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After emotional return, Vikings’ Everson Griffen still trying to knock the rust off

Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen spreads his arms in the first quarter against San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium Sept. 9. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- For the first time in five years, Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen came off the bench in an NFL game last weekend. Is it time for him to return to the starting lineup?

Coach Mike Zimmer wouldn’t say Thursday, Nov. 1, whether the three-time Pro Bowl selection will be on the field for more plays Sunday against Detroit at U.S. Bank Stadium, and Griffen said he doesn’t know. But most importantly, Griffen said he’s feeling fine physically after appearing in his first game in more than a month.

After starting Sept. 16 at Green Bay, Griffen missed five games because of a mental health issue. He returned for last week’s 30-20 loss to New Orleans at U.S. Bank Stadium, and played 37 of 53 snaps, more than the 25 starter Stephen Weatherly got.

“I feel good,” Griffen said. “You know, my conditioning, being a pass rusher, it’s one of the hardest things to do in the National Football League. In any sport, it’s all about timing, hand-eye coordination and the whole nine, moving your feet and getting back there to the quarterback. … My No. 1 goal is just to keep on going out there and knocking the rust off more and more each day.”

Griffen returned to the Vikings on Oct. 24 after being hospitalized for his mental health issue. Griffen, who had three practices before facing the Saints, said it was an emotional return to the team.

“It was a warm welcome from everybody here at the Vikings family,” said Griffen, in his ninth season. “And everybody missed me. … You can tell the guys, they did miss me, and it was a good sign and they welcomed me with open arms, and it felt good.”

Weatherly, who started the five games Griffen missed, said the crowd reaction the star defensive end got last Sunday fired up the team.

“I loved it,” Weatherly said. “When he made his tackle (the first of two) and they announced his name, everyone lost it. The first time he was on the field, he was on the jumbotron and everyone got excited. It’s just nice. Our fan base are like no other. Just the love received, it definitely fueled us.”

Wide receiver Stefon Diggs said Thursday having Griffen back has brought “smiles to everybody’s face.”

For now, though, Griffen just wants to get things back to normal.

“Playing football is not like riding a bicycle where all of a sudden you can hop on and start pedaling,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “He is working through all of those things. I think he’ll tell you getting back into the flow of things is going to just keep getting better with time.”

Griffen said he did plenty of running when he was away to stay in shape, but he is still working to must get his timing back.

“Just getting off on the ball, reacting to the angle, using your hands, moving your feet, it’s just a lot that goes into it,” he said. “Playing the run is lining up in front of the guy and reading his shoulder pad, and rushing the passer is really lining up, running at full speed and trying to judge where the quarterback is but at the same time beating the guy in front of you.”

Griffen has gotten to the quarterback plenty in recent years. After moving into the starting lineup in 2014, he had 43 1/2 sacks over the next four seasons.

Griffen has just one sack in the three games he’s played this season. The hope is he soon will be putting up his usual numbers.

“I expect more out of myself each and every game and each and every week,” he said. “I just need to get back to my form, and it’s coming back more and more each day.”

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