Rookie LB Shaquem Griffin replaced K.J. Wright at weakside linebacker because Wright just had arthroscopic knee surgery that will likely keep him out of the season-opener. Can Griffin fill Wright's shoes when the games start to matter?
If he hasn’t been the best story of the preseason, he is certainly on the podium. From his debut against Indianapolis to Thursday’s showing against Oakland, Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin has kept the ink flowing on his compelling tale.
But now we’re going to find out if his exhibition production was foretelling of his regular-season contributions. In other words, we’re about a week and a half from finding out if this guy’s for real.
There is little dispute that Griffin has caught the eye of local and national media over the past four weeks. He hasn’t just been the one-handed twin of teammate Shaquill Griffin — he has been a potent linebacker making plays that will likely earn him a start against Denver in two Sundays.
Perhaps his most impressive effort Thursday came on a third-and-three in the second quarter, when he darted across the field from the weak side and pushed Oakland running back Chris Warren out of bounds a yard short of the first down. Yes, pretty much everyone on the field was a second-stringer, but that was a first-string play.
How Griffin’s exploits will translate to the regular season is difficult to say. Former Seahawks running back Christine Michael would wow crowds every preseason only to wane once the games actually counted.
Regardless, given that K.J. Wright just had arthroscopic knee surgery that will likely keep him out of the season-opener, Griffin is all but assured to replace him.
So what can fans expect?
Much of that might depend on how Griffin processes the moment. Yeah, he had nine tackles four games ago, but Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Shaquem’s over-excitement the next game was responsible for him being in the wrong spot on several plays.
It usually takes a full year for players to adjust to the NFL out of college. Fair or not, Griffin is being asked to do it in about four weeks — and you can bet his nerves will be as active as ever vs. the Broncos.
There is also the question of his size and length. Wright stands 6-feet-4 and weighs 246 pounds. Griffin is 6-feet and weighs 227. But Griffin is also one of the faster linebackers in football. Will that be enough to offset the size disparity?
These are questions that, to some degree at least, will be answered in the next week and a half. Consider the preseason like Triple-A and the regular-season like the big leagues. You discover the difference between fools gold and the real thing pretty quickly.
“For me, it’s all a learning process right now. I”m more than excited.” Griffin said. “I’m well prepared for it. K.J. is always going to be in my circle. He called me every day and made sure I was in my playbook and make sure I was studying … having him in my circle no matter what always makes me better.”
For what it’s worth, K.J. Wright offered some thoughts on Twitter during Thursday’s game. They weren’t particularly lengthy, but definitely complimentary. “These LBs are on fire!” he tweeted.
Actually, he didn’t type “fire” but rather a multitude of mini flames. You get the idea, though.
Obviously, there are some conspicuous absences on this team compared to last year. Gone are Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and, if he doesn’t return from his holdout, Earl Thomas. The reliable component to the once fabled Seahawks defense was supposed to be linebackers, headed by Bobby Wagner and Wright.
But what was once thought to dependable has now become tenuous … unless Griffin performs with the same pizzazz he has throughout the preseason.
Maybe that’s putting too much pressure on the rookie. Maybe that’s asking too much from a fifth-round draft pick. His background and brother have enhanced his spotlight by about 10,000 watts.
So far, though, he has given fans, coaches and teammates everything they could have hoped for. Perhaps thinking he can keep it up isn’t so unrealistic.