Shaquem Griffin got a KISS from his twin brother before his first NFL game.
OK, we don’t think it was an actual smooch—though Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin are so close as roommates, teammates and soul mates it isn’t unfathomable.
Shaquill, the Seahawks’ starting cornerback, gave last-minute advice to Shaquem, the team’s rookie linebacker, just before kickoff of Seattle’s preseason opener against Indianapolis Thursday night: Keep it simple, Stupid.
“Just play football,” Shaquill told him. “Don’t worry about too much. Just run fast. Run to the ball.
“And hit hard.”
Shaquem absolutely did that against the Colts, continuing his wondrous debut summer for the Seahawks. The fifth-round draft choice entered at weakside linebacker for Seattle’s second defensive drive, with the second-teamers. That was after Pro Bowl veteran K.J. Wright played one series then departed with almost all the starters on the Seahawks’ remade defense.
Immediately, Griffin showed his 4.38-second speed in the 40-yard dash that was the fastest for a linebacker at the league’s scouting combine since 2003. He made tackles on four consecutive plays on his first NFL drive beginning late in the first quarter. And that was when quarterback Andrew Luck and the rest of the Colts’ starters were still in the game. Three of the younger (by one minute) Griffin’s consecutive stops were on runs, on runs up the middle and around the defense’s left end. One was on a short pass from Luck to tight end Jack Doyle in the middle for 9 yards in front of Griffin, who was a safety his first two seasons at Central Florida before moving to linebacker.
He had five tackles in his first seven pro scrimmage plays. By the end of the third quarter the 6-foot, 227-pound Griffin had a game-high eight tackles, five of them solo. He finished with a game-high nine stops, more than twice more than any Colts defender.
“Me just being here is amazing,” Griffin said. “It’s a blessing to be here. I give all thanks to God, but I’m just here to play football.
“It felt good to get them tackles in. And maybe more can come.”
He dumped former Seahawks running back Christine Michael 1 yard behind the line to ruin the Colts’ opening drive of the second half. He made two other stops for a gain of just a yard. That’s three tackles within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage, even though he was lining up about 3-5 yards off the ball and outside the tackles.
For context, Seattle was tied for 18th in the NFL last season allowing 4.0 yards per opponent rush.
“That was really cool. I was actually talking to some of the defensive players about that, to see ‘Quem out there with his brother, just them on the sidelines and stuff,” quarterback Russell Wilson said.
“The thing is, the reality is, he’s got no hand. To think about that, and how good of a football player he is, is really, really cool to see. He’s really a testament to hard work. It’s a testimony to anything’s possible; you know, he’s playing in the National Football League, playing linebacker, tackling people, with only one hand. And he’s not just tackling people, he’s making plays. He picked me off (in training camp during a goal-line drill last week) in practice.
“He’s just making plays. And he’s done it the whole time. He does it the right way. He’s professional. And he’s got a good big brother—or I guess not ‘big’ brother, twin brother—to look up to. I call (Shaquill) ‘big brother’ because he’s been in the league one year.
“But to see that is pretty cool.”
Sure, it’s just one preseason game, with the next one next Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Los Angeles Chargers. Yet it’s becoming clear through rookie minicamp in May, organized team activities and a minicamp in June and now two weeks of training camp plus his first preseason game that the Seahawks are increasing plans to use Griffin in the regular season where he was Thursday: all over the field.
Wright, 29, is entering the final year of his contract. Griffin, who just turned 23, isn’t poised to take Wright’s starting spot. Not yet. But he is poised to compliment Wright, Pro Bowl middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and the defense in obvious passing situations that call for additional defensive backs in nickel or dime defenses. Griffin has run down the field 40 yards with wide receiver Marcus Johnson and running back C.J. Prosise, then on the same series bodied up rookie tight end Will Dissly in tight coverage 20 yards down the middle of the field. And he showed against Indianapolis’ starters that he can crowd the line, take on blockers and tackle NFL running backs for minimal gains.
His speed and tackling ability also make him a natural for special teams. Griffin was on the kickoff team against the Colts, and has been the upback in front of the punter during training-camp practices.
That sounds like a lot. It sounds like more than the Seahawks perhaps thought was possible for Griffin with them in 2018 when they drafted him four months ago.
Yet Griffin keeps his twin’s perspective. He keeps it simple.
“When it comes to the speed of everything, I don’t worry about who’s fast and who’s not. I just run as fast as I can,” he said. “If the ball moves, I move. My whole thing is, coach said ‘Run to the ball.’ And that’s what I was doing.
“I didn’t know how many tackles I was having, I just kept running.”
Shaquill, who has moved from right to left cornerback to replace the departed Richard Sherman this season, isn’t the only Seahawk mentoring Shaquem. Shaquem’s tutoring goes beyond the walls of the place the twins share with their new dog Tank, a five-month-old Blue Frenchie bulldog.
“Having guys like Bobby and K.J. talking to me all the time, they kind of give me a sense of confidence,” he said. “Obviously, they don’t have to choose to talk to me. They don’t have to choose to talk to anybody. But having them give me insight on how things are run and giving me advice every day, it helps me to learn and be the best I can be.”
His best had his coach, Pete Carroll, pumped over his pro debut.
Carroll sees the tutoring he’s gotten from his brother, from Wagner and Wright and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. He sees Griffin’s innate sense of the game, plus his determination after being doubted initially, not invited to the combine before becoming the first one-handed player drafted into the modern NFL. The coach thinks those are the reasons Griffin is already playing instinctively.
Thinking, after all, slows any athlete, on any field.
“I am really fired up about it,” Carroll said. “This is what he looks like in practice. He’s running around. He’s really fast. By understanding the scheme, he’s utilizing his opportunities to be on the attack. He’s a weapon in that regard...
“We’re really fired up. He was involved, in nine or 10 tackles in his first time out.
“That,” Carroll deadpanned, “is pretty good.”