When the Seahawks opened offseason workouts this spring, Shaquill Griffin found himself on the opposite side of the defense, lining up at left cornerback instead of right cornerback, the position he played as a rookie.
The move was both a strategic one and in some ways a symbolic one.
The left side of the defense is generally where teams line up their top cornerback because most right-handed quarterbacks prefer throwing to their right, or the defense's left. From the middle of the 2011 season until an injury last November, left cornerback had been Richard Sherman's position, and one he played as well as anyone in the league. But after releasing Sherman this offseason, the Seahawks determined that Griffin, a 2017 third-round pick out of UCF, was ready to take over that spot.
And in Monday night's loss to the Chicago Bears, Griffin went down the right sideline, stride for stride with receiver Allen Robinson before leaping to snatch his first interception of the season, looking a lot like the player Griffin calls a mentor and a big brother.
The interception wasn't just a big play because it gave the Seahawks the ball, but also because it was a very concrete example of the progress Griffin made after what was an already impressive rookie season. Griffin said during the offseason that one of his goals was to improve his ball skills—he had to wait until Week 17 last year to record his first interception despite a season full of tight coverage and disciplined play—and on Monday he doubled his 2017 interception total in one quarter, adding a second pick with a diving catch of a ball deflected by Bradley McDougald. A year ago, Griffin would have likely been in position to break up that deep sideline pass from Mitchell Trubisky, but this year he was prepared to take the ball away.
"I'm a lot further than I was last year," Griffin said of his ability to make plays on the ball. "I'm glad I'm finally getting the ball in my hand. I feel like that's the main thing I wanted to work on. That's just a huge confidence booster for me to finally start getting the ball in my hands early in the season. That's something I'm going to continue to work on. I know I still had a few mistakes here and there, you know, missed tackles. So there's stuff I still have to work on. I'm glad I'm making progress and I'm glad I'm finally getting the ball in my hand. Just doing the things correctly and doing it right so I can help out a lot more."
Griffin said the biggest difference from last year to this year is his ability to find the ball while still maintaining good coverage.
"I'm just getting my head around, I feel like that's the main thing I had to do," he said. "Last year I felt like I was just playing it safe when I know I can punch the ball out. I know I'm good at tracking the ball and just make sure he doesn't catch it. I said, 'Now that I know I'm finally doing good with that, let's try and get the ball in my hands.' I just try to turn my head around. I was looking for it, finding it and now I'm finally getting it. The main thing I was doing, I was working all offseason and during camp was just turning my head around and just feeling that sense of confidence, just to look for it and find it myself. I'm glad I got that same play during the game and got an interception because now it's just—it feels good to finally get that out of the way. So now when it continues to happen, I don't have to think about it and second guess myself when the ball's in the air."
The fact that Griffin appears to be elevating his game in his second season is hardly a surprise to his coaches, who see a ton of potential in a player who has the rare combination of physical tools and the right mindset to play the position well.
"He's off to another really good start," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He had a terrific rookie season. You can check the numbers any way you want to check them. He had a really good rookie season, so how does he respond to come back? He played well throughout the preseason. He's just played the same every time he goes out. He's got a consistency about him and he's really gifted because he's so fast and he's athletic and all the rest and he's tough, that he's got a consistency to him that he could be a really good player here. You got to put time together to make that work, but I'm really hopeful for it… He's just getting going. Really, he's just getting started. We've got a lot of great stuff out of him."
Added defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., "You can see he's a guy that really understands the corner play. He knows how to go up and get the ball, he's really fast, he understands his technique. There's no limit to how good he can be. It's just a matter of practicing and continuing to learn, continue to improve and then the good stuff starts to come."
And while Griffin has looked comfortable in his new position through two games, he doesn't take it for granted that his coaches felt comfortable moving him into that role in his second season.
"It meant a lot actually," Griffin said of the move. "Because I felt like that means they have a sense of trust in me to take that role. Especially being that that was Richard Sherman's spot and everything that he's done here in this organization. That means they had a sense of trust in me to take over that role and kind of pick up where he left off from. So it felt good to have that feeling and see what the coaches, and this organization have trusting me and how they feel about me by moving me in that position. I'm going to do the best I can to continue to keep that train going in that left-side corner and do whatever I can to help this team win."
Go behind-the-scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he captures exclusive images from the Seattle Seahawks' road game against the Chicago Bears during Week 2 of the 2018 NFL season.