RENTON — Shaquem Griffin will forever be known for far more than what he does on a football field, his tale of overcoming the loss of his left hand at age 4 to make it to the NFL serving as an inspiration long after his playing days are done.
But as he enters his second season with the Seahawks, football is all Griffin has on his mind.
That’s something he admitted was sometimes challenging a year ago during a whirlwind rookie season when Griffin’s drafting by the Seahawks and reunion with twin Shaquill turned the brothers into international media sensations.
But after a rookie year on the field when he lost an early chance to claim a starting spot at weakside linebacker, Griffin said he understood he had to have a more singular focus this offseason.
“Oh yeah, it definitely was (a quieter offseason),’’ Griffin said Thursday. “More so for me just to take time for yourself and find out who you are, find out what you want, find out what your goals 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 and eating right. Let’s focus on myself instead of letting everybody else focus on me.’’
Everybody else, though, could have a harder time in 2019 finding Griffin once they do again put their focus on him.
Last season the Seahawks used Griffin at weakside linebacker, where he started out backing up K.J. Wright and serving as a potential heir apparent at that spot.
That was a new role for Griffin after he played primarily safety and outside linebacker at Central Florida. Struggles in an opening-game loss at Denver in place of an injured Wright showed the team that Griffin still had a lot to learn. He spent the rest of the year playing almost solely on special teams.
Now, the Seahawks are using Griffin as a strongside linebacker in the base defense and weakside in the nickel, the former role allowing him to do more pass rushing and the latter allowing him to work more in pass coverage.
Pass rushing was a particular strength for Griffin in college — he had 18.5 sacks in his final two seasons.
When he lined up again on the edge this offseason, Griffin said “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.’’
Seattle coach Pete Carroll said earlier this week that Griffin playing dual roles “has been a really good deal for him. He’s played safety and outside linebacker for the most part in his career. He’s just more comfortable out there.’’
But how much that gets him on the field — and even if it assures him a spot on the 53-man roster heading into the season — remains to be seen.
Seattle has a stacked linebacking corps after it re-signed veterans Wright and Mychal Kendricks (who the team expects to be available though he is due to be sentenced at some point on an insider trading charge) and drafted Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven.
Carroll said again Thursday that the Seahawks hope to use Bobby Wagner, Wright and Kendricks together in 2019, which strongly hints that Kendricks will play strongside linebacker, the spot where he began his career with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Carroll also said the team plans to use last year’s strongside linebacker, Barkevious Mingo, more as a pass rusher this season, but with the ability to still play some at SLB if needed. That might assure a spot on the roster for Mingo and provide fairly proven depth at SLB.
Barton seems pegged to be the backup middle linebacker, which might leave Burr-Kirven, Griffin and Austin Calitro — who has been used ahead of Barton in the offseason program — battling for any leftover scraps of playing time, and possibly with each other for a final roster spot.
Griffin’s ability to show he can master more than one role could loom critical, which he acknowledged Thursday.
Playing two spots, he said, is “just a way for me to learn more of the defense. I think that can be a great, positive thing when you can go back and forth at two positions and show your worth a little more, knowing I can go from on the edge back to being a stack backer and stuff like that.’’
If he might be a better fit at strongside linebacker, he says he also thinks he’ll be a better weakside backer this year after learning a valuable lesson in patience last season.
“I was so used to just, snap of the ball, full speed right now, go for it,’’ he said. “ … (but) you can’t just see something and run for it right now because you might be missing the next gap behind you.’’
If he might be reading plays better, though, Griffin said he read nothing into Seattle drafting two other linebackers, saying, “At the end of the day it’s all competitive, it’s all us competing.’’
He’s now doing that in just about every way possible. At the behest of Shaquill, the brothers hired a personal chef this offseason to improve their diets. Shaquill said he had to gain weight last season to play inside and was at 226. Now, he hopes to stay at the same general weight — in the 225-230 range — to handle both roles. But if the weight is basically the same, he said, “I just feel so much better’’ this year.
He’s also simply a year older and wiser.
Being benched during the Denver game and then playing only nine more defensive snaps the rest of the season was eye-opening both in illustrating the harsh realities of the NFL and the preciousness of every opportunity to be on the field.
“Just learning to take the good with the bad,’’ he said of the biggest lesson of his 2018 season. “Everything don’t always go your way, but it’s how you are able to adjust to that is how you are able to overcome when something is not going your way. … If I’ve got an opportunity to get on the field, be happy with that. There’s so many guys who wish they could be on the field. So what I learned was to take advantage of every opportunity I get and make sure I give 100% because you never know what comes out of it.”