Who is Otis Grigsby? Right now, he’s a roster-bubble defensive end trying to build on the few opportunities he has gotten in the NFL the last five years, but he is also a player that has had an opportunity to learn from some the most successful players at his position over the last five years.
When the Vikings traded for defensive end Jared Allen, it added another player to their depth at the position, which could be bad news for Grigsby when the Vikings are forced to trim their roster at the end of August. For now, however, Grigsby is learning from Allen, last year’s NFL sacks leader, after spending most of the 2007 season trying to learn from Julius Peppers, who has had double-digit sacks four of his six years in the league.
“Julius Peppers is an amazing talent. The year he had last year wasn’t what everyone was expecting, but when you watch him, you know you’re in the presence of an athlete and a worker,” Grigsby said. “Jared is a whole lot more outspoken and Julius is more of a watch-me (player). Jared is going to tell you to ‘watch me’ and then he’s going to show you. He’s a real cool guy. Jared has that kind of know-how like Mike Rucker. He’s been around and he knows a lot. (Rucker is) going to tell you what he needs to. (Allen) has a little bit of both.”
But Grigsby’s first NFL lessons came from the only man to have more sacks than Allen over the last five years of the NFL, former Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor. Since 2004, Taylor has had 46 sacks, Allen 43.
“I was in Miami my rookie year and even the year before I got released and Taylor I think about – that whole fun type of guy, but he’s going to take care of business,” Grigsby said. “I’ve seen a lot of different styles, but overall it’s the same work ethic and they like to have fun.”
But the journeyman status of Grigsby has him trying to learn from each of the players who have had more success than he has, and he found that none of them are one-trick ponies who stop after their initial move.
“What I’ve picked up just watching Jared is he’s got a good counter game,” Grigsby said. “He has a great get-off and scares them with that up-the-field speed, but sometimes you forget that that’s your biggest weapon when you’re out there. The same is with Taylor, but it’s like, OK, now that I’ve got this guy running backwards, what am I going to do next? They mix it up. That’s the difference between being that guy that gets paid that huge contract and that guy that’s on the bubble, and I want to be sure that I keep those things in mind when I go out there.”
So far, Grigsby has been on the bubble since he entered the league in 2003.
As a rookie with the Dolphins, he was one of only two undrafted free agents to make the active roster, but in 2004 he was released. He went to training camp with the Atlanta Falcons in 2005 and was also released there. The following year, he spent the final two weeks of the regular season on the Panthers’ practice squad. He split time between the Panthers’ active roster and practice squad in 2007 until the Vikings’ depth at the position was sapped by injuries and the four-game, season-ending suspension to Ray Edwards.
Grigsby spent the final four games with the Vikings and registered his first career sack against former Viking Shaun Hill in a game against the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 9.
“Most of the time you get sacks, a lot of times it’s just pure effort. (Jared) has got pure effort. It might be your second or third attempt to get past that guy and our DBs are back there doing a great job and the quarterback is sitting back there like, ‘Uh, uh, uh, where do I go?’ The next thing you know, because you didn’t give up, you’re back there,” he said. “A lot of times, people figure he’s going to get rid of the ball so I’m going to shut it down.”
This year, Grigsby is hoping a full offseason with the Vikings will earn him more chances to make an impact.
“Coming in in the middle of the season (last year), I was just being thrown right into the middle of fire. Most of the plays I had to know, I learned, but it was a lot more dependence on other guys giving me that extra reassurance,” Grigsby said. “Now, I’m able to give other guys that reassurance. It’s nice to know what you’re doing because you can go a whole lot faster.”
He said the Vikings didn’t limit the game plan to accommodate the newcomer, and he realized that either he would have to learn the plays quickly or they would likely find someone else that would.
“There is a game plan and you have to learn it. When you come in the way I did, you’re only guaranteed three games on the team, so it’s like you had better show them something right away or you’re gone,” he said. “Someone else can probably learn it just as fast, so you still have to learn it. It helps that when you go into a game, there are a set amount of plays that we’re going to run, so you don’t have to learn the whole playbook.”
Right now, Grigsby has been the team’s second-string defensive end on the left side of the line, but he likely will get knocked back a notch when Edwards returns from a back injury that has kept him out of action since before minicamp. He could be returning as early as this week, according to defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
“From what I understand, he is improving and he is getting really close to getting back out there with us,” Frazier said of Edwards. “They are still taking him through some drills, but he is well on his way. I would not be surprised if by the end of this week he were back out there again. That is a possibility.”
Which means that Grigby might just have to prove himself as a third-stringer in the coming weeks during the preseason. But, he figures, at least he was able to show the coaches some of his abilities during games last year.
“I feel like I showed them I can get pressure and make some plays and that I’ve got a willingness to learn and also an enthusiasm for special teams,” he said. “A lot of people don’t really want to be on special teams typically, but that’s actually something that I’ve also enjoyed since high school – it’s like it’s an honor to be on special teams. The first time they took me off of them was my senior year in high school and I was like, ‘Why would you do that?’ I think they see that and just the effort that I give.”