Slimmed-down Floyd could loom large for Vikings

Sharrif Floyd has dropped weight and hopes to emerge from Kevin Williams' immense shadow.

Minnesota's Sharrif Floyd, now 303 pounds, is sliding into the role for which he was drafted, as Kevin Williams' replacement in the interior of the Vikings' defensive line.

Bruce Kluckhohn / USA TODAY Sports

MANKATO, Minn. -- The comparisons are hard to escape for Sharrif Floyd.

Floyd has been likened to the player he is replacing with the Minnesota Vikings, stepping into five-time All-Pro Kevin Williams' spot at defensive tackle. The questions have come for Floyd since Minnesota made him the 23rd overall pick in the 2013 draft, and no one can blame Floyd for downplaying his task of replacing Williams.

Then the comparisons began to change for Floyd. Mike Zimmer took over as the Vikings' coach and brought his defensive system from Cincinnati, where Geno Atkins flourished as a two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle. Floyd will assume a similar role to Atkins in Zimmer's defense.

Minnesota has shown which comparison it sees most with Floyd. The second-year tackle is looking more like Atkins after the Vikings asked Floyd to drop weight in the offseason.

"You can see (Floyd) moving around, his athleticism, you can see those things show up a lot more now that he's lost that weight," defensive coordinator George Edwards said. "I think he feels good at it. We know he's strong enough at that point to be able to hold the point . . . just the block recognition and all those, we just want to see him continue to get better at those things and improve in those areas."

Now at 303 pounds, the 6-foot-3 Floyd weighs the same as the 6-1 Atkins. In his final days with Minnesota, Williams, 6-5, could hold his 311 pounds.

"A lot about strength is from your butt and your legs and your base and your pad level and those things," Zimmer said. "Obviously, the bigger you are, it's a little bit easier. But typically the bigger you get, you're not as quick as you were. I don't think that'll be an issue with Sharrif. He's done a really good job in the weight room."

Floyd is sliding into the role for which he was drafted as Williams' replacement, but Atkins might be the better comparison. At least that's what the Vikings are hoping.

Atkins made his living as a disruptive force in the middle of Cincinnati's defense, tallying 29 sacks in four NFL seasons. Williams is a potential Hall of Fame defensive tackle and was once a double-digit sack player. Yet, he had 11.5 sacks the past four seasons combined.

"It feels great," Floyd said. "Even in college, I played at 295. So I know what it feels like to be light, so it's not hard to get back there."

Floyd would prefer to get back to his college weight but said holding 305 pounds, as the team requested, isn't a problem. Most importantly, he still has the strength at the lower weight than last season.

"Once I broke down my body weight, I built more muscle on top of it," Floyd said. "It's just understanding your body and I know how my body can function. Losing weight wasn't for me to keep up in speed and power. It was more so I can last longer."

He concentrated his diet in the offseason. Floyd's weakness is chips. He didn't give up the vice completely.

"I like Tostitos Scoops, but I go with the whole grain wheat," Floyd said, adding: "It's just self-control. It's about what you eat. Since I've been in camp I've still maintained the same weight, just eating grilled chicken and Caesar salad. Yes, Caesar's dressing is the worst, but it's better than bacon. It's just watching what you eat and doing it the right way."

His first season in the NFL could be called a disappointment. An injury slowed Floyd early and he wasn't able to carve out a role as a rotational player with Williams. Floyd played all 16 games and had 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

"The thing we like about him is his willingness to learn," defensive end Brian Robison said. "But also he has great explosiveness for his size, can run and really that's going to be a good thing for us because if you've got a defensive tackle like that, that can get up the field like we had in Kevin Williams so many years, that allows us defensive ends to play off him, maybe be able to come underneath or if he's bull-rushing a guy, have a little bit shorter edge to get to the quarterback.

"If he can give us those opportunities on the edge to do that in the middle, it will be a good thing for our defense."

Robison, now the veteran leader of the defensive line, has been mentoring Floyd a bit during training camp. The two stood and talked the other day following one particular drill.

"That's just me finishing at the top of my rush," Floyd said of his talk with Robison. "Lately, I've been winning and then at the top I would make the wrong move or turn my body the wrong way, which give the offensive linemen the position to get back on me to block me, so it was just moreso me finishing at the top of my rush."

On another play, Floyd penetrated through the offensive line quickly and blew up a running play. Minnesota signed Linval Joseph to be the space-eating defensive tackle able to handle multiple blocks. The comparison to Cincinnati would be to nose tackle Domata Peko.

Floyd is to Joseph as Atkins is to Peko. Floyd will have his chances to disrupt offenses by getting inside and collapsing the pocket for quarterbacks.

At his lower weight, the quickness is there. Will the sacks pile up as quick as the pounds dropped off?

"I think I can get enough," Floyd said.

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