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Stephen Weatherly answers the call for Vikings

October 9, 2018

When Olympic cross country skiing gold medalist Jessie Diggins visited the Vikings practice facility on Friday, she gave a speech to the team that centered on the theme Vikings coaches had been preaching to players all week: the importance of finishing.

Third-year defensive end Stephen Weatherly was paying rapt attention, knowing he was set for a busy day of work Sunday as one of the Vikings only two healthy defensive ends heading to Philadelphia. Weatherly and Danielle Hunter had been working on their conditioning all week in preparation for the game, but Diggins message drove the point home.

She said she doesnt know much about football; she definitely doesnt know what its like to go out there and try to maul someone, Weatherly said. But one thing she does know is the preparation, and what its like when youre in your moment, for your sport, and theres that crucial time, and youve given everything you have up to that point but you need more. Everyone has felt that, at every position, when we feel like weve given it all, but now that crucial point is coming up. What will you do?

Before this season, Weatherly had few chances to showcase himself on the field in the NFL. But by playing 54 of the Vikings 59 defensive snaps in their win on Sunday, the 2016 seventh-round pick delivered the biggest moment of his career.

Weatherlys second career sack started with an outside rush on right tackle Lane Johnson, before beating him to the inside with an up-and-under move once he got Johnson to shift his weight. Weatherly swatted the ball out of Carson Wentzs hand, and into the waiting arms of Linval Joseph, who rumbled 64 yards for a touchdown.

While Everson Griffen remains away from the team while dealing with mental health issues, the Vikings have turned to Weatherly, installing him as their starting left end while moving Danielle Hunter to Griffens normal spot on the right side.

He had played just 91 career snaps on defense before this season, working mainly on special teams while studying under the Vikings veterans and defensive line coach Andre Patterson. Hed primarily been known to fans for his unique background off the field: Weatherly plays nine musical instruments, was the captain of his high school robotics team, spent time in Germany in high school, and has a grandmother (Dianna Johnson) who studied at MIT and Harvard.

Now that hes getting his chance to start, hes adding some NFL highlights to his eclectic upbringing.

Hes just going out there and just playing, Hunter said. Hes not thinking. I talk to him before the game and just say, Bro, just go out there and do you. Dont worry about what nobody else says about you. Its on you now. Just go do you.andthinsp;

Though Weatherly had a modest 11andthinsp;andfrac12; sacks in college, shifting from a rotational defensive end to a 3-4 linebacker at Vanderbilt, he fit the profile of the lanky, athletic pass rusher the Vikings have coveted under coach Mike Zimmer and Patterson. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound end ran a 4.61 40-yard dash and bench pressed 225 pounds 23 times at the NFL combine, pairing his intelligence with an athletic ability that drew the Vikings to him.

Now that hes getting his chance to play, Zimmer said, hes showcasing the technical improvements hes made in his time with the Vikings.

When he first came here in the first little bit, he was a guy that would stop his feet on the rush [and] kind of measure, Zimmer said. Now hes just rushing and using his athletic abilities. If the guy oversets he comes inside, if he sets too tight, he works the outside edge. I think hes just getting a better feel of it, but the number one thing is not stopping his feet.

Weatherly didnt have much time to stop Sunday, and he could be in a starting role for the foreseeable future, as the Vikings wait to see whether Griffen will be able to return to them.

In the meantime, as Weatherly gets his opportunity, hes making sure to run with it.

Its easy when you go through a game, and youre not having pressures or youre not as effective as you want to be, to abandon your go-to moves and try to improvise something, Weatherly said. Watching guys like D [Hunter] and [Griffen] use their moves, and you see it pay off late in games, its really just sticking to what Ive been practicing all week.

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