John Sullivan is going home to where his NFL career began.
The Rams’ center, who has provided quarterback Jared Goff with protection and guidance during a 7-2 start, spent seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
So he will see familiar faces when the Rams play the 7-2 Vikings on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“If I tried to step away and make it nostalgic, I think I probably could,” Sullivan said Friday before the Rams departed for Minneapolis. “But what it really comes down to is I’m focused on going there as a member of the Rams and getting to 8-2.
“That’s the only thing that matters this weekend.”
The Vikings selected Sullivan in the sixth round of the 2008 draft after he completed his college career at Notre Dame. He became the starter in 2009 and developed into one of the league’s most reliable players at his position.
But he suffered a back injury during the 2015 preseason and underwent two surgeries that sidelined him for the regular season. He signed with the Redskins in 2016 — and played for then-Washington offensive coordinator Sean McVay — before joining the Rams this season.
McVay pursued the 31-year-old free-agent to help protect Goff, but the veteran’s capabilities extend beyond snapping and blocking for the highest-scoring team in the league..
“He sees the game from a 22-man perspective,” McVay said.
Players consider Sullivan a coordinator on the field. Before the snap, he analyzes defenses and communicates to teammates.
“He’s been just as important as anybody on this team and everything’s he’s brought to the table offensively,” Goff said. “His ability to handle so much up front, take so much off my plate and so much off a lot of guys’ plates up front.”
Said running back Todd Gurley: “He’s a genius.”
Tough to block
He left USC as a question mark, an enormously talented player who needed to mature.
Eight years later, Everson Griffen is a grown up and one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass rushers.
The Vikings defensive end is the married father of two sons, with another child on the way. Last July, he signed a four-year, $58-million contract that included $34 million guaranteed.
Griffen, 29, also has 10 sacks and is one of the leaders of a Vikings defense that will try to slow the high-powered Rams.
“He’s a nightmare to prepare for,” McVay said, adding, “You always have a variety of things that you want to do to make sure that you at least have a plan for some of those guys that can wreck a game-plan and Everson is certainly one of those guys.”
Griffen had first-round talent when he declared for the draft after the 2009 season, but he was not selected until the fourth round.
His first few seasons with the Vikings featured well-chronicled off-the-field incidents — in 2011 he was arrested twice in a three-day period in Los Angeles — and some tough times with more experienced teammates who did not want to see him waste his talent.
A lack of maturity when he entered the NFL held him back, Griffen said.
“I was loose cannon,” he said in a phone interview, “They couldn’t trust me. I learned from it.”
The Vikings initially played Griffen at end before trying him at linebacker.
In his fourth season, he became a starting end, and began putting to use the lessons he learned from teammates.
“When I was young and wild, I was still listening, still taking everything in,” he said. “No matter what I was going through … I was working out for the season getting my body prepared. I worked hard so that any time I stepped on the [field] my motor was always running.”
Griffen, a Pro Bowl selection in 2015 and 2016, has amassed 58 sacks and 179 tackles for losses in his seven-plus NFL seasons, making him a challenge for opposing offensive linemen.
“He’s going to be a full day of work – he doesn’t take plays off,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, adding, “Whoever’s blocking him goes to sleep one time, then he’s got a chance to beat him.”