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Last published at August 10, 2009 at 11:29 PM

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Jerry Brewer

Seahawks' Justin Griffith is a fullback, just don't call him a throwback

Delve into Griffith's past, and you start to understand why he doesn't want to be associated with the griminess of the position. He's a converted tailback. Back in Magee, Miss. (pop: 4,332), he was celebrated for rushing for more than 4,700 yards — and 66 touchdowns! — during his junior and senior years of high school.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Justin Griffith is unselfish like a throwback fullback, blocks like a throwback fullback and relishes doing the dirty work like a throwback fullback. So it's only right to deduce that he's, um, I don't know, a throwback fullback.

Wrong.

"No, no, no!" Griffith exclaims, slapping at the label.

He makes it sound like someone nicknamed him Charmin.

"I'm not a throwback guy at all," Griffith says. "I've been fortunate and blessed to be a part of this offense most of my career. It doesn't beat you up. There aren't a lot of isolations, power blocking and all that kind of stuff. We're a zone-scheming team. And I get to catch the ball, too."

Delve into Griffith's past, and you start to understand why he doesn't want to be associated with the griminess of the position. He's a converted tailback. Back in Magee, Miss. (pop: 4,332), he was celebrated for rushing for more than 4,700 yards — and 66 touchdowns! — during his junior and senior years of high school.

He switched to fullback while in college at Mississippi State. He's not a natural mauler, and he's quite effusive in explaining why.

Then he goes onto the football field, and mauls people.

Don't think he's having an identity crisis, however. Griffith refuses to be pigeonholed, but he knows who he is and understands his role perhaps better than anyone in this variation of the West Coast offense. Why? Because this is Griffith's sixth season working with new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. His experience and knowledge of the system will prove invaluable for the adjusting Seahawks. In fact, he may be the key to revitalizing the running game.

In Knapp's offense, the fullback must think like a tailback just to block the right defensive player. Instead of being assigned a specific player to block, the fullback must read the defense and react on the fly. It's not an easy task. Maybe that's why it takes a reluctant throwback fullback to master it.

"It's really important with our outside zone run game, where he is the lead guy," Knapp said of the fullback. "We teach our fullbacks to read it like the halfback. There are certain indicators based on the run call that's being made. He has to see it the same way we want the halfback to see it, so he'll lead that halfback to the right hole. He is kind of that floating guy, where if the defense overflows, he can cut back and clean up the backside.

"If they try to stunt inside, he makes that read and bounces it out and the running back follows him. So there's a lot of burden on him in identifying what's the correct path in the run game."

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Knapp has had a top-10 rushing attack in all eight of his seasons as a coordinator. Griffith has been around for five of those.

In Atlanta, Griffith was the lead blocker during the most productive three-year stretch of Warrick Dunn's career. In Oakland, he helped Justin Fargas gain 1,000 yards in 2007.

Last year, the Oakland run game was potent again, but Griffith tore up his knee in Week 8 after catching a touchdown pass.

"Ray Lewis hit me one good time," Griffith said, laughing. "That about explains it right there."

Griffith tore the ACL in his right knee and missed the remainder of the season. The Raiders released him after the year, and for the first time since his rookie season, the 29-year-old Griffith was contemplating life outside of Knapp's system.

He went to tryouts with New Orleans and Arizona, but neither team signed him. When Knapp was hired to lead the Seahawks' offense, Griffith hoped for a reunion. In March, he got his wish.

"I had accepted maybe being in a different offense, but I'm glad to be in this one," Griffith said. "I don't have to learn anything new. I can teach the other players all the details. I can just keep on truckin'."

The willingness to share is one of the reasons Knapp wanted Griffith back.

"It's mostly because of who he is as a person," Knapp said. "Take away the game of football. This guy is a great human being. He doesn't try to be a cagey veteran with the younger players. He wants to do whatever he can to help the team win."

And he can do plenty to help the Seahawks win. It was a mild surprise the team didn't re-sign young fullback Leonard Weaver, who signed with Philadelphia, last season. But Griffith might prove to be a better fit. He's a more natural fullback.

Just don't call him throwback.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

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About Jerry Brewer

Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. Also check out Jerry's Extra Points blog, where he talks with readers about his columns.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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