EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Everson Griffen will line up against a familiar face Sunday afternoon in Carolina.
The Vikings defensive end has lined up against Matt Kalil hundreds of times before, whether it was when the two were college teammates squaring off in Southern California practices or as the duo went at it on toasty summer afternoons in training camp while with the Vikings.
But this will be the first time for Griffen and his friend to be on opposing sidelines. Kalil signed with the Panthers this past offseason after spending the first five seasons of his career with Minnesota. The pair were teammates at USC in 2008 and 2009.
Even though Griffen and Kalil know each other well, Griffen said he's going to treat his friend like any other opponent in this Week 14 matchup.
"I'm going to go out there and rush. I'm going to watch my tape, study him and know him better than I know my own phone number," Griffen said. "I'm going to go out there and rush, use what I use, set him up and use my God[-given] speed.
"He knows that, so we're going to compete and have fun. I'm excited to go up against him," Griffen added. "I haven't seen him in a while, so it's going to be a fun game. He's playing well, so I have to go out there and do my job like I've been doing."
Griffen spoke to the Twin Cities media in the Vikings locker room Wednesday, and repeatedly said how much he is looking forward to Sunday's clash in Carolina.
"I've known Matt Kalil for 10, 11 years," Griffen said. "It's going to be a fun opportunity to go against my pal. It's going to be fun, we're going to compete, and it's going to be a good day."
Griffen has tied his career high with 12 sacks this season, which is the fourth-most in the NFL this season. He has 37 total tackles (according to coaches' tally) with 15 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
Griffen and the Vikings defense didn't record a sack this past Sunday in Atlanta when they secured a 14-9 win over the defending NFC champions.
But Minnesota smothered the Falcons offense in other ways, especially on third down.
"They were 1-for-10 on third downs; that says it all. They were the No. 1 third-down team in the whole NFL, so it's not about sacks," Griffen said. "They were getting the ball out quick, so if they were 1-for10, it means they weren't throwing the ball down the field.
"They weren't giving us a chance to get sacks. We hit [Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan], we affected him," Griffen added. "If we go up against any team in the entire NFL, and they're 1-for-10 on third downs, then we're going to win the game."
On Sunday, Griffen and his teammates will try to find more success against someone they know well.
"He's a good friend of mine, and we're going to compete on every down," Griffen said. "He's been playing good, so the thing is going to be able to set him up and compete against him for the whole game."
Praise for the other side
Case Keenum spends most of his weekly podium session answering questions about Minnesota's offense or what he expects out of the opponent's defense he'll see that upcoming weekend.
But the Vikings quarterback was able to wax poetic about some of his other teammates Wednesday when the topic of the Vikings defense came up.
Keenum said he doesn't get to sit back and take in the unit's weekly performances since he's busy trying to solve the opponent's scheme on Sunday. But the appreciation is always there from Minnesota's starting quarterback.
"During games, I don't get to watch a lot of them," Keenum said. "We've gone against them in the spring and training camp, and they're dominant. Whatever defense is called, they are so sound. They are great at disguising.
"Our safeties are so smart, corners have done a great job of covering guys … every guy that comes out. Last week was Julio [Jones] and [Mohamed] Sanu, guys that are great players in this league.
"Up front, it seems like one week LJ (Linval Joseph) makes plays, or one week it's Everson, one week it's B-Rob (Brian Robison)," Keenum added. "All different guys make plays, and it's been fun to watch those guys."
The Vikings defense ranks first in the league in third-down percentage (27.2), second in points allowed per game (17.0), second in yards allowed per game (289.1) and second in rushing yards allowed per game (77.1).
Thoughts with Southern California
The Vikings have numerous players with ties to the Golden State. Linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks and specialists Kai Forbath and Kevin McDermott played collegiately at UCLA.
Griffen played college football in the area, and Barr and Forbath were raised in Southern California.
With the region engulfed in multiple fires over the last few days, the players have expressed their support for the area.
McDermott said he's actually been on the freeway in the video above when there was a different fire nearby a few years ago.
"I've been driving on the 405 and seen a fire in that exact location," McDermott said. "The one that I saw was during the day and wasn't nearly as big. But when you live in California, especially Southern California, you know that kind of stuff happens."
One of the fires is only a few miles away from UCLA. McDermott said he was checking in with friends in the area to make sure they were safe and sound.
"Hopefully the people who have homes up there are out of there safely and not going to lose their home," McDermott said. "And then you think about the people who are fighting the fire. Hopefully it resolves itself pretty quickly, but the Santa Ana winds are not cooperating.
"I don't have any family that lives there, but a bunch of close friends from college are in and around that area," McDermott added. "I think everyone has gotten out safe. it's just tough to know people who are waiting to hear if their homes have been destroyed or if they still have a place to go back home."
View images from the Vikings practice at Winter Park on Wednesday, December 6.
For the Vikings: Mike Remmers (back) and David Morgan (concussion) did not practice. Pat Elflein (shoulder) was limited. C.J. Ham (neck), Linval Joseph (knee), Andrew Sendejo (shoulder) and Kendricks (hip) were full participants.
For the Panthers: Mike Adams (rest), Kaelin Clay (shoulder), Tyler Larsen (foot), Julius Peppers (rest), Jonathan Stewart (foot) and Shaq Thompson (foot) did not participate. Thomas Davis (hamstring), Ryan Kalil (neck) and Cam Newton (right shoulder) were limited. Devin Funchess (shoulder), Christian McCaffrey (shoulder) and Greg Olsen (foot) were full participants.