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Practice Roundup 10/22: Vikings Boosting Team Pass Rush

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings have recorded 10 sacks in the past two games, a hot streak that players said sparked from doing better at defending run plays and working better together to rush opposing quarterbacks.

Everson Griffen's three sacks of Kyle Orton Sunday vaulted his total to seven for the season, which is tied for the second most in the NFL behind eight by Denver's Von Miller.

"We stopped the run. This game is built on stopping the run," Griffen said. "If you stop the run, then you get to pin your ears back and rush the passer. That's what we were able to do. If a team can run the ball on you all day, then they can play action you to death, and play action is hard, but if you're able to stop the run and you get them in passing situations, that's when you can rush the passer like you get paid to do."

Griffen, a fourth-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, re-signed a multi-year contract with the Vikings this offseason. He also has been credited with 18 quarterback hits this season.

The Vikings (2-5) are scheduled to visit the Buccaneers (1-5) at noon (CT) Sunday at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said before Minnesota hosted Detroit that he wanted his team to improve its defense against the run and learn to rush passers better as a team.

"Everson, is a high, high energy guy that wants to be very, very good," Zimmer said Wednesday. "I believe that he's bought into everything that Coach (Andre) Patterson and Coach (Robb) Akey are trying to teach them as far as not only the pass rush things but buying into playing the run, too. I think that allows him to have success but the one thing that I always want to make sure that everybody understands, and I didn't even know how many sacks he had until I asked somebody the other day, but we the Vikings are more about the (team) sack numbers as opposed to individual sack numbers.

"The other guys, when Everson gets a sack a lot of times it's because Sharrif Floyd did something right or Brian Robison did something right or Tom Johnson or Linval (Joseph) or the linebackers or the coverage," Zimmer continued. "It's nice for an individual to have statistics but it's more important to me that the team allows guys to have things and just like if we continue to keep working on the things that we're doing, it'll allow other guys to get some. Who knows, he may not get another sack for the rest of the year; it's not the easiest thing to do. Hopefully other guys will and that makes our team successful."

Johnson has four sacks, Joseph has 2.5, Anthony Barr and Floyd each have two, Jasper Brinkley and Harrison Smith each have one, and Robison split one with Joseph, although he appeared to have one of his own to open Sunday's game until it was negated by a penalty.

Robison, a 2007 fourth-round pick and the most tenured defensive lineman, said he thought Minnesota's defensive line has improved its collective rush.

"I'm very happy for (Griffen). He got a big deal this offseason, and that's a lot of pressure," Robison said. "He did a great job on Sunday, and really it's about our front four working together, and he reaped the benefits of it Sunday, and it's a testament to his hard work ethic and things he does with our D-line. If you get all four guys working together, it allows one or two guys here and there to have a little more success, so that's what we have to do. We have to keep rushing together as a front four. If we keep doing that, the success will come."

Zimmer, who was Cincinnati's defensive coordinator from 2008-13, said a similar approach by Bengals players helped break the franchise record for sacks in a season (50 in 2012). That team had four players with six or more sacks.

"I guess it was two years ago we broke the franchise record in Cincinnati and I mean we had a couple of guys with big numbers but we had a lot of guys with a lot of numbers and to me that's way more important than that," Zimmer said.

Minnesota's team record for sacks in a season was 71 in 1989, which was one shy of the NFL record set by the '84 Bears.

REUNIONS: Much will be written this week about the reunion of Vikings players with former Head Coach Leslie Frazier (2010-13), who is now Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator, but the match-up also will position Zimmer on the opposite sideline of Buccaneers DE Michael Johnson, who played for Zimmer in Cincinnati the past five seasons.

Johnson's sack totals escalated to a career high 11.5 in 2012 to help set the Cincinnati franchise record of 50. He also had six of Cincinnati's 45 sacks the previous season and 3.5 of the team's 43 a year ago.

Zimmer said he has "a lot of respect" for Johnson, who was drafted by the Bengals in the third round after Zimmer watched him workout at Georgia Tech. Zimmer said that respect was earned by Johnson's approach and "the way that he studies and he buys into the team concept."

"He was one of those guys that he didn't play much his first year," Zimmer said. "We moved around him trying to get him in — I think we played him at Sam linebacker one spring a little bit — but he kept doing what we were asking him to do, he kept buying into the team concept, he's a very, very smart guy, he's obviously a great athlete with great length and range.

"I shouldn't say he was never worried about numbers because I did have him in my office a couple of times and I told him if he'll just keep hanging in there and do what you need to do (it will happen), and he'd start out early and he wouldn't have a sack or something. I'd just say, 'Hey keep doing what you're doing and things will work out,' and they eventually did for him."

Johnson said during a conference call that he considered Zimmer "one of the best d-coordinators in the league" and said players considered him a father-figure they wanted to make proud.

"I came into the league under Coach Zimmer," Johnson said. "I learned a lot under him. He's a great coach and a great guy. It was a pleasure playing under him."

Vikings players said they still have a high degree of respect for Frazier as well.

"Coach Frazier was a great mentor to young guys, myself included," Brinkley said. "He was just a great person to talk to, and I'm fortunate to have a guy like that touch my life not only as a coach but as a man, and it will be a great opportunity to see him this weekend."

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Sunday's game marked the first road start by rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, who said the Vikings will try to neutralize the crowd better this week than last.

"For one, you just have to just take the crowd out of the game. Last week we came out, we received the football first," Bridgewater said. "That's a situation where we want to just go down the field and score right away to take the crowd out of the game early. Our defense played great. As long as you're playing great defense and executing on offense I'm pretty sure you can take the crowd out of the game."

RARE CARRIES: Fullback Jerome Felton's 36th regular season game with Minnesota also included his first two carries in a Vikings uniform. Felton sprung through the line of scrimmage for a gain of 21 on his first attempt.

"We've had it in for several weeks, but it's just about the situation that came up," Felton said. "The opportunity came, they called the play, and we had success with it. When I cut back, it was just me and the safety, so that felt good. It might have been a while, but I've done it before."

PARTICIPATION: Kyle Rudolph (abdomen), Gerald Hodges (hamstring) and John Sullivan (concussion) did not participate in Wednesday's practice. Corey Wootton (back), Sharrif Floyd (ankle), Vladimir Ducasse (knee), Jabari Price (hamstring) and Antone Exum Jr. (ankle) were limited. Harrison Smith (ankle) and Chase Ford (foot) fully participated.

For Tampa Bay: LB Jonathan Casillas (hamstring), T Anthony Collins (knee), S Dashon Goldson (ankle), WR Vincent Jackson (rib), Josh McCown (QB), and S Keith Tandy (hamstring) were limited. CB Johnthan Banks (neck) fully participated.

WEATHER: The temperature at the start of practice was 52 degrees with 18 mph SSE winds and clouds that became fewer by the end of the session.   

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