Which one came first?
We've been holding for a few days on posting about this article by Paul Kuharsky on the enigma that is Michael Griffin until Britt stayed out of trouble long enough to give this thing the attention it deserves. I feel pretty comfortable in asserting that Paul K's ESPN AFC South blog is the only corner of the internet that's dedicated more time and effort to trying to figure out just what the hell is up with Griffin's erratic play over the past three years. Paul's been a major source of insight to what's behind those struggles over the years, so it's easy to consider this post as the latest peak behind the curtain into what was going on with Griff, and the dysfunction around the Titans' locker room as Fisher's tenure ground to a halt.
Back in 2008 Griffin established himself as one of the premier safeties in the NFL. He played center field a lot, which allowed him to ballhawk and make plays while the action stayed in front of him. In 2009 he was damned near Lamont Thompson bad. There were injuries involved in that backslide, and a lot of vaguely hinted at issues involving his son that distracted Griffin from football. 2010 was a tale of two seasons, just like it was for the rest of the team. He started out pretty strong, but crashed over the last half of the season. That decline was epitomized by a series of plays where Griffin got killed on play fakes because he was taking false steps towards the line. The real questions that raises are: Why did the staff start moving Griffin into a more SS role where he attacked the box, and can Jerry Gray save his career?
First, two quotes from the article. This first one says everything we knew was going on over the last half of last season:
"There was a lot going on behind the scenes. It was kind of good that there was a change. I think it was a change for the best. With a lot of the things that made headlines, you could just see where this team was. We were all on different pages, and it started from the coaches on down."
Here's one of Michael's most pointed comments about the breakdown in coaching ever since Jim Schwartz left for Detroit:
"If I know this guy right here can get to the quarterback on passing downs, get him in the game and get him to the quarterback. If I know this guy is a great run-stopper, play this guy on run-downs. I am not telling coaches how to do their job, but those are my examples. Compared to how we played two years ago when we were one of the top secondaries and doing a great job and had three Pro Bowlers, we were just never put in those same positions."
So, can Jerry Gray put Griffin in the position to make good plays? Over his years as a DC and secondary coach Gray has gotten great years out of veteran safeties like Troy Vincent, Lawyer Milloy, LaRon Landry and the late Sean Taylor. Among those guys are a lot of different skill sets and variables in athleticism. Honestly, Griffin might be the second-most physically gifted player out of that group (Sean Taylor might be the best athlete I've ever seen at the FS position; he wasn't as heady as Ed Reed, but he was bigger and just as fast).
The biggest thing Griffin needs to succeed is what every safety needs: pressure on the QB. With a front seven that disrupts the timing of plays and the flow the OC wants to establish. The coaching staff knows that, and Gray has a lot more experience at generating that pressure than Chuck Cecil had. Hopefully the combination of a more mature Griffin, with a better handle on his personal life, combined with better coaching will get Griffin back to the top of the hill of the free safety rankings in the entire NFL.