griffin said he felt Minnesota was the ‘right situation’ because of his familiarity with some coaches and the strength of the defense. The Vikings ranked fifth in points allowed last season as they improved vastly from 2014 in situations like red zone and third down.

Griffin pointed to the 2008 Titans defense as a comparison for this current Vikings group. It’s a fitting reference as that’s the last time Griffin was in the playoffs. He played through seven years, including four different Titans head coaches and seven different leading quarterbacks, since the last postseason appearance.

Now he’s onto his fifth head coach, hoping he can contribute to a winner.

“If he can break in and play with us,” Gray said. “He’s going to make our secondary better.”

‘Part of my past’

Blair Walsh requested a media session on Wednesday, the first OTA open to the media. He wanted to get the message out once again and perhaps put an end to the questions about the 27-yard playoff miss that added another chapter to the Vikings’ playoff infamy.

“It’s part of my past,” Walsh reiterated. “It’s not going to be my entire career. I’ve had plenty of big kicks in this league and I will continue to have plenty of big kicks. That’s one where I didn’t do well and I didn’t do my job. That’s sort of what I’ve always stated on that. It’s one of those things I just have to move past and I already have. And the nice thing is I’m ready for this year.”

Walsh, who said he stuck to the same workout regimen this offseason, actually characterized last year as “one of my better years as a pro.” He led the NFL with 34 field goals made during the regular season.

Walsh was perfect on his field goal attempts on Wednesday. Those attempts came at the team’s indoor practice facility after the practice was moved inside due to weather. He’ll be kicking indoors at home from now on as the Vikings open U.S. Bank Stadium this season.

“It’s always going to be easier indoors,” Walsh said. “I’m not going to lie and say it’s easier to kick at TCF than it is inside. You can really take the elements out of it. You can really focus on your form and your craft. You can forget about the fact that, ‘Hey. It’s minus 10 degrees out today.’ You get to go in there and act like it’s a normal day outside.”

Not a concern, yet

The Vikings had near-perfect attendance for the voluntary OTA, though a few weren’t seen practicing.

Linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee/ankle), tight end Rhett Ellison (knee) and linebacker Travis Lewis were not seen on the field after warm-ups. Left tackle Matt Kalil was also limited in team drills with Jeremiah Sirles filling in for him.

According to Zimmer, Floyd is being held back by injuries “basically from last year.” He missed three starts following a midseason operation to remove cartilage from his left knee. Floyd also dealt with an ankle injury that put him in a walking boot around the same time last fall.

“If it gets into training camp like that, then it will be an issue,” Zimmer said of Floyd. “But I don’t think it’ll be that way.”

Regarding Barr, Zimmer said “I don’t think he’s injured,” but didn’t provide clarity on why he wasn’t able to practice on Wednesday. Barr was not at the facility during practice after participating in Tuesday’s session, according to a team source.

Right tackle Phil Loadholt (Achilles) and center John Sullivan (back) both practiced. Loadholt joined the first-team offense alongside guard Brandon Fusco, who moved back to the right side. Sullivan worked with the second-team offense behind Joe Berger.

A reminder

The reigning NFC North-champion Vikings have plenty of reasons to feel good about where the organization is heading. Though Zimmer said he had to dish out a reality check in just the first OTA practice on Tuesday.

“Anything that we did last year really doesn’t matter and I think they understand that – most of them do,” Zimmer said. “I had to remind them a little bit [Tuesday]. We came out and we were a little bit just not like us. We were kind of cocky and talking smack to one another, so I had to remind them who we were.”

On Wednesday, Zimmer could be heard across the practice field correcting defensive backs for getting a bit too physical during passing drills. They’re still practicing without pads and contact is limited (no tackling) by the collective bargaining agreement.

Dane Mizutani contributed to this report

The post Notebook: Starting spot up for grabs, veteran Michael Griffin ‘just trying to fit in’ appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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