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Joseph delivers sacks after Zimmer challenge

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.--Vikings coach Mike Zimmer challenged Linval Joseph to be a better pass rusher this season. Joseph has been taking it out on NFL MVPs and Heisman Trophy winners.

Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph (98) celebrates after a sack against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph (98) celebrates after a sack against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.-Vikings coach Mike Zimmer challenged Linval Joseph to be a better pass rusher this season. Joseph has been taking it out on NFL MVPs and Heisman Trophy winners.

The Vikings nose tackle has had a sack in each of Minnesota's three games. He got former Heisman winner Marcus Mariota of Tennessee in the first game, two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay in the second and on Sunday sacked Carolina's Cam Newton, who has MVP and Heisman trophies.

"I'm doing my job,'' Joseph said. "I'm delivering.''

Despite being named the Vikings' Defensive Player of the Year in 2015, Joseph had just half a sack all season. Zimmer challenged him during training camp to do better.

"He loves playing the run, but if he could ever develop that mentality of when it's time to pass rush, I think he could go the next level," Zimmer said at the time.

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Joseph looks to be on his way.

Against the Packers, he sacked Rodgers to stop a drive with just over two minutes left and the Vikings holding a 17-14 lead. In Sunday's 22-10 win at Carolina, Joseph caught Newton by the ankles early in the second quarter, forcing Newton to leave the game for a play.

"(Joseph has) been playing a lot more, so that helps," Zimmer said Monday. "But he's a powerful guy. ... He's starting to understand a lot more on the pass rush."

The 6-foot-4, 329-pound Joseph might be the strongest player on the team.

"We call him 'Big Goon' for a reason," said defensive end Everson Griffen. "He's probably the strongest dude I've ever met in my whole life. He can run. He can hit. He's just a monster, pure monster."

Griffen had three of the Vikings' eight sacks in Carolina and leads the team with four. Right behind are Joseph and defensive end Danielle Hunter with three apiece.

Zimmer said having Griffen, Hunter and defensive end Brian Robison putting so much pressure on quarterbacks is helping Joseph get opportunities, and he's been taking advantage of them.

"He's doing what works for him," Robison said. "That's what we've been trying to tell him all along. We tell him, 'You're so much stronger and physically bigger than the guys you're going against. Just use your brute strength.' And that's what he's doing now."

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So, how strong is Joseph?

"The son of gun throws people around like they're rag dolls," Robison said. "He just imposes his will. At the end of the day, you look at a lot of the rushes he's got, he's just pushing guys out of the way."

The seventh-year veteran long has been regarded as a solid run-stopper. In a vote by players before this season, the NFL Network named him the 76th-best player in the league.

Joseph continues to stop the run. His 23 tackles in Minnesota's first three games rank him first among the team's defensive lineman. His career-best season for sacks is four, set with the New York Giants in 2012. Joseph could equal or top that when he goes against his former team Monday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"Everybody in the locker room, especially the linebackers and D-linemen, we're just playing together," Joseph said. "We're playing off each other, and I just guess it's my time."

Joseph, who celebrates sacks by pretending to hit a baseball over the fence, insists there is no secret about how he gets to the quarterback.

"I'm getting off blocks,'' he said. "I'm making plays when it's time for me to make plays.''

Next up: trying to sack Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He doesn't have an MVP or a Heisman trophy, but he does have two Super Bowl MVP awards.

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