MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, a self-described "knucklehead" early in his career, has been a team captain the past three years. Each year, he's getting more comfortable speaking up with a voice that doesn't sugarcoat the truth for his teammates.
So when Griffen was asked after Wednesday's OTA practice whether this year's team resembles the 2015 edition that won 11 games and the NFC North or the 2016 squad that finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs, the eighth-year pro said: "I don't know. We're in the process of figuring it out."
Coach Mike Zimmer's defense finished sixth in the league in points allowed (19.2), but it allowed 20 or more points in four of the final five games after allowing 20 or more only four times in the first 11 games.
"Being straightforward, we probably ran out of a little steam, a little momentum," Griffen said. "But I think we just had a lot on our plate as a defense."
That was Griffen's way of telling the offense it's time to step it up. Last year's offense finished 23rd in scoring (20.4) while losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater before the season, Adrian Peterson in Week 2, both starting tackles by Week 5 and offensive coordinator Norv Turner by the midway point of the season.
"We were out there on the field a lot, to be quite honest," Griffen said of the defense. "It's a team game and we've just got to find different areas to step it up. Special teams has got to step up, the offensive side of the ball needs to step it up a little more, defense we've got to step it up. It all works together."
Never was that more evident than Week 15. The Vikings were 7-6, still in the playoff hunt and facing a struggling Indianapolis Colts team at home. The offense scored a season-low six points while the defense gave up season highs in yards (411) and points (36).
The Vikings, of course, have restocked their offense. They picked up two new starting tackles (Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers) and a running back (Latavius Murray) in free agency, took a chance on embattled big receiver Michael Floyd and used their top two draft picks on a running back (Dalvin Cook) and an interior offensive lineman (Pat Elflein) who probably will start at center or guard this season.
Count Griffen among those who believe Minnesota will be better on offense, which in turn will make the Vikings' defense better. And fresher longer.
"I'm a true believer that iron sharpens iron, like coach (Mike) Zimmer says," Griffen said. "That's what we're doing out here each and every day (in OTAs). It's not about being physical, it's about making the guy next to you better. Competing each and every down, learning how to compete, learning how to work hard. You've got to create good habits. Once you create good habits, they stick for the long run."