RENTON, WA - After wrapping up training camp earlier this month, the Seahawks made several surprising moves finalizing their 53-man roster for the regular season. Most notably, they unexpectedly waived popular linebacker Shaquem Griffin, the twin brother of starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin.
At the time, the decision for Seattle to cut ties with the third-year linebacker was a perplexing one. Just a few days earlier, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. told reporters the former fifth-round pick out of UCF would be the primary backup strongside linebacker behind veteran Bruce Irvin, suggesting he had a roster spot secured.
But despite a strong finish to his second season utilized as a situational pass rusher, including recording his first NFL sack against Aaron Rodgers in the divisional round against the Packers, coach Pete Carroll indicated on Monday the addition of first-round pick Jordyn Brooks made it there wasn't room to keep him at the time. Without a roster spot available, the team lucked out and he slipped through waivers, allowing him to be re-signed to the practice squad.
However, recent injuries to Irvin and Rasheem Green led to Griffin's first chance to play in 2020 against the Cowboys on Sunday. After being promoted from the practice squad on Saturday, with Brooks sidelined by his own knee injury, he was on the field for critical downs late in the game rushing the passer off the edge and playing a spy role on Dak Prescott in the middle, impressing Carroll with his energy and disruptiveness in the process.
"Jordyn Brooks is a really good ballplayer and we love everything he's done," Carroll said. "But the great thing about it is Griff has not let up for a second, so when the opportunity was available, he jumped at it and did a great job and I'm thrilled about that for him. He looked really good and he was running all over the place all over the field."
Having mostly played special teams throughout the game, Griffin checked in on the final drive with the Seahawks nursing a seven-point lead and under two minutes to play. He instantly made an impact displaying his sub-4.40 speed, generating two pressures off the edge and a quarterback hit against Prescott on the first five plays of the drive.
Then after subbing out for a play, Griffin returned to the lineup and showed off fantastic awareness and quickness by reading and blowing up a screen to Ezekiel Elliott, bringing him down for a two-yard loss in the backfield. While that play was negated by an illegal man downfield penalty on Dallas, two plays later, he came through in coverage, knocking a pass out of receiver Cedrick Wilson's hands with only 22 seconds remaining on the clock.
When asked what Griffin needs to do to earn more playing time and whether his chances have been limited due to situational fit, Carroll downplayed the idea, saying there are "no storylines" other than a player taking full advantage of the latest opportunity presented to him.
"Young guy got a chance to get back out there and he did great and was hauling butt all over the field," Carroll remarked. "We played him in a unique situation that he really handled well. He did a nice job rushing the passer in his other ops he had, so I'm looking forward to him continuing to contribute. I was really fired up about his play."
After the NFL transaction wire listed Griffin returning to the practice squad, reporters continued to press Carroll about whether or not the linebacker would be active next weekend. While Carroll wouldn't indicate whether he would be promoted the active roster or be a late practice squad call-up again, he confirmed he would indeed be dressing in Miami, smiling and saying "he's earned it."
From Carroll's perspective, he's hoping to continue finding situational opportunities that accentuate Griffin's strengths, most notably his elite speed and quickness. If he can capitalize on however many snaps he receives against the Dolphins as he did this past weekend, the pass rush-needy Seahawks may have no choice but to reward him with additional playing time and a permanent promotion.
After seemingly being involved in every play down the stretch and providing the battered Seahawks with a major lift on Sunday, count Carroll among those most eager to see what the electric Griffin does for an encore.
"If we can keep him available for those kind of opportunities, he's going to continue to show like that... Now with a couple of injuries and stuff like that, Griff was ready to go and he jumped up and I'm really excited to see him play again this weekend."