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Can Shaquill Griffin fill the void left by Richard Sherman?

Tuesday 19 June, 2018 | RSS Feed

Can Shaquill Griffin fill the void left by Richard Sherman?

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Shaquill Griffin has a new position in his second season with the Seattle Seahawks, having moved over to Richard Sherman's old spot at left cornerback after starting on the right side as a rookie.

But if you assume it has been a difficult transition for Griffin, well, he swatted away that notion like any good cornerback would swat away a sideline fade.

"Oh no, it's not an issue," he said following an organized team activities session in June. "Just moving over. It's a little different step for me, but nothing that I can't focus on."

While the adjustment has, by all accounts, been a subtle one for Griffin, it's a significant switch on a few levels.

There's what it symbolizes: Griffin, who appears to be one of Seattle's young cornerstone players, stepping into the role previously held by a franchise legend.

And there is what it means for the Seahawks' defense: having Seattle's best cornerback in the spot where it makes the most sense tactically to have him.

When asked about the reasoning behind moving Griffin, coach Pete Carroll pointed to how veteran Byron Maxwell has played well on the right side. He started there opposite Sherman during his first stint with the Seahawks, then he played on the left side last season once Seattle brought him back following Sherman's season-ending Achilles injury. Maxwell is the favorite to start at right cornerback after Seattle re-signed him to a one-year deal.

But there's more to the switch than that. It isn't as much about wanting Maxwell on the right side as it is about wanting Griffin on the left side. The defense's left is the offense's right, and that's generally the preferred side of the field for quarterbacks.

"With right-handed quarterbacks, most of the coaches that I was ever around wanted to structure the plays, especially progression-read plays, to be able to throw it to their front side, their right side, the strong side of their arms," said ESPN college football analyst Brock Huard, a former quarterback who played for the Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts during his six-year NFL career. "So for right-handers, that's going to be the right side of the field. And the numbers do, I think, typically bear that out over the course of games, over the course of seasons. That's where more of the football attempts are going to go. And thus you want your best player, your shutdown guy, to play that side of the field."

The numbers do show a slight edge for right-side throws. Since 2008, 30 quarterbacks (all right-handers) have attempted at least 2,000 passes. Those 30 QBs have combined for 45,430 throws to the left side of the field (defined as to the left of the hash marks) compared to 49,879 throws to the offense's right side.


Shaquill Griffin (26) credited Seahawks legend Richard Sherman (25) for teaching him "how to be a professional." Griffin said he is "honored" to be playing on the left side now. Harry How/Getty Images
The Seahawks on occasion had Sherman shadow an opponent's top receiver wherever he lined up, but for the most part they kept him put on the left side. While that was often used against Sherman in debates about the NFL's best cornerback, it's hard to argue against the results for Seattle's pass defense. From 2012 to 2016, a stretch in which Sherman didn't miss a game and free safety Earl Thomas played in all but five, Seattle allowed the lowest passer rating against and the fewest passing yards while leading the league in touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Times are changing for the Seahawks on that side of the ball, particularly in the secondary. Sherman is in San Francisco, strong safety Kam Chancellor might never play again because of a neck injury, and Thomas is staying away from the team amid a holdout that could conceivably last into the season.

Defensive ends Michael Bennett (traded) and Cliff Avril (waived) are among the other departures from what was one of the NFL's all-time great defenses. With so much turnover, the Seahawks need a next wave of defensive stars to emerge. Griffin's emergence into that caliber of player would be as significant as any other.

The early returns are encouraging.

A third-round pick from Central Florida, Griffin impressed teammates and coaches from the outset last season with his poise. That was maybe never more apparent than in Week 1 against the Packers in Green Bay, when Griffin, forced into an every-down role because of Jeremy Lane's first-quarter ejection, found himself in Aaron Rodgers' crosshairs and held his ground.

He finished the season with one interception and led the Seahawks with 15 passes defensed, which was 16th-most in the NFL. Save for a long completion against Washington in Week 9 that set up the Redskins' winning touchdown, Griffin did what the Seahawks demand their cornerbacks to do above all else: prevent the deep ball.
"He just looks like he's a veteran," Carroll said. "He grew a ton out of last season. Remember, we didn't have a lot of problems with him last year. There was not an inconsistency to him. There was not the rookie wall. There was none of that kind of stuff. He just kept cruising all the way through and had a really consistent first season, and he has just kind of picked up where he left off. It's kind of like, on the other side of the ball, one of the things Russell [Wilson] has always impressed us with is how consistently he approaches everything. There's never much fluctuation in his intensity and his focus. I see that in Shaq. He has had a great body of work that he put together in this offseason getting ready, so it's a good sign. It means that last season didn't affect him in any negative ways, didn't distract him in any ways, and that's important to see."

As for his move across the field, it won't be completely unfamiliar given that Griffin played on both sides in college. Being left-handed doesn't hurt either, he said. It seems telling that Carroll referred to Griffin's transition in the past tense, as though the adjustment period is already over.

"Physically it was no problem," Carroll said. "He had played back and forth in earlier years. His mentality about it was fine; he was wide open to it. That's most of it. If a guy feels uncomfortable and he's telling you he's feeling uncomfortable, then he is. He never balked at it at all, and there's no signs of any evidence at all that it's going to be a problem."

Sherman was well known in Seattle -- and is still in San Francisco -- for his willingness to mentor young cornerbacks. Griffin credited Sherman for teaching him "how to be a professional."

Whether or not he fully realized it, Sherman was grooming his successor.

"I'm loving the left side," Griffin said, "and I'm honored to be on that side now."





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