As he prepares for his second season in the NFL, linebacker Shaquem Griffin is taking on a bigger role than he had last season, one that includes him playing two different linebacker positions while also rushing the passer.
But despite taking on more, Griffin feels more comfortable, mostly because what he's being asked to do is "exactly the same thing" he did while earning AAC Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-conference honors at UCF.
In an effort to best utilize Griffin's athleticism—he ran a blazing 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine—and to avoid putting too much on his plate in Year 1, the Seahawks had Griffin stick to the weakside linebacker spot where he started one game while spending most of the year as a backup to K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks.
To get the most out of Griffin's speed and pass-rush background, however, the Seahawks are looking to do more with him this year, using him as a strongside linebacker in the base defense—a position that involves some pass-rushing—and a weakside linebacker in nickel packages.
"It's exactly the same thing," Griffin said when asked how it compared to his role at UCF, where he had 18.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss over his final two seasons after switching from safety to linebacker. "I'm rushing, I'm dropping, I'm going man to man in coverage, I'm setting the edge… I'm having so much fun again. It's just such a big difference, because I feel so comfortable out there."
Earlier this offseason, before players reported for offseason workouts, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was already talking about how he and his coaching staff "need to uncover" Griffin's pass-rush ability. And after seeing Griffin in an expanded role throughout organized team activities and minicamp, Carroll is encouraged by what the second-year linebacker has shown so far.
"It has been really a good deal for him," Carroll said. "We see how much background he has on the edge. He's played safety and outside linebacker for the most part in his career. He's just more comfortable out there. That doesn't mean that he can't play behind the line of scrimmage. He's gained a lot there, but you can see him on the edge, in space and coming off the edge and pressures and stuff like that, that it's a good spot for him. So he has had a very, very good offseason with us."
Added defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., "The guy has real good speed as you know. He really understands the game. And that much speed and that much ability, you'd like to find a place to play him because he's a weapon."
Griffin is also feeling more comfortable this year not only because of a move back to a more familiar role, but also because the spotlight on him has dimmed somewhat since last year. Griffin's story in an inspirational one, to be sure, but he has enjoyed having a bit less attention on him this spring and summer.
"Oh yeah, it definitely was (a quieter offseason)," he said. "I didn't have to worry about everybody trying to hype you up and get you a big head and stuff like that, and everybody telling you what you can and cannot do. More so for me, it was just take time for yourself and find out who you are, find out what you want, find out what your goals are and what you want to get out of next season, and just go after it—working out every single day, making sure I was getting my body right, making sure I was eating right. It's like, 'Let's focus on my stuff instead of letting everybody else focus on me.'"
Photos from Day 3 of the Seattle Seahawks' 2019 mandatory minicamp, the final day of the team's offseason workout program held on Thursday, June 13 at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.