GREEN BAY, Wis. —One of the biggest questions facing the Seahawks entering the 2017 season was who would step into the team's starting cornerback role opposite All-Pro Richard Sherman, a spot that last year belonged to veteran DeShawn Shead, but a position that was open for competition during training camp as Shead continued to recover from the knee injury he suffered in the 2016 postseason.
Seattle had multiple candidates in the running this past offseason, including veteran Jeremy Lane, special teams standout Neiko Thorpe, and rookie Shaquill Griffin, who the Seahawks picked up in the 2017 NFL Draft out of Central Florida. After a summer of training camp practices and through four preseason games, the job was eventually awarded to the Seahawks' third-round pick Griffin, and on Sunday at Green Bay's Lambeau Field, Griffin's first regular-season NFL start came against one of the best quarterbacks to ever play.
Packers signal caller Aaron Rodgers tested Griffin early and often to open Week 1, especially after Lane, the team's nickel cornerback, was ejected for what officials specified as "throwing a punch" in the game's first quarter. But for the better part of four quarters Griffin held his ground, recording a pass breakup and 10 solo tackles while preventing Packers receivers from running away with anything over the top.
"It made Shaq have to jump out there in all situations," Carroll said of how Lane's ejection impacted Griffin's performance in his team's 17-9 season-opening loss. "I thought he played a great first game out. I thought everything he did was well done and really fired up about that."
Heading into Sunday's game, Griffin said he expected Rodgers and the Packers to come his way. The thought made sense, as not only was he a rookie cornerback making his first NFL start, but Griffin was set to line up opposite Sherman, one of the League's top cover men who opposing quarterbacks oftentimes tend to steer clear of.
"I had to make sure I lock in and take it as if the ball's coming my way every time," Griffin said postgame. "So I had to be just a little more focused on staying on top of the route and understanding who I'm going against and where the ball is being thrown to."
Free safety Earl Thomas, playing in his first regular-season game since fracturing his leg last December, was complimentary of the Seahawks rookie.
"He balled out," Thomas said of Griffin. "Like I've been saying all along, he doesn't play like a rookie. The moment is not too big for him, he stood up. He's always going to give me some opportunities to get picks because I know they're going to target him."
When Shead comes off of the team's Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which he's eligible to do after the season's first six weeks, he's expected to factor into the Seahawks' cornerback spot in some fashion. But until then, given what Griffin has shown the past few months and again on Sunday in Green Bay, Carroll and the Seahawks have confidence in the young player's ability to help this football team moving forward.
"It'll help us," Carroll added. "He got challenged, they went after him, and he stood up to it play after play. So that's a big accomplishment for us and for himself, and that'll help us down the road."
The Seahawks fall 9-17 in their first game of the 2017 season against the Green Bay Packers.