Shaquill Griffin came to the Jacksonville Jaguars with two specific goals in mind. Help his new team in his hometown state find a winning identity, and be the veteran voice for young defensive backs that others had been for him.
The free-agent was voted a captain by his teammates ahead of the 2021 season and quickly became a fan favorite during training camp by connecting with fans, setting himself up to be that respected voice he’d hoped to bring. But that also means he’s having to counteract someone else’s play…a lot.
After the Jags traded Sidney Jones IV this offseason, that sent the message CJ Henderson would be the starter opposite Griffin. It makes sense. Henderson with the No. 9 overall pick a year ago, has intangible skill and came back from injury and a COVID list stint to work his way up from somewhere around fourth on the depth chart to starter in less than a weeks span in training camp.
But Henderson is also still just a second-year player, and one who didn’t receive a full training camp experience as a rookie, then was nursing an injury for much of this past one. He also missed eight games last season with that injury. He’s essentially only just now played over half a full season. He’s essentially still a rookie.
Tyson Campbell was drafted this past April with the first pick of the second round. Head Coach Urban Meyer bragged at the time about Campbell’s potential to play inside at the nickel (slot) corner spot. But it doesn’t take long on the field to see outside is where Campbell best performs.
In other words, Shaq Griffin is fighting to hold tight on one side of the field while also working to create a tandem with two players who are, timeline-wise, both rookies.
“My main thing is how can I slow this game down for them. Talk to them. Let them know what could possibly happen. You know, we got a turnover. Okay, you could get possibly a shot, could be a fade; be ready for it,” Griffin teaches.
Henderson has had truly confounding moments—like giving up a third-down conversion in the red zone to the Broncos playing too far off, then losing Tim Patrick the next play for a touchdown—but has also played sticky enough and contributed in run defense, so as not to cause as much worry where he’s concerned.
To put it frankly, Tyson Campbell had about as bad of a week one performance as a rookie corner could in the NFL. In the Jaguars' loss to the Houston Texans, Campbell was targeted five times. On those five targets, he gave up five receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown.
That stat line came on only 29 snaps, 26 of which were in coverage.
The second-round defensive back out of Georgia left college as a cover corner. He entered the NFL with coaches curious if they could play him at nickel. He practiced there for much of the offseason, playing alongside Tre Herndon. And in Houston, for his first time in an NFL regular-season game, 25 of Campbell’s 29 snaps came inside at the nickel position.
Week two, versus the Broncos, Campbell played significantly more snaps after Henderson left the game at halftime with a hip flexor injury. In total, the rookie was in for 55 snaps. Of those, 20 were in the slot. Through two weeks, of Campbell’s 45 snaps as a nickel, he’s dropped into coverage 32 times.
On those 32 plays, he was targeted eight times, giving up seven receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown. On all other coverage snaps through two weeks, 22 total, he was targeted four times, giving up two receptions for 15 yards and no touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus.
In other words, Campbell has been noticeably more comfortable outside. Whether he’ll split more snaps with Henderson there going forward remains to be seen. But after an abysmal week one and a quick change insertion into the game in week two, Campbell could understandably step on the field gun shy. Griffin is taking it upon himself to calm down the rookie.
“My main thing is throughout each play we talk, and every now he'll walk over and we'll have a little conversation. Sometimes we might have a conversation about nothing, but it gets you to calm down because in that game when it moves so fast, you're starting to overthink. You start overthinking, you can't do that.
“My main thing is making them feel comfortable because I know how I was my rookie year—playing with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor. Yeah, I was a nerve wreck. Every now and then you come by, ‘you got this; watch out for this play; if you see this, this might happen. Okay, cool.’ Then they calm down a little bit,” explains the former Seattle Seahawk.
“I walked up to [Tyson on Sunday], I said, ‘I'm proud of you. A lot of stuff went down, CJ Henderson went down, you stepped up in a big way, but we're going to need you like that. We're going to need that. It don't matter how many plays, how many snaps we take, we're going to need you. I'm really proud of him, and we've got to continue to move forward and get better.”
Through two weeks, as Henderson and Campbell have taken lumps and adjusted, Shaq Griffin has in their ear. He knows this is a long season in a tough league and as the voice in their head, he wants them to be reminded on one thing overall.
“You're here for a reason. We brought you here for a reason, so you must be good, you must be elite. Keep it that way. You've got to have that type of respect and confidence for yourself. You're not here for no reason.”