EAGAN, Minn. — Brian Robison estimates it was his fifth season in the NFL before he fully realized the benefit of setting up offensive tackles on pass rushes and playing off what he has shown.
“It wasn’t until I became a starter that I really realized that people start to look at you on tape and start to see what you do play-in and play-out and prepare for that,” Robison said Wednesday.
Speed rush, bull rush, spin move.
Bull, bull, spin.
Speed, speed, bull.
Bull, speed, bull, spin.
Defensive ends attack. Tackles counter in pass protection.
“It’s just about basically playing what the guy gives you,” Robison said. “If you can go out there and get 10 sacks in a game, why wouldn’t you go do it? Then, there’s no point in doing a set-up.”
Tackles might adjust, and defensive ends react when necessary.
“At the end of the day, it’s about putting your best rushes on the field,” Robison added. “You’ve got to know who you are and rush that way. If you see what a guy is giving you on a certain rush, that’s where that starts to play in, ‘OK, I’ll see if he keeps up that mode, and if he does two, three or four times, then all of a sudden, you give him a little something different, and now you’re there.”
Robison became a starter in 2011. The longest-tenured Viking is up to 60 career sacks, which is tied with Kevin Williams for ninth in franchise history.
Everson Griffen, who is heading into his ninth season, has 61 after moving into seventh in franchise history with a career-best 13 sacks in 2017. He has 43.5 since becoming a starter in 2014.
Asked how he’s gotten better at setting up opponents, Griffen said, “You know, I think it all starts with becoming coachable.”
“It’s been a blessing for me to be here for nine years and be with one team,” Griffen continued. “I want to be a Viking for life. The only thing I can do is come out and help my team win and perfect my craft every day, try new drills and new techniques, get to the ball and develop. My number-one goal is to win games. Whatever that entails, that’s what I have to do. The sacks are going to come because I’m going to beat my guy. I’m not worried about sacks or tackles because I’m worried about doing my job.”
Robison passed the starter’s torch to Danielle Hunter last season but stayed active. Hunter continued the strong start to his career and has 25.5 sacks heading into his fourth season. He continued training hard this offseason and working on the games within the game.
“You just go out there and do what your body is trained to do,” Hunter said. “Sometimes you’re caught in a position where you’ve got to spin, sometimes you’ve got to set the guy up for a spin.
“Pass rushing is all about setting [things] up,” Hunter added. “It’s a lot like playing chess, so most of the time, it’s a guy trying to defend you. You’re on defense, but he has to defend you. You have to be the attacker when you’re pass rushing.”
The keys to it all are refinement and relentlessness.
Robison relayed a conversation he had with Jared Allen, who sits in sixth place in franchise history with 85.5 sacks from 2008-13.
“I think Jared Allen told me best when he said, ‘You get one sack every 20 rushes, that’s basically a 16-sack season. It’s not about going in there and trying to lose a rush, but if you’re willing to lose 19 rushes just to get that one sack, then you’re a pretty dang good football player.’
“It’s not about trying to do something crazy,” Robison added. “You’re still rushing the passer, but there comes a time, if you’re bulling a guy, bulling a guy, bulling a guy, eventually, he’s going to sit for the bull, and that’s when you can use a speed rush or something like that. It’s definitely important, but at the same time, it’s kind of hard to go against your morals, which is go to the quarterback every chance you get, so you just put it out there, and if you see what a guy is giving you, you try to take advantage of it.”
About to face Case
All offseason, the Vikings defensive ends have had the opportunity to sharpen techniques, experiment with new moves and devise plans.
They’ve also had to pump the brakes when getting close to a Vikings quarterback. The non-contact ban will be lifted when Minnesota faces Denver, even if the Vikings are still friends with Broncos QB Case Keenum, who went 11-3 as a starter in his lone season in Purple.
The Vikings defenders said they respect the way Keenum played in 2017, sometimes eluding rushers and improvising on the fly to make plays off schedule.
“Case did a helluva job for us last year, taking over for Sam Bradford,” Griffen said. “He played lights out and deserved everything he got. It’s going to be awesome to see the guy and talk to him. We love Case, but in this league, the train’s going to keep moving. Now, we’ve got Kirk [Cousins], and we love Kirk. He’s shown us some good things. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do on Saturday.”
Robison’s admiration for Keenum goes way back.
“I’ve been watching him since I was in high school in Houston, so I’ve seen everything that he went through,” Robison said. “It’s going to be exciting to go against him.”
Coach’s decision on Diggs & Rhodes
Receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback Xavier Rhodes have had some great battles.
The young, talented competitors were withheld from practice by Head Coach Mike Zimmer on Wednesday.
Zimmer was asked about the absence of both playmakers at the start of his informal session with beat writers.
“They did not make me happy,” Zimmer said before later adding, “I’ve handled it, and we’ll be good to go.”
Play of the day
It was Siemian to Stacy against Sherels.
The Vikings were in a team drill Wednesday with quarterback Trevor Siemian under center and wide receiver Stacy Coley out wide against cornerback Marcus Sherels.
Coley took off down the left sideline as Siemian lofted a pass in his direction. The wide receiver high-pointed the ball to secure the catch as he tumbled to the ground for a gain of nearly 40 yards.