Coming off an underwhelming rookie season, the Seahawks have made a concerted effort to maximize Shaquem Griffin’s athletic traits and skill set by putting him back on the edge this offseason.
Along with continuing to develop behind veteran K.J. Wright at weakside linebacker in nickel packages, Griffin transitioned back to SAM linebacker this spring, receiving extended snaps working off the edge during Seattle’s organized team activities and mandatory minicamp.
Fully focused on football with the media circus that followed him and his twin brother Shaquill a year ago finally subsided, the second-year defender is thrilled to be back in his element, where he should be able to better utilize his elite sub-4.40 speed.
“It made me feel comfortable.” Griffin said of his positional change. “Being back on the edge is something that I knew already, so it’s just like jumping back into it, running around, going fast, and just enjoying the moments I have on the edge.”
Before being drafted in the fifth round by the Seahawks in the 2018 NFL Draft, Griffin emerged as an unexpected star at UCF during his final two seasons on campus, primarily wreaking havoc rushing downhill off the edge.
As a junior, Griffin recorded 92 tackles and 11.5 sacks in 13 games, earning AAC Defensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-AAC honors. Playing a lead role for an undefeated Golden Knights squad in 2017, he racked up 74 tackles, 7.0 sacks, and an interception, once again receiving First-Team All-AAC recognition and wrapping up his college career as a Second-Team All-American selection.
Despite his success as a rusher at the college level, Griffin’s 227-pound frame created concerns about his viability working off the edge against NFL tackles. As a result, Seattle chose to start him at weakside linebacker to learn from Wright in an apprentice-type role.
Though he earned the starting nod replacing an injured Wright for the regular season opener, Griffin struggled to adapt to his new position, battling issues maintaining run fits, taking poor pursuit angles on tackle attempts, and missing a couple coverage assignments.
After being replaced by Austin Calitro in the second half of the opener, Griffin only played nine defensive snaps over the final 15 games. Looking back, patience proved to be the toughest adjustment at a position that was largely foreign to him upon his arrival to Seattle.
“I was so used to just snap of the ball, full speed right now, go for it.” Griffin said. “And now it’s just like, have patience, you see the line stunts, you see the pullers. [But] you can’t just see something and run for it right now because you might be missing the next gap behind you.’’
Now, after learning valuable lessons and being humbled to an extent during his rookie season, Griffin can go back to doing what he does best: flying to the football and pursuing opposing quarterbacks.
While he admittedly isn’t rushing the passer quite as much as he’d like, Griffin has happily been shaking off the rust and “getting a feel for rushing again” after spending a year away from the role that previously vaulted him to unforeseen stardom at UCF.
“Once you go out for a year and [you’re] not rushing, you’re not working your hands as much, and you’re not seeing your target lines and stuff.” Griffin commented, adding, “There’s so much that goes into rushing that I gotta get acclimated with that again. I gotta get used to it – it’s all muscle memory and a habit – so once you stop doing it for a while it’s like ‘Okay, I got get acclimated with how fast I got to go, when should I make an inside move or outside move, or should I use my hands?”
With the arrival of rookies Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven as well as Seattle’s decisions to re-sign Wright and Mychal Kendricks, there’s suddenly a log jam at linebacker. But Griffin believes learning a second position will bolster his chances of not only sticking on the 53-man roster, but also finding his way onto the field defensively.
“I think that can be a great, positive thing when you can go back and forth at two positions and show your worth a little more, knowing I can go from on the edge back to being a stack backer and stuff like that.’’
Coach Pete Carroll concurs, as he told reporters last week that playing multiple roles has “been a really good deal” for Griffin, who is now better positioned to take advantage of his prior background as a safety and outside linebacker.
Assuming he rediscovers his previous form as a pass rusher and continues to exhibit growth at weakside linebacker, Griffin should be able to make a far more significant impact for the Seahawks than he did as a rookie. While there’s no guarantees in terms of playing time, especially considering additions made at linebacker, he plans to capitalize on every opportunity he gets to see the field.
“If I’ve got an opportunity to get on the field, be happy with that. There’s so many guys who wish they could be on the field. So what I learned [as a rookie] was to take advantage of every opportunity I get and make sure I give 100 percent because you never know what comes out of it.”