RENTON -- Even though Shaquem Griffin was a rather unique NFL rookie last season, his struggles making the transition to a new position at the professional level were an exceeding common occurrence.
Griffin was asked to play the weak-side linebacker spot for the Seahawks last season as a reserve behind veteran starter K.J. Wright. However, Griffin quickly found himself in the starting lineup for Seattle's season opener due to Wright sustaining a knee injury in the preseason that would sideline him for much of the season.
Griffin's turn in the lineup lasted about a half as his inexperience at the new position led to the team making a quick change.
While Griffin is still developing his skills as an off-the-ball linebacker, the Seahawks wanted to put him in a position where he felt more comfortable this offseason. The Seahawks are asking Griffin to be more of a pass rusher this season, which is a role he frequented during his time at Central Florida. Griffin had 18.5 sacks during his last two college seasons before the Seahawks grabbed him in the fifth-round of last year's NFL Draft.
Griffin, while admittedly a bit rusty, said he felt comfortable moving back to his old role from college.
"It made me feel comfortable," Griffin said following the team's final mini-camp practice on Thursday. "Being back on the edge is just something I knew already. Just jumping back into it, running around, going fast and enjoying the moments that I have on the edge.
"It just snapped right back to me like, ‘Ooh, I’m having so much fun again.’ This is just such a big difference because I feel so comfortable out there. Put me on the edge, I can utilize my speed so much more.’’
Griffin was a regular on just about every special teams unit with Seattle last season. However, his defensive snaps were far less frequent after the opener against the Denver Broncos. Griffin said it was challenging having to adapt to the demands on the weak-side spot, which presented an entirely different set of responsibilities than he was used to.
"Patience. Definitely patience. I was so used to just... snap of the ball, full speed right now, go for it," Griffin said. "And now you see the line stunts, you see the pullers. You can't just see something and run for it right now because you might be missing the next gap that's behind you because (running) backs like to cut back. It was just all about patience and letting the gap form out and then hitting it. When I was at outside backer, you didn't have to think that much. The line blocks down, you're taking off. The line blocks here, you're setting the edge. That's two things. When it comes to being behind the ball, you've got pullers, you've got to stunt the line one way or you've got to make sure you adjust the line before the play starts if they motion over. There's just so much more into it that now when you come onto the edge it's like 'boom, let's play ball.'"
Griffin has been playing the strong-side linebacker spot in Seattle's base defense looks, which allows him to serve as an edge rusher more regularly. However, he is still playing the weak-side spot in nickel situations.
"I think that's a very positive thing where you can go back and forth at two positions. And then it's making you show your worth a little more. Knowing that I can go from off the edge, back to being a stacked backed and stuff like that," Griffin said. "... I kind of enjoy doing that. I'm glad they allow me to do so."
Even though it's a spot Griffin is quite familiar with, the time away from the role has left him working to tap back into the skills he used to be successful at UCF.
"Just getting a feel for rushing again," Griffin said. "Once you go off for a year and you're not rushing, you're not working your hands as much and you're not seeing your target lines and stuff. There's so much that goes into rushing that I've got to get acclimated with that again. I've got to get used to it. It's all muscle memory and a habit, so once you stop doing it for a while... OK, I've got to get acclimated with how fast I've got to go or when should I make an inside move or an outside move or how should I use my hands. That's the only adjustment. When it comes to getting to the ball, you've just got to have a knack for it. You've got to have a mindset to say 'OK, you know what, I can't let this guy block me. It's either me or him.' So I'm not worrying about that. I'm going to be very aggressive. It's me over him and I like me every time."
Head coach Pete Carroll believes the move has already begun to pay dividends for Griffin.
"It’s 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’s had a very, very good off season with us."
Photo Credit: Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin discusses his shift back into a pass rushing role and what he learned in his rookie season with reporters on June 13, 2019. (photo by Curtis Crabtree / Sports Radio 950 KJR)