RENTON, Wash. — The Shaquem Griffin story is about to reach another level of remarkable.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters Wednesday that Griffin, a rookie linebacker, will start Sunday’s opener against the Broncos in Denver, confirming what has been assumed with K.J. Wright recovering from knee surgery that is expected to keep him out at least another week.
Griffin has been working as Wright’s backup at weakside linebacker since Seattle chose him in the fifth round of April’s draft, making him the first player with one hand to be drafted in the NFL’s modern era.
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Griffin will start alongside Bobby Wagner and Barkevious Mingo at linebacker as well as twin brother Shaquill Griffin at left cornerback.
“He’s been surrounded by some really good players, Bobby and K.J. and Mingo, guys that have been in the league for a while,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “So he’s kind of taken a backseat and really learned at a rookie’s pace, and now that he’s been able to play a little bit in the preseason, he sees the game speeds up a little bit.
“But he’s been amazing. It’s been fun to coach him. It’s been fun to watch his growth. The questions that he’s asked over the days and weeks have been improving and getting better. It’s just amazing to watch his development. As coaches, watching young players develop, that’s what it’s all about. So watching him grow and develop and run and hit and do the things that we expected him to do when we drafted him, it’s really good to see.”
Carroll said Wright, an eighth-year veteran and a Pro Bowler in 2016, felt something in his knee after the team’s third preseason game. He had arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 27. Carroll indicated two days later that he’d be out at least a couple of weeks.
Carroll said Wednesday that Wright looks surprisingly good for being only nine days removed from surgery. He said the team is “holding high hopes” that he could be back next week, “but we’ll see.”
Shaquem Griffin led the Seahawks with 24 tackles in the preseason, including a game-high nine in the opener against the Indianapolis Colts. But Carroll said he was “lost” and “all over the place” the following week, adding that Griffin’s “head was spinning” from all the information he was trying to take in.
“You could see the newness just kind of affect him, and I don’t know what it was that got to him,” Carroll said. “He’s been diligent in the preparation and the process all the way throughout. But not until he came back Week 3, everybody was working with him, trying to get his feet on the ground [and] make sure he was just relaxing through the process. … He was over-tight, he was trying too hard, he wanted it too much. It was so obvious that it made sense, and he really just turned the corner. That happened Week 3, and Week 4 he played really good both of those weeks. So he really had one down week. But I do think with all that has followed him, we have to stay with him, and we’ve got to monitor him. It’s almost too much for anybody in some regards.”
Carroll called it invaluable for Griffin to have his twin brother by his side. The two are roommates and, as twins tend to be, inseparable.
“They ground off of each other, they fit off of each other so well, and they own up to each other really well,” he said. “Shaquill will just tell him flat-out what he needs to tell him. They don’t mince any words at all. I think with that, he has as much support as he’s going to need. I think he’ll be able to handle it.”
Wagner and Wright have started alongside each other since Wagner was a rookie in 2012, which was Wright’s second season. Wagner identified on-field communication as the biggest challenge in having Griffin and several other new players starting on defense. He said they’ll have to over-communicate and assume that Griffin won’t know what he’s thinking the way Wright would.
“I think at the end of the day, you just don’t want to make him think too much,” Wagner said. “So anything that I can do to take off of his plate so he doesn’t have to think so much and [allow him to] just fly around and make plays, that’s what I’m going to do. That’ll probably be the toughest thing, just the communication. It’s going to be the first time on the road, so just being calm and understanding this is no different than any other game. You’re just playing against the guys you see on TV.”