Shaquill Griffin 'just getting started' as Richard Sherman's replacement

RENTON, Wash. -- Shaquill Griffin ran stride-for-stride with the receiver down the defense's left sideline, maintaining perfect position until he whipped his head around and high-pointed the ball for an interception.

It all looked so familiar.

Seeing Griffin pick off Mitchell Trubisky in the Seattle Seahawks' loss to the Bears in Week 2 evoked memories of Richard Sherman, who made a living owning the sideline fade in the exact same way.

Griffin learned under Sherman's tutelage as a rookie starter last season and has taken over for Sherman as Seattle's left cornerback, having moved over from the right side after Sherman left for the San Francisco 49ers. And Griffin is starting to show that he can do what Sherman did so well and so often during his seven seasons in Seattle: take the ball away.

When he picked off Trubisky again on the Bears' ensuing possession, it doubled his interception total from his rookie season.

So, what's changed in Griffin?

"I think his confidence," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "He had it last year, but it’s definitely grown because you have all offseason, all summer, to kind of sit there and really dissect what you did good last year, what you did bad, be able to be in a system for a long time. You see his confidence, he’s kind of like, he wants somebody to try him.

"When they tried him, he got two picks.”

When Griffin made it his goal to start picking off more passes in Year 2, he focused on a piece of technical advice Sherman had given him about what to do right before the moment of truth: When you get your head around, look up, not back.

"I would look straight back at the quarterback thinking the ball's coming straight to me ... and as soon as I looked back, the ball's going right over my head," Griffin said. "So it's little stuff, and it's funny that he spoke to me because I would have never even thought about it that way. It's little things like that, just looking in the right direction. You look up because that's where the ball is [coming from]. It's not coming directly to you, so why look back? ... So it's little things like that that he taught me. You can see how serious and how precise he was about this game."

It was that precision and technical expertise -- more so than superior athleticism -- that vaulted Sherman into All-Pro status as he racked up 32 interceptions over his first seven seasons, most in the league in that span.

Despite whatever enmity Sherman has toward Seahawks management following their offseason divorce, Griffin's relationship with Sherman is still intact. Even with Sherman now playing for the 49ers.

Griffin considers him an "older brother" more than a division rival.

"Everything he taught me last year, I’ve continued to use," Griffin said. "If it was something that he was teaching me, I’m going to continue to use for the rest of my life. I feel like that’s one of the best mentors you can ever have and I’m definitely grateful for that. If there’s any questions, I still will shoot him a text or shoot him a call and he’ll definitely help me out. That’s the type of person Richard Sherman is. He’s always willing to help."

Coach Pete Carroll's defense is built around not giving up big plays.

It's why the Seahawks drafted Earl Thomas 14th overall the year Carroll arrived, then gave him a $40 million extension to continue to be their last line of defense; why they'll routinely concede shorter gains underneath in order to take away the long ones; and why they incessantly remind their cornerbacks to "stay on top," meaning to never let the receiver get behind them.

If getting beat deep is the cardinal sin in Carroll's defense, then staying on top is the first commandment. Griffin estimates that he hears it 100 times a day, so often that he wonders if his position coach, Andre Curtis, even realizes it when he says is.

But such a priority on preventing big plays isn't always conducive to making them. Griffin feels like there were plenty of times last year where he didn't have the confidence to gamble on a play, figuring that if he went for the ball, he'd better get it.

That helps explain why he had just the one interception despite 15 passes defended, 15th-most among cornerbacks.

"I didn't want to get beat over the top so I didn't take that chance to look back and [risk missing] it," Griffin said. "I just wanted to play it safe and make sure we stay on the field to live for another down. So I was like, you know what, the ball is in the air, just punch it out. Cool. We good. You'll never get in trouble for punching the ball out because he didn't catch it."

Save for one play against Washington that set up the Redskins' game-winning touchdown, Griffin did his job last year in not getting beat deep. How solidly he played as a rookie showed that his NFL career will have a high floor. His ceiling will be determined by his ability to take the ball away, something he now trusts himself to do.

"I feel like that's the difference this year. I'm just taking that little chance that I know I really can make that play," he said. "That's the confidence that I gained last year."

Carroll used that same word again.

"That’s confidence," he said. "It really is a belief that you’re in the right place at the right time and you go for it. The uncertainty sometimes -- 'Am I doing this right? Am I safe to take a shot at the ball?' -- sometimes restricts guys somewhat. [Shaquill] has been hawking the football the entire time we’ve been in camp together and all the way through it. He’s made a bunch of plays and he’s just getting going. He’s really, he’s just getting started."