No team wants to start the regular season with a Pro-Bowl talent on the sideline, but if the Seahawks do have to open the 2018 season without K.J. Wright, they feel pretty good about the backup plan at that spot.
Ever since he arrived in Seattle as a fifth-round pick, Shaquem Griffin has been impressive on and off the field, and in the Seahawks' final preseason game, a 30-19 loss to the Oakland Raiders, Griffin was again a bright spot, providing a team-high seven tackles, all of which came in the first half. Griffin finished the preseason with a team-high 26 tackles, a total that is tied for fifth most in the NFL.
And with Wright recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery that was performed earlier this week, Griffin's rapid development could be vital to Seattle's defense.
"He's really doing well," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He just had a dip in Week 2, he kind of got maybe a little overwhelmed with the first week, he made 9 tackles the first game, he came back and just wasn't on it. He tried too hard in Week 2, and then he settled in to Week 3 and it looked like he did again. I need to see the film, but it's a really important position for us, obviously right now with K.J. not ready for us yet. I'm anxious to see how he did."
Griffin was one of the biggest stories of draft weekend, not just because he had his left hand amputated as a young child, making him an inspirational story on top of being a darn good football player, but also because he happened to be drafted by the team that already employed his twin brother, starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin. But after joining the Seahawks, Shaquem Griffin quickly went from being a feel-good story to being a play-good NFL linebacker. Yet no matter how well Griffin played in camp or the preseason, few would have expected him to be joining his brother in the starting lineup in Week 1, but now there's a real chance that could happen.
"It might seem crazy, but it's not crazy," Griffin said. "I just wait for my moment, and I'm just here to make sure I can hold it down for K.J. I talk to him all the time, I'm always in his circle, so that's a good thing. He's always checking in on me, making sure I'm in my playbook, so I'm ready to hold it down when it comes to him not being there."
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner succinctly summed up how the Seahawks feels about their current situation at weakside linebacker. If Wright can't play, Wagner said, "I'm confident," in Griffin, before adding. "Hopefully it's K.J., but I'm confident."
Wagner added: "Shaquem did a great job, felt like Shaquem came out there and was flying around making plays. The 'backers who started the game definitely put their mark on the game. We're on the right track."
Griffin says Wagner and Wright are two of the biggest reasons he is as prepared as he is heading into the regular season, noting that those two have been big factors in his development.
"I have guys like K.J. and Bobby that are always keeping me in tune and always make sure that I stay in my playbook," Griffin said. "With me being a rookie, there's always a learning process and I can learn from the guys in front of me. Having those guys as mentors has definitely prepared me for the games that are coming up.
"K.J. and Bobby are always in my circle. Even in the times when K.J. was gone (for his surgery), he called me every day and made sure I was in my playbook and made sure I was studying. So even when he's not around me, he's still helping me and making sure that I get better. Having guys like Bobby and K.J., the only thing you can do is get better every day."
Griffin explained that every time he went to the sideline on Thursday night, Wagner was quick to greet him on the sideline with encouragement and critiques of his play. The two also spent time going over plays on the tablets on the sideline. That type of involvement from an All-Pro linebacker like Wagner, who didn't play a snap on Thursday, as well as Wagner's overall enthusiasm throughout the game, was a good illustration of the type of leadership Carroll has been seeing from his veterans this year.
"I'm really glad you noticed that, because that's part of the leadership of this squad," Carroll said. "I feel a little different about the direction of it. It just feels like the voices that are speaking now, there's an investment that's really obvious from them to the other guys on the club. That's what I was enjoying all throughout the offseason. Bobby and Duane (Brown) and all those guys, they were doing a great job, Russell (Wilson). They're up and down the sidelines the whole night, working with guys and talking about the situations and there just into it and supporting them, and that's exactly the way we want to be. I don't want to see guys taking their jerseys off and their uniforms off and blowing off the rest of the game. I want them to be in there and help their guys finish. They believe in that as well, and that's what they did and I think that's what you saw."