Knapp and Mora worked together when both were assistants with the San Francisco 49ers. When Mora got his first head-coaching job with the Atlanta Falcons, Knapp became his offensive coordinator. When Mora took over as coach of the Seahawks in January, Knapp was the first assistant he hired – again at the most pivotal position on his new staff.
It’s been a similar situation with Knapp and Griffith.
Griffith was the Falcons’ fullback when the Knapp-coordinated offense was leading the NFL in rushing for three consecutive seasons (2004-06). When Mora joined the Seahawks in 2007 as their secondary coach, Knapp went to the Oakland Raiders.
And his fullback was? You guessed it, Justin Griffith.
Knapp and Griffith have been reunited again, after the Seahawks signed the veteran blocking back last month. It’s no coincidence. Just as Mora wants someone he knows and trusts to run his offense, Knapp wants a lead-blocker he knows and trusts to provide lanes for his running backs.
“Justin has a good feel for the fullback position in our offense, especially in the run game,” Knapp said Thursday after the latest of the team’s OTA sessions. “It’s nice that it worked out.”
Griffith made sure it worked out after the Raiders released him, because Seattle was where he wanted to be – due to Knapp and his offense, but also Mora’s commitment to making the Seahawks winners again after last year’s 4-12 season.
“I’m here because of the offense and the system. I’ve been playing in it for five years,” Griffith said. “And, I really wanted to be a Seahawk. There were options out there, but I turned those down just to be here.
“I know coach Mora wants to win, and you want to be part of a team where the head coach and his staff want to win football games. Everybody in this locker room, they expect to win when they walk out there. So I’m happy to be here because of all that.”
Griffith got off to a slow start with the Seahawks because he was recovering from knee surgery that ended his 2008 season after seven games. But he got back on the practice field last week and has been doing even more work this week.
“The knee is great. They’ve turned me loose and I’m excited to get back out there,” he said. “That’s a good part about being here. Coming off the injury in Oakland, I didn’t fall behind because I know the offense.
“So once they asked me to jump in, I was able to just keep it going.”
As good a blocker as Griffith is, the 6-foot, 232-pounder wants it known he also possesses other skills for what he labels “a so-called undersized fullback.” He did rush for a 10.5-yard average on limited carries in 2003. He did catch 26 passes for the Raiders in ’07.
“In this offense, that’s what you’re asked to – square your shoulders and open that hole for a running back,” Griffith said when asked about the throwback tag being applied his style as a fullback. “But I really don’t consider myself that type of fullback now. Because Greg loves to mix it up. You’ll get some touches. You’ll catch the ball.
“So it’s a fun offense when it comes to playing fullback.”
There’s also another element to the Seahawks’ interest in Griffith: He is serving as a mentor to Owen Schmitt, a fifth-round draft choice last year who saw limited action as a rookie while playing behind departed starter Leonard Weaver.
“It’s not only mentoring Owen, but all the other guys, too,” Griffith said. “Once you’ve been in the offense five years, you know both positions. So anybody that asks questions, I try to help the coach out by giving them some advice.”
Knapp saw this side of Griffith in Oakland, when the veteran unselfishly tutored Oren O’Neal for two seasons.
“Justin was really a good teacher to him and they worked well together,” Knapp said. “That’s Justin’s nature. He’s a good team player. He’s going to compete and help us the best he can. But he also understands it’s a team game and he’s helped other teammates out.”
The way Griffith can best help the Seahawks, of course, is to lead Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett through holes in the zone-blocking scheme Knapp is installing.
The smile that washes across Griffith’s face when that subject is broached says, “Bring it on.” He knows it works, because he helped it work in Atlanta and Oakland.
“You get your lineman cutting people down and the holes are so big the fullback is really just a seal blocker,” Griffith said. “Knock a guy off here. Knock a guy off there. Just give the tailback a seam.
“You read it like a tailback. You pick your holes. It’s just like a train. Where you go, the tailback goes.”
With Griffith, the ultimate destination is obvious: Wherever Greg Knapp is the offensive coordinator.
HAWK TALK: On the nicest day of the year, the Seahawks practiced indoors? That’s right. Mora moved the OTA session inside so he could use recorded noise to get the players used to thinking when it’s tough to hear yourself think. … First-round draft choice Aaron Curry turned in a couple of highlight plays. On the first, the linebacker from Wake Forest made an interception. On the second, Curry deflected a pass that was intercepted by rookie lineman Michael Bennett. … Third-round draft choice Deon Butler also continues to impress. On one play, the wide receiver from Penn State used his speed to drive cornerback Marquis Floyd into deep coverage and then came back to make the catch. On another, Butler took a pass and then used an explosive burst to get into the end zone. On yet another, he went up to grab a pass along the sideline that produced a first down during a two-minute drill. … Safety Jamar Adams has returned to practice after missing time with a sprained ankle. … Also back is rookie tight end Cameron Morrah, one of the team’s seventh-round picks who was not eligible to rejoin the team until he had completed his finals at Cal.