by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
In most ratings of the top 32 players entering the draft, more than half are underclassmen who have declared early. While every one of those has high potential, much of that gets offset by questions of maturity.
Everson Griffen epitomizes this class. Following a run-in with police on Nantucket Island last summer, the USC defensive end had some doubters. The 6-foot-3, 268-pounder answered them with a productive season (45 tackles, eight sacks) and impressive test numbers (4.60-seconds in the 40, 32 reps in the bench press).
In his exclusive PD interview, Griffen kept the answers coming about his comfort level on the field and his personal growth off of it.
Well, let’s start out by talking about your decision to declare early for the draft. What do you think was the biggest motivating factor in that?
The biggest motivating factor to me was you know yourself, you know what you’re capable of doing, and I just talked it over with my D-line coach, Coach Jethro (Franklin) and my head coach, Pete Carroll. You know, I just felt that I was ready to take that next step, to the next level. And the past season I had, I just felt like, everybody’s got to prove themselves, but I just felt like I was ready to come out.
Did you ever have any second thoughts about it, being a younger guy? Because you didn’t have a redshirt year with USC, did you?
No, I didn’t. No, once I talked it over with the coach and everything, I pretty much had a good idea that I was ready to come out.
And with all the meetings and everything, and the combine, how are you feeling about that decision now?
You know, I did everything perfectly to this point right now. The only thing I did – the only thing I gave them – was, I put it on my shoulders. Me and (USC safety) Taylor Mays, he just did it with me, you know, we just went out there and did our best. Once you do your best, the only thing you can do is sit back and wait, and see what team falls in love with you.
Speaking of the testing, I know it went really well overall. Do you have any second thoughts about it? Were you surprised in a positive way?
Yeah. I was very happy. I was very happy with what I’d done. I went out there and just gave them everything I had, and I’m pretty excited with my standing and with all the accomplishments that I make.
You’ve said before that Coach Jethro coming back (to USC) made a difference this year. What was that difference?
Having Coach Jethro, you know, he played defensive line. He coached defensive line for 20 years. He just really knows how to coach the position, and he just taught me all the ingredients to take it to the next level. Just having him – he just put me underneath his wing, and he just taught me the game of football. You know, he taught me it’s more than being disciplined on the field, you’ve got to be disciplined on and off the field to have it right all the time.
Now, this kind of leads to a difficult question… Can you comment at all on what happened last summer on Nantucket?
Yeah. I got in trouble for the breach of the peace. We had a little party on Nantucket. We got a little too loud, they (the police) came. I tried to be the facilitator, which I shouldn’t have done. And, you know, they took me to jail for the breach of the peace. You know, it was on (the news) a lot.
So you were making noise, or was it just a bunch of people and you got singled out?
A bunch of people… I think there were like five to ten.
One reason I ask the question… I’ve got to tell you from experience, you’re not the first guy to have a party broken up by the Nantucket Police Department.
You talked about a sense of discipline. How has that helped you in the last several months?
You know, it just helped my maturity level and my consistency, and I felt that this past season, I had both. I had my maturity level – that’s not a question. I came out and performed well at the combine and at my pro day. And during the season, to have Coach Jethro right there mentoring me, to take me along during the season, just teaching me the game, like I said… it just helped me a lot.
And is there anything specific that he said or pointed out that helped you focus more?
Yeah, he did say you’ve got to be disciplined. That was the biggest thing. Once I figured that out, to be disciplined, it helped me a lot.
How would you describe the defense at USC?
Yeah… how did your defense work?
We were fast. We hit the gaps, and we just played together as a team. You know, we just loved playing together as a team.
And you’re a defensive end out of a – did you play a 4-3?
Yeah, we played 4-3, but then I also dropped into coverage on third downs.
So, of course you’ve had teams talking to you about making the switch to a 3-4.
What do you think is the most important part of that transition?
Just, you know, I’m very accustomed to playing – dropping from a two-point stance, blitzing from a two-point stance. So I’m really comfortable doing both. It’s not really a big issue. I’ve just got to learn. I’ve just got to be more physical at the point of attack. You know, everybody’s got improvements to make, and I know my improvements that I need to make, and I’ve been working on them every day. And I’m feeling good.
Now, people around New England know Pete Carroll as a coach. How would you describe him as a coach at USC?
Man, Pete Carroll was a great coach. He was a great motivator, you know. Luckily for me, I got to have him in my (defensive) meeting rooms, so he just taught us everything he knows about the game. And just having him – he’s a great recruiter, that’s why you have so much success at USC – and I just wish the best for him in Seattle.
Speaking of recruiting, you were a really accomplished football player coming out of high school (in Arizona). What other schools were you looking at except for USC?
Florida, Notre Dame and Michigan.
And what put USC in front?
You know, it was close to home. My mom could come see my games. And I just wanted to experience something new… You know, I was born and raised in Arizona… People always say, “Why not (Arizona State) or (University of Arizona)?” Because I’d been there for 22 years, and I just wanted to get out of Arizona to experience something new.
You were a really prolific running back in high school. At what point did you figure you were going to be playing defense in college?
Once I committed to USC, they said, “You’ll be playing defensive end.”
And there was never any question about that?
Nah, I wanted to play defensive end.
Why do you prefer defensive end over running back?
Because with defense, you get to go out there and just play football. You get to go out there and make plays, hit people hard, and be physical, instead of being hit by people.
Have you met with a lot of NFL teams?
I met with four.
Can you say which four?
(Buffalo), Oakland, San Francisco and St. Louis.
It seems like those are a lot of different defenses. Have any teams talked to you about playing a 4-3 rush defensive end?
Yeah… You know, I can either play a 4-3 or a 3-4. It really doesn’t matter to me where I play at the next level, because I feel like I can play both. I feel like I’m a very versatile player. I’m fast enough to play a 3-4. So whatever they want to put me in, I’m willing to play.
When you go to those meetings, are they all the same, or does each team focus on something different?
Oh, I just go in there and meet with the D-line coach, you know, and just talk football. And they put on some film and they just see what I know, can I learn football, and do I remember. They’re pretty good meetings, meeting with the head coach, D-line coach, sometimes outside backer coach. It just depends.
Have you gotten any kind of strange or unexpected questions?
No, no. Not at all.
Okay. So what’s the plan for this week?
I’m going back to Arizona the 21st, and I’ll be up there with my family and friends.
And have you gotten any word on whether this is going to be a Thursday night thing or a Friday night thing, or is that still up in the air?
I got ESPN coming, so I really don’t know. Who knows where they’re going to get drafted, you know? People can tell you you’re in the first round, mock drafts can say you’re in the first round, but you don’t know until they call your name. I’m hoping a Thursday night thing.
I hope so, too. I wish you a lot of luck.
Email Chris Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org