Early in the second quarter of the Seahawks’ Week 10 win at San Francisco, the 49ers offense was facing third-and-8. Facing an obvious passing situation, the Seahawks sent out a pass-rush group that included, for the first time this year, second-year linebacker Shaquem Griffin.
For the Seahawks, it a was move that they hoped would help jump-start a pass-rush that, prior to a big game against the 49ers, had been struggling. For Griffin, it was a welcome opportunity after spending most of his first two seasons in a special teams-only role.
“I was waiting for them to call 49, to call my name,” Griffin said. “I had a lot of reps in practice, so I had a good idea I was going to get in, but I’m just glad they called my number to contribute as much as possible.”
Griffin ended up playing 13 snaps in that pass-rush role, many of them coming late in regulation and in overtime, and while he didn’t record any stats—he did chase Jimmy Garoppolo out of the pocket on one third down, helping pressure the 49ers quarterback into an incompletion—both he and the Seahawks are hoping this is a role that can grow and lead to production going forward.
“He’s active,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We’re going to find ways to utilize him. It’s really clear, more than it has been, that we might be able to build a role that could be a factor. We have to work at that more so just to use his speed. He’s instinctively a good rusher. He’s just not very big. You have to do special things with him. We’ll put that together and see if we can make that a good complement to what we’re doing.”
As Carroll notes, Griffin isn’t the size of a typical edge rusher at 6-foot, 227 pounds, but he has elite speed—he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine—and he was very productive as an undersized pass-rusher at UCF, producing 18.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss in his final two seasons and earning conference Defensive Player of the Year honors as a junior.
The Seahawks used Griffin at weakside linebacker as a rookie—he started the 2018 season-opener in place of an injured K.J. Wright—but in training camp this year, the Seahawks tried him at strongside linebacker in an attempt to take advantage of his pass-rush abilities. Before Week 10, that never materialized into regular-season playing time, but the Seahawks hope they can give their pass-rush a boost down the stretch by using Griffin as an undersized speed rusher.
“We’ve been practicing him the last couple weeks and getting him some chances,” Carroll said after the game. “He’s so fast and he looks like he’s going to cause some problems. He got tackled about four times and engulfed in some stuff, he’ll cause some problems. It was great to get him on the field and we’ll get a look at it and we’ll just try and see if we can fit him in and develop a role for him. That’s really what we’re searching for, a role for him to help us.”
For Griffin, getting back to an edge-rush role, and even spending his week going to defensive line meetings, was a welcome throwback to his college days, even if veteran linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright stayed on him to make sure he was also keeping up on linebacker work too.
“I felt way more comfortable at that position, being able to rush the edge, talk trash to the big guys,” Griffin said. “It’s always weird, when they see a real small guy, they just want to talk so much trash when I step out there, but I don’t think they expect me to talk trash back. But it always feels good to be out there, getting after the ball a little bit, being able to use my speed. It’s less thinking and just more playing ball.”
So how does a 227-pound pass-rusher plan on finding success against 300-plus-pound tackles?
“I just do everything they can’t,” he said. “I can go fast, offensive linemen can’t, I can bend, offensive linemen can’t. You’ve got to be able to utilize the things that they can’t do well… My whole thing is just, if they don’t like bending, make them bend, if they don’t like running, let’s get them tired.”
Griffin said the next step for him is working with defensive line coach Clint Hurtt and adjusting to what teams do to counter his speed advantage, be-it using a tight end to keep him from trying to beat a tackle with his speed, or using a running back to chip him in the backfield.
“What I took away from it is how to adjust when they’re adjusting to me,” he said. “That’s the questions I asked after the game, ‘OK, if a tight end does this or a running back does this, what should I do?’ … There’s always going to be a learning curve. Get your feet wet, learn from what you do good and learn from what you do bad, and make sure you get better at all of them.”
Game action photos from the Seattle Seahawks' Week 10 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.