- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

Just how quiet is Washington Redskins defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin?

He declined comment at his own press conference.

Seriously. When he was introduced after signing a seven-year, $30.8million contract in March, coach Joe Gibbs politely told reporters that Griffin had nothing to say.

But don’t mistake silent for insignificant. Griffin already has made solid contributions, particularly in Monday’s preseason win over the Denver Broncos. In just a few series that night, Griffin tackled running back Mike Anderson for a loss on a screen pass and got pressure on quarterback Jake Plummer.

Griffin’s play highlighted a generally lackluster night by the Redskins, and further indicated that he just might be the difference-maker the defensive line — this team’s primary question mark — lacked in 2003. That he’s still unheralded speaks to the fact that Griffin, well, doesn’t speak up.

“I’ve always been quiet,” the Brundidge, Ala., native said in his low-decibel manner yesterday. “A lot of guys talk, talk, talk. Talk gets you nowhere. It’s all about action.”

Once Griffin gets going, he’s actually engaging. A country boy at heart, he smiles frequently and dots conversation with understated jokes. He talks about limiting much of his personal time to friends and family (“that way you stay out of trouble”) and about hunting and horseback riding. Teammates say he has more vivacity, perhaps even an edge, when he’s away from the media.

“Grif ain’t that quiet, now,” said cornerback Fred Smoot, the Redskins’ resident expert on talking. “If you catch him on the field, oh, he’s out there talking. Believe me. [He’s] kind of mean, but he’s out there talking. You need that on the D-line.”

It might not even make sense to characterize Griffin as the “strong, silent type.” Linebacker LaVar Arrington indicated that the moniker doesn’t place enough emphasis on the first adjective.

“Yeah, he’s strong,” Arrington said dryly. “Tough dude.”

Strength is one trait that made the Redskins target Griffin during the first wave of free agency. Another is quickness. Defensive end Renaldo Wynn called Griffin “quick as a cat” and jokingly wondered whether opposing quarterbacks are leaking him the snap count.

Added assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams: “Any great pass rusher has to be borderline offsides every time. You don’t want those defensive line pre-snap penalties, but they’ve got to get on an edge. And he’s powerful enough where, if he can get on the edge of an offensive lineman, he can finish the play.”

Strength and speed permit Griffin to collapse the pocket and flush ballcarriers outside. Washington hasn’t had a player who can do that since 2002, when the club fortuitously extracted a final good season out of Daryl Gardener, who was named the team’s player of the year.

It remains unclear whether Griffin can play to that level. But Williams raves about the lineman he calls “country strong,” and is confident Griffin will contribute at the “three-technique,” or defensive tackle position on the outside edge of the guard.

“He’s fitting in perfect for our style of defense,” Williams said. “He’s a stout, point-of-attack three-technique that has movement to rush the passer. We’re very excited about him. He has great leadership qualities, because his work ethic is outstanding. He was a very important acquisition this offseason, and we hope he has his best year.”

The issue of Griffin’s “best year” actually is a bit touchy. A second-round pick by the New York Giants in 2000, he recorded five sacks that season and demonstrated the potential to be a star. But he slumped from there, bottoming out at one sack last year while battling the lingering effects of ankle surgery in the 2003 offseason.

Critics say Griffin can’t replicate his 2000 performance.

“Really, I don’t read the papers,” Griffin responded. “I don’t pay attention to it. But when I do, it motivates me. I kind of laugh. It puts a fire up under me. You say I can’t do it, but I can. I know I can.”

When asked about the ankle, he paused and said, “That’s football. You can’t complain about an injury.” And the mentality isn’t show — yesterday, groin tenderness kept him out of the afternoon practice, but he didn’t mention it when asked if he was 100 percent healthy. (He later said he’ll have no trouble playing tomorrow night against the Carolina Panthers.)

That’s Griffin, though: simple and to the point. It might not make for the best press conference, but it’s part of what makes him a consummate team player.

“It’s not about spotlight. It’s about the Redskins,” Griffin said. “It’s not about the spotlight on Cornelius. It’s about the Redskins winning. So I do my part. If we’re winning, hey, my part is done. Action speaks.”

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