RENTON, Wash. - Seattle second-year linebacker Shaquem Griffin feels at home again on the football field. He's no longer limited to operating exclusively behind defensive linemen while making complex reads before reacting, duties he struggled to adapt to. Instead, the Seahawks have returned the ultra-quick Griffin to the edge position where he thrived at Central Florida while displaying the skills that made him a fifth-round pick last year in spite of not having the use of his left hand, lost at birth.
Griffin is now free to speed rush quarterbacks with abandon, reel in running backs from the backside and set the edge when plays ramble in his direction. Each of these assignments come second nature to Griffin, who is ready to cut loose this season after a disappointing rookie year that left him somewhat frustrated.
"It just snapped right back to me as soon as they put me there and I'm having so much fun out there again," Griffin said following the final day of Seattle's minicamp at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. "It's just such a big difference because I feel so comfortable out there."
Following trading defensive end Frank Clark to Kansas City prior to the NFL Draft, Seattle became in desperate need of edge pass rushers. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah could be the answer, but he recently signed free agent and former Pro Bowler from Detroit is recovering from shoulder surgery and could be eased back into action with no set timetable to do so.
"I don't think we'll rush him when there won't be a need to start him up right out of the chutes, and we'll see how it goes in the weeks to follow," Carroll said.
Even when Ansah is full-go, the team will need additional pass rushers to spell him or line up on the other side of the formation on obvious passing downs. Griffin is a candidate to fill that role. But he must prove that he is up to the task.
In college, Griffin showed out as a pass-rushing menace. He made 33 1/5 tackles for loss including 18 1/2 sacks during his final two years at Central Florida. He said running around and playing fast is all he knew in college. Then he arrived in Seattle and suddenly he found himself playing a stacked linebacker position that didn't exactly suit him. Injuries to K.J. Wright to begin catapulted Griffin into the starting lineup at in season-opening loss at Denver and the day didn't go well for the rookie. He rarely saw game action outside of special teams the rest of the season and finished the year with just 11 tackles and no sacks.
Griffin remains in the process of learning the regular outside linebacker positions and said that middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and Wright have encouraged him to embrace learning multiple positions in order to expand his knowledge base of the entire defense.
"It makes you show your worth a little more knowing that I can go from off the edge to back to being a stack backer," Griffin said.
But Griffin's heart is on the edge.
"At this point, it's about being available, and giving us a chance to move you around and play hard," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said of Griffin. "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 admittedly has been a bit rusty out there in space. He said some of the pass rush moves that came so naturally to him while at Central Florida have been slow to fully return. The nuances of taking proper angles and mixing up moves to throw at pass blockers are still being refined.
"There's so much that goes into rushing that I've got to get acclimated to that again," he said. "It's all muscle memory and habit."
Griffin hopes to play at a lean, mean 230 pounds. He and his twin brother, Seattle cornerback Shaquill Griffin have hired a chef to help them improve their nutrition and thus their playing ability. Shaquem said he's eliminated fried foods, fast food, chicken wings and pork fro his diet that no consists mainly of lean chicken and fish.
Another aspect of his life that is different this year is the reduction in attention being thrown his way. Last year, Griffin was one of the top stories in the NFL given his unique story. Now he is old news and likely won't receive that type of attention again until he actually produces on the field. And that's fine with him.
"I've been able to focus on my stuff," he said, "instead of everyone focusing on me."