Vikings' Everson Griffen finds balance by learning when to turn off

Cronin: Griffen's goal is to be violent and graceful in his movements (1:50)

Courtney Cronin shares an update on Vikings DE Everson Griffen's progress in his movement training. (1:50)

EAGAN, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen had little doubt that he would get back to this place. Reaching the level that rivals some of his best seasons in the NFL required a handful of changes in his approach, all of which started and ended with himself.

A player whose pass-rushing prowess relies on intensity -- so violent and so explosive -- needed to learn how to shut it off. To take a step back. To be locked in only when it was required.

"There are 168 hours in a week, and the previous Everson that I knew would be turned on for 168 hours," said Shawn Myszka, Griffen's movement coach. "Never really had a chance to relax, always in this constant state of go. That's just the way he's wired."

Griffen's intensity never left, but as he has gotten older -- he is now in his 10th season with the Vikings -- he has had to fight through personal challenges and learn how to channel things differently to find the balance to succeed in all areas of his life.

More than a year removed from two incidents in September 2018 that drew police involvement and forced Griffen to step away from the game for five weeks while seeking treatment for his mental health and well-being, the 31-year-old is thriving on and off the field.

"I've learned it's OK to seek help, it's OK to get help, it's OK to reach out to somebody and ask for help," Griffen said. "It feels good. I'm just happy to be back and happy to be back in this locker room."

Griffen came back in Week 8 and played the remainder of the 2018 season, totaling a six-year-low 5.5 sacks. Questions arose about whether he would ever get back to being the player he once was and whether his time as a key piece in Minnesota's defense was winding down.

A year later, Griffen has undergone a journey in self-discovery and is thriving. In fact, he closely resembles his perennial Pro Bowl self.

"He's playing excellent, maybe as good as I've seen him play since he's been here," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

He is No. 2 on the Vikings in sacks (seven), has generated the second-most pressures by any defender in the NFL (58) and is a constant nightmare for quarterbacks. It didn't take long to dispel the notion of a drop-off, either.

"I just keep on going with what I'm doing, being consistent with everything outside of football and in football," said Griffen, who took a $3 million pay cut to remain in Minnesota this season. "Everything should work out."

One of the areas he credits for his success is the movement training he has done for most of his career. The difference now is that the training is allowing him to thrive on the field and helping him turn off when he's away from it.

"Now he has the chance to turn it on when he has to," Myszka said.

Myszka didn't think his eyes were deceiving him, but he decided to rewatch the Vikings-Packers game film from Week 2 while logging every pressure registered by Griffen to make sure.

Myszka's initial count was 10. He scoured through each play, recording when Griffen forced Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers off his spot and drove the left tackle so far back on his heels that the protection crumbled. Griffen actually had 11 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, a number he reached one other time during his 10-year career.

Myszka wasn't shocked to see a figure that high. This version of Griffen was the one he'd seen exhausting all efforts during the offseason to expand his movement toolbox.

But to do all that against the Packers' David Bakhtiari, whom Griffen calls one of the "top three left tackles in the game," shows that Griffen is not only warding off father time but also putting out the best version of himself at a pivotal point in his career.

"Most people think about it the other way," Myszka said. "They try to make their movements more fine-tuned [as they get older]. But instead, we tried to open the toolbox so he has more tools, more solutions to similar behaving problems and a wider breadth of problems at that."

The training aspect is rooted in a problem-solution complex, based on representative learning in which the "problem" looks, feels and behaves like it will on Sundays. Griffen's work with Myszka doesn't require isolated drills with tackling dummies and ladders to hone footwork. In order to build the skills he'll need to win his matchups in games, Myszka brings in athletes of all shapes and sizes (himself included) to emulate the problems Griffen has to solve.

"There's no wasted reps," Griffen said. "Whatever I'm doing on the football field, I'm doing it during my workout. I'm just not running over cones. We don't do ladders. We do open environment. It's me and him out there on 100 yards of green grass. We chase."

That ability to work on a range of solutions has real-life application for Griffen. Learning to be flexible and adaptable in situations that are beyond his control has helped him learn to prioritize his well-being so he can perform at his peak.

"The biggest thing that we learn [in movement training] is not always being on," Griffen said. "Not being on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Being on only on one day, and that's Sunday. Sunday I let down my hair ... and let the animal come out. ... I always used to be on every day. It's draining."

Being on meant Griffen was living in a perpetual state of game mode. Myszka noticed it, too. At first he thought it was a byproduct of Griffen's desire to be great.

"Two years ago, I might send something to Everson [a film breakdown of his game] in the middle of the night on a Sunday, and he'd respond immediately asking questions about it," Myszka said. "We're having a text conversation at 1, 2 a.m. on a Sunday. It was because of how turned on he was. I was doing more harm than good by not facilitating that balance at that point and almost encouraging the unhealthiness or OCD-ness of that."

Myszka decided that he needed to emphasize balance for Griffen, in his football and in his personal life.

"You just get to go in there and flow," Griffen said. "Be graceful and violent at the same time. We can talk about the rush plan. We can talk about what the other guy is doing and just relax and focus on the movement of the game and bring tools to the game that I can use."

The Vikings declined to discuss how Griffen has influenced their efforts with mental health initiatives. But during the offseason, Minnesota strengthened its mental health resources, procedures and programs. Those now include an in-house clinical psychologist, sports psychologist and clinical psychiatrist.

Griffen's shift in mindset has also led to a shift in goals. His 73.5 sacks in his 10 years in the NFL highlight only a portion of his effectiveness. Myszka says he and Griffen are placing less of a priority on sacks this season. The thinking is that will afford him the freedom to disrupt the game however his movement allows with QB hits, pressures and tackles for loss.

The choice to bet on himself came with a contract restructure this offseason. Griffen has already reached the thresholds -- six sacks, currently playing 87.7% of defensive snaps -- to trigger the right to void his contract and become a free agent in March. All he needs to do is make sure his playing time stays above 57% for the season.

Movement training has been a catalyst for Griffen's resurgence, but the areas of his life affected by mental health don't always have such tangible solutions. There are good and bad days.

What Griffen says keeps him on track is a mindset to stay the course and "win the day, win the movement, enjoy it, stick to my guns, stick to the people that I have in my corner that are helping me each and every day."

The trial-and-error method that has helped him become a better problem solver amidst the chaos on the field is one he carries into his personal life. It's an approach he uses in his ongoing battle of staying centered and balanced away from the game.

"I just think all the work I've done, plus the movement, has really centered me and helped me become the player that I think I'm becoming," he said.