EAGAN, Minn. – Coach Dre has his "binky" back.
Wait … what?
Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson is a happy camper with the return of Everson Griffen, who signed with Minnesota Monday. The 273-pound defensive end and Patterson grew incredibly close from 2014-19.
"It was a good first day," Patterson told Twin Cities media members Tuesday. "It was like having my binky back, you know? Very comfortable with him, and he's very comfortable with me."
Griffen played for Minnesota from 2010-19, spending the final six seasons of that span under Patterson's tutelage. He initially signed with Dallas during last spring's free agency, and the Cowboys traded Griffen to Detroit midway through the season.
Despite spending a season apart from the Vikings, Griffen somehow hadn't missed a step.
"It's just amazing the recall he had with the drills that we do, and how he can do them full-speed and execute them correctly after [spending] a year away," Patterson said. "I guess you can do that when you've been doing the same thing for seven years. It was very comfortable having him back."
Griffen on Monday explained his comfort with Patterson, the defense and teammates like Danielle Hunter.
"Being back with Coach Dre, I love his drills. I never lost his technique," Griffen said. "It's really good to see Danielle. I missed Danielle. I miss the guys that I watched grow up and to see the player that he is, he looks like Superman still. He's big, he's long, he's physical. It's good to see him. I'm right next to him in the locker room. It's just good catching up with him and seeing him. I'm excited to be back."
As secure as Patterson is with Griffen, the coach reminded reporters – and himself – that even for a 12-season vet, an evaluation process is taking place right now.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday that Griffen will likely be used more in a situational role than as a starter, and Patterson reinforced that idea. Rather than grind through 78 percent or more of Minnesota's defensive snaps as Griffen did each year from 2014-17 and again in 2019, the Vikings want to capitalize on strategic opportunities.
"For seven years, Ev' almost played every snap. He hated to come out of the games," Patterson said. "It wouldn't be fair for us to do that to him. It wouldn't be fair for us to [expect] him do that. I think him coming off the bench fresh and being able to go attack the quarterback, rush the passer, can be a big positive.
"I'm trying to keep it tempered right now," Patterson later added. "I can't let my mind go – like I said, he's my binky, right? – and I can't let my mind go there. I've got to be realistic and evaluate him just like I would a rookie or free agent coming in here. I can't let my personal feelings for him take over. If I do that, I'm doing the organization a disservice."
View photos of Vikings DE Everson Griffen at his first practice back with the team after he signed on Aug. 23.
The difference between Griffen and a rookie or veteran free agent, though, won't be entirely ignored: Patterson has groomed Griffen from a young pass rusher and knows exactly the skill set he's working with.
In fact, Patterson admitted he had a difficult time watching Griffen in Dallas and Detroit defenses that asked different things of him.
Patterson told Griffen it "hurt his heart" watching him play outside of the Vikings.
"You paint a Picasso, right, and somebody else copies it and messes it up? It hurts you to the core," the coach said. "So that's how I saw it. And he was one of my Picassos."
The player-coach bond runs deep.
"He wasn't a starting player until I got here," Patterson said. "I helped develop him, and so there's a personal connection between the two of us. I've got to find a way to put that over to the side and evaluate him truly on who he is today and not what he was before."
View the photos of Vikings DE Everson Griffen from the 2019 season. The Vikings signed and welcomed him back on Aug. 23.
Over the years, players have described Patterson's coaching style as intentional and highly individualized. He approaches each athlete with guidance and directly tailored specifically to that person, and it's a method he prides himself on.
So when it comes to Griffen?
"I'm just going to try to get him to rush like Everson," Patterson said. "He knows what that is, and I know what that is, and that's something we came up with in the seven years together that was the best style for him to be able to rush – which is different than a bunch of other guys that we have here.
"I just have to remind him of who he is, and get him to go back and be himself," he added.
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