NFL Media's Oklahoma Drill series presents exclusive, quick-hitting one-on-one interviews with players and coaches from around the league. No nonsense -- just football experiences directly from the source.
Linebacker, Minnesota Vikings
Born: March 18, 1992
Experience: Four NFL seasons
The first time I went to Minnesota was April of 2014. The draft was in May and they have those pre-draft visits. I left California at the end of April and I was in my shorts, my flip flops, my hat and I got to the airport [in Minneapolis] and it was snowing. I was like, "Please don't pick me." Two weeks later, I got drafted by the Vikings. So it's kind of funny how that worked out.
It was a culture change for sure, culture shock a little bit. It's obviously a much smaller city (than Los Angeles). Having no family around, I think, was the most difficult part for me. But at the same time, having been there four years now, it's been great. I really enjoy my teammates, I enjoy the community. It's been a good home away from home.
We've grown a lot as a team, as individuals. [Head coach Mike Zimmer] is a lot more trusting of us now, having been with the majority of us for four years, going on five. [It's] kind of his way or no way at first. But as we've gotten closer and gotten older, he gives us a little more freedom. We've been successful for the most part. I think we've had one losing season, which was his first year. Other than that, pretty good.
I wouldn't say [the backlash from breaking Aaron Rodgers' collarbone] was distracting, but I definitely noticed it. Social media rules the world we live in today. I was getting a lot of heat on that, but it was gonna happen. I wasn't surprised by it. Anytime that happens to a guy of Aaron Rodgers' caliber, obviously he's the driving force behind that franchise, that team, so the backlash, it was expected. I didn't take it personally. It comes with the territory. I didn't mean to hurt the guy. Just making a play, trying to play football the way I've known how to play it for 18 years now. It was unfortunate that he was injured. I wish it didn't happen, but it did. And you've got to move on.
It's a bang-bang play. It can happen in any game. I hit Jameis Winston the same way a couple weeks prior and nobody made a sound about it. If he doesn't get injured, I don't think anybody complains about it.
We were pretty solid in situational football last year. Throughout the offseason program, we're given these presentations by the coaches in terms of what areas are critical to the game and what areas we need to improve on. In a lot of those areas, we did well, very well. Third downs, red zone, two-minute situations. Those are extremely important situations when you break it down and look at percentages and how important those things are to the game. I think we need to continue to be aware of those situations and be a smart football team. I think that's important to being successful, instilling all these situations to make us a smart football team. It's as simple as that. If we continue to do well in situational football, we're going to give ourselves a chance to win every game.
I don't really get into the numbers (with contract negotiations). It's more about feeling valued and respected than the actual dollar amount. They kind of go hand in hand, I suppose, but I love being in Minnesota and I love my teammates. I want to be there long term. I've felt I've worked really hard, improved from my first day there to where I am now. I think I'm a totally different football player. It's not really up to me. I feel like all the work I've done so far, you've got to go off that. You can't really go off what-ifs or this or that. Let the chips fall where they may. It's not my decision; it's on them, and I would like to get it.
I think a lot of [the "Top 100 Players of 2018"] is politics. I don't really care [that] I wasn't on the list.
[Russell Wilson] balled. His ability to extend plays and he never has help, and he's always able to somehow ... He should have won MVP, I think, this past year. No offensive line, no running game, can't name three receivers on his team and he just makes plays.
Just the preview that [Deshaun Watson] had was unbelievable. The game against Seattle -- I mean, the guy is so talented, crazy talented. Another guy that can move in the pocket, but still is a pocket passer and can throw the deep ball very well and reads defenses pretty well. Doing all that within the first five weeks of the NFL season is very impressive.
The main prize every year is the Super Bowl, right But you've kind of got to not temper expectations, but understand the immediate goal. Our immediate goal always is to win our division, and that sets us up for success in the postseason. We know the division games are the biggest ones. If we can have a winning record in the division, the odds of making the playoffs exponentially increase. The big goal all the time is the Super Bowl, but our main goal is to win the division, make the playoffs and hopefully get to the Super Bowl.
Very versatile. It's kind of hard to pinpoint what [the Kirk Cousins-led offense is] running. It's new. You know, you're seeing it for the first time. Usually, for the last few years, I'd seen the offense, so I kind of understood this is what they wanted to install, this is how it's going to be. But [the offense is] definitely spreading the ball around vertically, down the field. The running game has, I think, improved a lot. That's saying a lot because it was pretty formidable last year. They're giving different looks, the running backs are making great cuts.
Kirk's really taking control of the offense. He's very vocal out there. He hasn't been with the guys, the receivers that long, but they seem to have great chemistry. I've seen a lot of touchdowns, so I don't know if that's something we've got to fix on defense or what's going on. (laughs) But they're doing a good job over there and I think they're going to take a little pressure off the defense. Not having to feel like we have to get a three-and-out every time, win the game for us, because we know the offense we'll have is capable of putting up points.
It's comforting knowing that, but we can't relax just because we feel like the offense should score this possession or whatever. We have to have the same mentality the defense takes: being attacking, physical, trying to take the ball away, disrupting the quarterback, making them feel us, contesting the throws and stopping the run. That's how we pride ourselves on defense, that's what allows us to be successful: getting off the field as often as possible, getting the offense as many opportunities as they can and going from there.
We're having our annual wine event on June 27 at Loyola High School. That's where I went to high school and they did a lot for me in terms of growing up, providing me with a lot of opportunity, so it felt right to go back there, kind of where it all started.
Our main mission is to help single mothers return back to school, finish their education while providing some type of child care. So far, we've given out nine scholarships to nine moms. Five have graduated with their undergraduate degree. Four are scheduled to graduate either this year or next. It's totaled about $55,000 of scholarship money. It's not a whole lot, but we're still fairly new. That's kind of our main mission.
We just started this emergency grant, which we did some research -- we're based in Minnesota and Los Angeles. We did some research with the University of Minnesota and UCLA to find out what the need is, the main concern that single moms have and what makes their lives most difficult. [We] found that it's these emergency situations that pop up throughout the week. Whether it's a flat tire or car trouble or a medical emergency, so certain things that are preventing them from going to school or finishing class, so we started this emergency fund where they can apply. They call a number, they can apply and get the funds they need within 24 hours and kind of suppress those needs right away before they become larger.
It's a personal mission. My mom is a single mom. Growing up, [she] raised me and my little brother by herself. I kind of saw the struggle that she had and I know that I had a strong family support system, so it was a little easier for her because of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles. A lot of moms don't have that opportunity, so we're trying to be that support system for them.
Going national [with my foundation] would be my main goal. And then expanding it to single fathers, as well, because I'm sure fathers have similar needs and issues as moms do. I don't think the numbers are as staggering, but there's definitely a need there. We're in two states now. Hopefully five in the next couple years and so on.
I think [UCLA football under Chip Kelly] is going to be great. His track record speaks for itself. Everywhere he's gone, he's been successful. I think maybe he needs a year or two to implement his system and get the recruits in that he wants. It's going to start with a quarterback, but I mean, it's hard to doubt the guy. Even in his first year in the NFL, he was very successful. Everywhere he goes, he seems to have success. He knows how to coach, knows how to recruit. I can't think of the last bad college team he was on. Hopefully, he brings some love and some heat to Westwood because we're due.
I try to [keep up with UCLA football]. It's easy in the NFL because Saturday is your day off, and you can watch the games.