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NOTEBOOK: Focus & Support Help Griffen's Strong Start

EAGAN, Minn. — Everson Griffen has made more than his share of big plays for the Vikings, giving Minnesota fans reasons to celebrate and opponents' fans reasons to consternate.

Griffen recorded three tackles, including a sack of Matt Ryan, and three quarterback hurries last week in the season opener. He and the Vikings defense helped skew the scoreboard early and perplexed the Falcons for most of the game.

Head Coach Mike Zimmer mentioned Monday that Griffen's performance was in tune with the games that he put together on his way to the Pro Bowl after the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons. On Thursday, the coach added that the defensive end who became a starter in 2014 is "kind of like our Energizer Bunny."

Griffen was critical to helping Minnesota win the NFC North in 2015 and 2017, but he needed to step away from football for a little bit to focus on personal matters.

View practice photos from Sept. 12 as the Vikings get ready for a border battle in Green Bay.

He has felt the love and support of teammates and close friends along his journey back, refining his focus along the way.

"It feels good. I'm taking it one day at a time and staying true to myself each and every day," Griffen said Thursday. "I'm not going to say it's easy, but each and every day, I go in with the right mindset and try to win the day, try to win the moment, try to win the second and try to help this team win. It felt good to be back out there with my boys and be myself.

"I love this game, and I'm happy to go out each and every day and play it the way I know how to do it now," he added.

Griffen said the biggest thing he's learned from the past year is that it's OK to reach out to someone and ask for help.

"I know if I can stay the course, I'm making an impact with a lot of people," Griffen said. "That's my job. That's what I want to do — stay the course for my family, first and foremost, my wife and kids and for this team because the Vikings organization took care of me in my hard times."

Matching up with Bakhtiari

On the field this week, Griffen is preparing for another Pro Bowler, Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, whom he said has ranked in his top three tackles every year.

Bakhtiari was limited with a back injury in Wednesday's practice and did not participate Thursday.

The pre-game work involves "studying tape, trying to know him better than I know my phone number, see what he does when a guy takes an inside step, see what he does when a guy gives him speed or a bad rush angle, see his timing of his hands and where his hands are."

Asked what makes Bakhtiari so effective, Griffen replied, "He holds pretty good. Hahaha."

"He's a good holder, but he's a good player, too," Griffen added. "David Bakhtiari, I rank him in the top. Each and every year, we have a battle. It's always a fun opportunity to go against him."

Bakhtiari was flagged for holding twice on the same Packers possession in the third quarter against the Bears in Week 1. The first was on a pass play during a rush by Bears DT Bilal Nichols. The second was during a rush by Leonard Floyd.

According to NFLpenalties.com, Bakhtiari was flagged for holding twice in the entire 2018 season (another hold was offset by another penalty). The first was a year ago against the Vikings at Lambeau Field.

Officials are focusing on holding, particularly on the backside of run plays this season. NFL officials explained the emphasis on that in 2019 when they visited Vikings training camp and spoke with members of the media.

"I think they're trying to emphasize this latch that guys are doing," Zimmer said of what is kind of a bear hug. "That obviously makes it better for the defensive linemen because that was a technique that everybody was using, so hopefully they continue to look for that."

To return or to block? – That is the (special teams) question

The Vikings special teams got off to a splashy start in Minnesota's season opener with a blocked punt by Eric Wilson.

Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf spoke with Twin Cities media members Thursday and called it a "good play," crediting the players for their preparation and execution. The team has long since turned the page to Week 2, however, and Maalouf is now readying his unit for Sunday's rivalry game at Green Bay.

Maalouf was asked how he weighs out prioritizing a block attempt versus a punt return. He mentioned that down-and-distance, as well as "where we're at in the game," are two things that influence the decision.

"There's so many factors that go into it. If we're outside, there are more factors that go into it – depending on the wind, what's going on there, like it'll be in Green Bay," Maalouf said. "There's so many things that go into place, and I think the most important is making sure our guys are confident in what we're doing. I think that's what really helps us make the call.

"It's just like any offensive or defensive call – there's going to be calls where coaches are going to throw things out, and there's going to be calls that we're going to practice a little bit more," he added. "That happened to be a situation where the guys liked the call, and it worked out."

Maalouf pointed out that there will be some weeks where the emphasis will be on returning instead of blocking.

"That's just the reality of it," Maalouf said. "You just have to take what they give you."

Thielen's progression at Lambeau

After growing up a Vikings fan in the Border Battle rivalry with the Packers, Adam Thielen has helped skew outcomes in Minnesota's direction in recent games.

He's had some major moments at Lambeau, logging his first significant NFL reps at receiver and the first four catches of his career in 2014.

In 2015, Thielen rushed for a gain of 41 yards on a fake punt to set up Minnesota's first score in a 20-13 victory.

In 2016, he totaled 202 yards and two touchdowns on 12 receptions, but the Vikings fell 38-25.

Thielen's stats were minimized the following season on a night when Minnesota relied on its defense and run game for a 16-0 shutout.

Last season, he helped a furious fourth-quarter rally that resulted in a 29-all tie, totaling 131 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches.

"It's just a cool atmosphere. The bleacher seats — you don't see that in the NFL," Thielen said. "It just feels like football and is an exciting atmosphere to play in."

Thielen explained that he likes taking in road stadiums for a few quiet moments before they open to fans as part of his preparation.

"Everybody's different with the way they prepare or handle stress," Thielen said, "but I've always thought of it as a relaxing moment to just kind of get out there early before the fans are even in there, stand in the stadium and be like, 'Wow, this is pretty cool. This is pretty special.'

"Then, it's back to business and, 'We're here to play football, not look at a stadium,' " he added. "I kind of use it as settling in, a relaxing time to get out there and get a feel for the stadium."

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