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Linebacker Shaquem Griffin was a feel-good story in the NFL draft, but there’s more to it than his inspiring story.
Griffin is also a very good player, and it would be no surprise if he’s a steal for the Seattle Seahawks as a fifth-round pick. Uncertainty about how Griffin would translate to the NFL, considering he had his left hand amputated when he was young, caused the slide in the draft. But it’s not like he doesn’t have a track record.
Griffin was a great player for UCF the past two seasons. The American Athletic Conference is a solid football league that produces good players and good teams, and Griffin was the league’s defensive player of the year. He had 33.5 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks over his final two college seasons. He can play.
The human-interest side of Griffin’s story is why we’ll pay more attention to him than most fifth-round picks (it’s also why so many people are buying his jersey), but it seems the football part of the tale is coming along quite well. Griffin impressed Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at the team’s minicamp, where he played weak-side linebacker.
“He looked very comfortable, very natural,” Carroll said, according to the team’s transcripts. “He has a sense already for scheme and terminology. The position is the right spot for him, it looks like. We can be aggressive and use his speed. He’s already shown some sense in the passing game and he had a couple really good plays adjusting to zone coverage and man coverage and things we’ve already seen. So those were good things to take away. And we can’t really get a feel at all for special teams but we know that that’s going to be a factor so we’re excited about that.”
Griffin’s athleticism is the biggest help to his transition. No linebacker has ever officially run a faster 40 time than Griffin’s 4.38. He’s not the biggest linebacker at 227 pounds, but he’ll be faster than almost everyone on the field with him, even in the NFL. He is so athletic, Carroll didn’t even rule out trying Griffin at safety at some point down the line, though that’s not in his plans now.
Carroll’s comments about Griffin looking natural at the position are promising. While Griffin played well in college, with any rookie at any position there’s a question about how quickly he’ll pick up an NFL scheme. It seems Griffin has shown some good things in that area already.
Griffin has already made an impression. After the first day of minicamp Carroll said Griffin was going too hard through the walk-though portions of practice and the team “had to chill him out a little bit.” That’s not the worst thing for a coach to scold a rookie about.
“It’s time for us to get to work and make sure I give high competition,” Griffin said, according to the team’s transcripts. “Make sure I get a chance for the coaches to see who I am.”
There’s still a long way to go for Griffin to lock up a spot on the 53-man roster and find his role as a rookie and beyond. But his first minicamp seemed to show he’s more than just a great human-interest story.
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