RENTON, Wash. – Shaquem Griffin had not played a defensive snap since Week 16 of last season.
He seemed locked into just being a special teams player for the Seattle Seahawks, despite assurances from Pete Carroll and others that they were trying to find the best way for Griffin to contribute on defense.
Suddenly, Griffin was out there on defense when Seattle beat San Francisco two weeks ago. It was for more than one play – 13 live snaps not counting one play that was a penalty – and Griffin was lining up as a rush defensive end, despite being vastly undersized. It was a nod to Griffin’s college days at UCF when he was one of the most disruptive players in the country when he was rushing the quarterback.
After nearly 1 1/2 seasons of trying to figure out how Griffin could best fit into the Seahawks’ defensive scheme, they may have stumbled into a possible way to use him.
“It always feels good to be out there and get after the ball a little bit and just be able to use my speed,” Griffin said. “It’s less thinking. It’s just more playing ball.”
Griffin’s story is well known by now. He became a college star and an NFL draft pick despite not having a left hand. He started the first NFL game of his career at linebacker at the beginning of last season, bringing a level of notoriety and attention that seemed overwhelming at times.
But his playing time on defense quickly disappeared during his rookie season as Seattle struggled to find Griffin’s best role. He wasn’t a true linebacker. He wasn’t skilled enough yet to be an effective pass rusher. After playing 41 snaps in the first game of his career, Griffin totaled nine the rest of last season.
But Griffin and Seattle remained patient and committed to finding a role. The Seahawks decided in the offseason to use Griffin as a specialty pass rusher, but the plans were delayed by Griffin’s lingering injuries during training camp. It took until Week 10 for Seattle and Griffin to finally bring those plans to fruition.
“They could have just threw me in there like, ‘OK, let’s see what you’ve got,’ and then not having a clue of what to do,” Griffin said. “So, I’m glad coach (Clint) Hurtt and coach Jethro (Franklin) just taking me in like, ‘Let’s work on this, work on get off.’ And even keeping me after practice to work on that to make sure that I wasn’t going out there just to go crazy and not know what I’m doing. That’s not fair to anybody else.”
What was notable about Griffin’s snaps against San Francisco was they seemed to come at the expense of veteran Ziggy Ansah, whose Seattle tenure has so far been a disappointment. Ansah and Griffin ended up playing the same amount of snaps against the 49ers and were on the field together only once. Neither recorded an official statistic, but Griffin seemed to have more of an impact in the pass rush than Ansah.
“The thing that he really brings is a whole level of speed and activity that we like,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of Griffin. “We’ve been working him in practice. We just want to continue to expand that and see how that goes. We have to use him better. As we see him, we’re learning more about what we can do with him. He was a good addition I thought.”
Proving it wasn’t a one-time opportunity would mean Griffin gets snaps in pass rush situations this week against Philadelphia. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said Griffin’s speed and activity can have a trickle-down effective by creating chances for other rushers.
“He’s going to give somebody some problems,” Norton said. “You have to really sit back and block him or else he’s going to get by you. Anytime you have speed like that on the field it has to affect the offense.”
NOTES: Seattle activated TE Ed Dickson from injured reserve and released CB Jamar Taylor on Wednesday. Dickson adds needed depth with the uncertainty about the status of Luke Willson for Sunday’s game at Philadelphia. Taylor had been Seattle’s primary nickel cornerback and the job could fall to rookie Ugo Amadi. … WR Tyler Lockett was a limited participant in practice after Carroll originally said the wide receiver wouldn’t return to practice until Thursday. Lockett suffered a severe leg contusion in the win over San Francisco and had to spend two nights in the Bay Area before returning to Seattle.
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