RENTON — Shaquill Griffin was eager to finish his interview session Thursday so he and his brother Shaquem could debate what to eat for their cheat meal this weekend. That’s the one meal a week in which they’re allowed to go off the strict diet their personal chef has them on, and splurge.
“I don’t know if I want wings and cheesecake, cheeseburger with fries … I just don’t know,’’ Griffin mused animatedly after the Seahawks’ final organized team activity practice.
Shaquill has lost about 12 pounds since last year, which he believes will allow him to sustain his speed and strength throughout games better than last year. Shaquem, conversely, is trying to put on weight as he embraces a role with the Seahawks that will allow the linebacker more freedom as a pass rusher, his forte in college.
But beyond the physical change in Shaquill Griffin is a dramatic mental one. After the 2018 season ended with a playoff loss in Dallas, Griffin underwent some serious soul-searching as he assessed his performance as Richard Sherman’s successor at left cornerback. And Griffin’s answer was frank: He needed to be better. Much better.
“Last year was just an average year, and being a No. 1 corner, I can’t have average years,” he said. “I’ve got to be a guy they can continue to look up to and be able to continue to count on to make the big splash plays when it’s needed.
“I’ve got to be that guy. I’ve got to be more than just good. I’ve got to be more than just great. I’ve got to be elite, and I’ve got to be that type of guy they can count on.”
It’s an admirable goal for a player entering his third NFL season and entrusted with one of the most critical positions on the field. Griffin stressed that he’s not obsessing over misplays from last year, such as the 54-yard bomb he allowed from Philip Rivers to Keenan Allen that led to a narrow Chargers victory.
“I think it’d be really bad to come into the next season thinking about plays I didn’t make last year,” he said.
Instead, Griffin focused on what he needed to do to get better. Part of it, he said, was working on becoming a better man, and by extension a better teammate. And part of it was realizing that he did not have to match the statistics of Sherman to be a worthy occupant of left cornerback.
“After the season, you take a couple weeks off and kind of just evaluate everything that happened that year, and you try to figure out what went wrong, what you did wrong, and I felt like my mind-set wasn’t right,” Griffin said.
“So I felt like I had to become a better person, a better man when it comes to my life and everything I have done and will do. I had to figure that part out myself. When it came to the way I was thinking, it was all about, ‘Oh, make this play, get these stats, get these accolades.’ I felt like that’s what was important, and that’s never true.
“As a team and as a player, it’s about winning, and if you’re only thinking about yourself, you’re thinking about the wrong thing. You should be thinking about the team first, and that’s the mind-set. That’s what I had to figure out this offseason.”
And as a teaching tool, Griffin fired up some tapes of the 2013 Seahawks. He watched keenly to see how that Super Bowl championship team interacted on the field, especially on defense, and most especially in the secondary. And he brought in his fellow defensive backs to watch with him.
The intent was clear: To find, and eventually incorporate, that special quality that marked the Legion of Boom. Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are now all gone, but they passed on much of their accumulated wisdom to Griffin and others before they left. Now Griffin is trying to play it forward as a leader of the defense.
“Sometimes you’ve got to go back to your roots to see how they did things,’’ he said. “So I had some of the DBs download that tape to see how the 2013 defense played, the way they cared for each other, the way they played for each other, the way they celebrated, and it kind of opened people’s eyes to the things we want to be at, the things we want to get back to.”
In some ways, this is the football equivalent of the time-honored (and much mocked) spring-training story of a baseball player “in the best shape of his life” and excited by a new outlook on life.
But Griffin exudes sincerity as he talks about how motivated he is to become a better player, and to help elevate the Seahawks back to championship level. If that happens, you can give one last assist to the 2013 bunch, setting an example from afar, via video.
“If you want to be a vet, you want to see how to win — those guys knew how to do both, be pros and know how to win games and do it the correct way, and enjoy doing it with each other,” Griffin said. “You want to get back to being a Super Bowl-caliber team, you’ve got to see how the Super Bowl teams did it. And those guys in 2013, they did it right.”
Griffin states flatly: “I want to be an elite player, and I want to be one of the greats.”
That’s a lofty and noble goal. Whether it becomes reality will unfold over time. But as Griffin exulted over how good he feels physically and mentally, he sounded like a guy who fully believes it’s going to happen. If it does, or Griffin at least moves measurably in that direction, the Seahawks’ prospects for 2019 would improve immeasurably.
“The maturity level has changed,” Griffin said. “I want to be that guy they can count on. And I will be that guy they can count on.”
With that, Griffin left to find his brother and discuss the important matter of cheeseburger vs. cheesecake.