Admittedly, Michael Griffin hasn't played to the level that the five-year, $36 million extension he signed says he should have played to this season.
But one of the main people that count regarding Griffin's play still has amazing faith in the Tennessee Titans free safety, so much so he thinks Griffin has the talent to be the top safety in the NFL.
“He has the athletic ability, but just put the work with it, and there's no reason why he shouldn't be the top safety in this league,” Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said of Griffin.
Griffin took the compliment in stride, knowing that 2012 has been a major disappointment for both him and the defense, despite recent improvement.
“It feels good but at the same time it ain’t been the season that I wanted it to be. I got two more to try to finish strong and go from there,” Griffin said.
Griffin had two interceptions Monday night against the New York Jets in what was probably his best game of the season. It was one of the few times he was simply left to play a centerfield type free safety position that his strengths play too. And it paid off, including a potential game-saving pick that showed Griffin's athleticism and certainly was much better than the many times the beleaguered safety has been seen missing open field tackles this year.
Gray believes that maybe Griffin, a two-time Pro Bowl pick, is finally getting what is expected o fhim and not trying to do so much that he makes mistakes. And he will be even more excited if Griffin takes the next step in his maturation process.
“He just did his job. I don't think he did anything more creative. I'm in the middle of the field. I'm not gonna let you move me, and that's what good free safeties do. They don't let you control them,” Gray said. “You do your job, and I think the next step for him is you can start controlling quarterbacks. You can line up here and do a little bit more Ed Reed, but the first thing you've got to do is your job first, and now you make the plays you're supposed to make.”
Part of that inspiration came when the Titans brought in the organization's Hall of Fame players to address the team. Kenny Houston, who once was regarded as the NFL's best safety make an impression on Griffin Monday night.
Houston preached the same message Gray has been trying to get through to Griffin.
“Just doing my job not trying to do too much. That game I was able to stay in the middle of the field the entire time. I mean I blitzed a couple times but outside of that I was just able to stay in my position the whole time compared to other games moving around with injuries or substitutions,” Griffin said.
Gray wants Griffin to build on Monday night's success, but says Griffin has to put in the hard work to be great – that talent alone won't get it done.
“It was real good. To me, just with him understanding that if you're in the middle of the football field, you can be the quarterback,” Gray said. “That's the kind of stuff that Griff can do. He has the ability to do that. Hearing Kenny Houston and those guys tell their stories, of 'Hey, I'm a ninth-round pick.' I went to the Pro Bowl 12 times in a row. A lot of guys would get that you have to work your tail off to get there in order for them to give you respect. I think that helps a lot of young guys to understand that you've got to work to get to where you want to go.”
Gray went on to say that a lot of guys are guilty of what Griffin's sin of trying to do too much on a struggling defense.
“That tends to be what a lot of guys do. When you're a Pro Bowl player, you look back there and you say, 'I'm a leader. I'm gonna show them I can make plays.' It sometimes hurts you, other than saying let me be solid in my job and then that'll help the team,” Gray said. “I just remember when I was playing in the league, my coaches would say, if you play at your level, I don't need you to help anybody else, because where I need you. I just need you to do that. I think that's the same thing we're asking Michael to do, just do what you're supposed to do and you are helping everybody else.”
With Kevin Matthews out at center, the Titans look to be going with Mitch Petrus at left guard putting Fernando Velasco back at center. Their other option is they could go with Kyle DeVan either at center or guard with Velasco manning the other spot.
There was some good news as linebacker Colin McCarthy (concussion) and receiver Damian Williams (hamstring) were able to practice fully. Defensive end Scott Solomon (knee) was also able to do some work.