RENTON Shaquill Griffin wants to be the conscientious rookie. So he was cramming for his first NFL test on the Seahawks’ first road trip last month.
While most of his teammates slept around him on the team’s chartered jet, the rookie third-round draft choice and new right cornerback was in his seat studying game film on his mobile tablet of the next day’s opponent, the Los Angeles Chargers. Griffin was breaking down opponents’ film for a preseason game, mind you. The first exhibition, too, one in which starters make just cameos.
Pete Carroll came strolling to the back of the plane. The coach saw his rookie studying the Chargers so intently. And he smiled.
"Just relax," Carroll told Griffin on that team flight to L.A. "At the end of the day, you’ve worked on your technique. Just focus on your technique, continue to focus on your technique when you are in the game. And that’s really all you need."
Technique such as this (Griffin is number 26):
Carroll emphasized to Griffin not to overthink, "don’t try to find more stuff right before the game" and trust his preparation earlier throughout game week.
The coach and former defensive back also knows Griffin should trust in being 6 feet tall and nearly 200 pounds, nearly prototype size for a Carroll cornerback. Griffin can also trust in the fact Seattle hand-picked him out of Central Florida to start opposite three-time All-Pro left cornerback Richard Sherman.
"I pretty much just had to relax, and pretty much know that my technique is going to save me come game day," Griffin said before practice Thursday. "I can rely on that pretty much all game – and all season."
Sunday, Griffin gets a huge test of Carroll’s advice to relax. It’s perhaps the toughest test in the NFL, for any rookie’s first game: Defending Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field.
Seattle has lost seven in a row to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau, dating to Mike Holmgren’s first year as Seahawks coach. That was 1999.
Rodgers has been the NFL’s Most Valuable Players two times. He is the league’s all-time leader in passer rating for quarterbacks with at least 1,000 attempts. He is 56-15 in his career regular-season games at home. He has 161 touchdown passes, just 30 interceptions and a passer rating of 109.4 in those 71 games in Green Bay.
Plus, Rodgers has routinely avoided targeting the left side of Seattle’s defense at Sherman in the five times the Packers and Seahawks have played since 2012. The most famous example of that was when Rodgers didn’t throw Sherman’s way one time in Green Bay’s 36-16 loss at Seattle to begin the 2014 season.
So, absolutely, Rodgers is going to target Griffin away from Sherman on Sunday like a Wisconsin hunter targets deer.
Griffin laughed before practice Thursday at the luck of his first NFL draw.
"It’s going to be different," he said.
"But I’m excited about it. It’s a situation that I want to be in. It’s a tag that I want to take and get a chance to prove that I really belong here, and that I am going to make plays and help this team get back to a Super Bowl and bring one back home."
The Seahawks, with All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas back from a broken leg, are likely to defend Rodgers again with five defensive backs in their nickel package. Jeremy Lane will be inside as the fifth, nickel back with Griffin outside at right cornerback. Six defensive backs, in dime, isn’t out of the question, with former Tampa Bay starter Bradley McDougald making his Seahawks debut at safety.
This week, Trevone Boykin and the Seahawks’ scout team have been sending passes at Griffin more than anybody else on the defense, "even when I’m tired," Griffin said.
"I’m definitely expecting that (Rodgers is coming after me). … I feel like I am good at keeping my poise, and understanding that I am going to be put in that situation again."
Poise. That’s the word Carroll, Sherman and Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin have all used this week to describe why they have confidence in the inexperienced Griffin against the game’s best passer for most of the last decade.
Sherman said it twice in three seconds. He describes the 22-year-old Griffin as if he’s 42.
"He is poised. He is poised. He studies the game the right way," Sherman said. "He actually came up to me today in meetings -- and it was a point I had already got, because we play in Green Bay it feels like every year -- but he came up to me with like a tip and I thought it was hilarious. And he was like ‘Yeah, when the tight end’s right here and the receiver’s right here…’ I said ‘OK, go ahead, go ahead. You know. Give it to me.’
"But I think it is just a testament to his maturity and how he approaches the game and how he prepares. He prepares like a starter. He prepares like a veteran. He is getting tips that we found, but I don’t know if I would have found them my rookie year. And that is awesome."
Carroll came to Griffin after that first preseason game and told him "you didn’t even look nervous."
A week later, Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford challenged Griffin repeatedly with short passes early, trying to get the rookie to jump those routes so double moves and go routes would get past him for scores. Griffin pounced for immediate tackles and break ups on the short stuff, then stayed on top of the deep balls as Seattle’s coaches preach to their defensive backs nearly every hour of every day.
"It’s just what he has shown in practice, what he’s shown in the preseason games, and what he’s shown in his character," defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. "There’s never been or hasn’t been at least yet a situation to where he hasn’t been able to handle.
"It’s been really good to see him kind of react in that fashion--he’s never too high or never too low. He’s calm, confident, and I think he’s got a competitive nature about him that’s, in situations, are not going to get the best of him. He knows who he is."
So Griffin’s veteran teammates have some advice of their own heading into Lambeau: Stay the way you are.
"I just said this about an hour ago: Shaquill is probably one of my favorite rookies ever when it comes to the mental side of the game. Nothing fazes him," Baldwin said Thursday afternoon (at the 2:00 mark of the video above). "It is pretty incredible for a rookie to come in at that position, to have that amount of poise, that amount of mental strength. He is phenomenal. He is extremely mature…
"Shaq is just—I really don’t know how to describe it--he seems like a 10-year vet, maturity wise. I don’t know how to explain it. He is ready for the job and every time I look at him, every time that I watch him. His mannerisms, his body language, they don’t show that of a rookie. He seems like he is very comfortable in his own skin and he is very comfortable in his position and he is learning as much as he can and taking it from the older guys like Richard and he is translating it to the football field, very quickly, which is extremely impressive for a rookie."
That poise will come in handy Sunday. A house packed with Cheeseheads will be roaring for Rodgers in this matchup of the two of the NFC’s favorites to reach the Super Bowl in February.
"Absolutely," Baldwin said. "He gets the opportunity to go against one of the best quarterbacks this league has seen in Aaron Rodgers, and he is going to have to do it.
"Our defense is depending on him. Our team is depending on him.
"He carries that very confidently. Yes, does he have a challenge at his feet this weekend? He does.
"However, I’m not too concerned about it. I think he is going to be ready for it."