Griffin Feels Kneed To Speed Practice Pace

No, he hasn't changed his major or anything. It's just that after so much time invested in surgeries, recoveries, rehabilitation, and such, Nick Griffin has practically earned a doctorate in doctoring injured knees. "I can give some good advice, I know everything about a knee!" he jokes.

Maybe not so much as to be trusted with a scalpel of course, but the junior running back can speak with some authority here. After two ACL injuries and all the aftermath(s) Griffin is a definite authority on the long battle back to playing shape. Which, happily, he is just about up to now as Mississippi State preseason practice gets serious.

As in, gets into the real hitting stage.

"I'm ready for it," Griffin said. "The defensive guys, we've been talking a little noise to each other. We're just ready to settle it."

Now understand, when Griffin says he's ‘ready' it has to be taken with some caution. The same sort of caution his coaches will show during two-a-days as they work their talented but twice-interrupted runner back into playing position. During Sunday's final open practice Griffin was again dressed-out but limited to some extra rehab periods and a lot of observation otherwise. This was after participating in the first three days of drills.

And, loving it. "Whew! It felt good, man! Just say it felt good." OK, we'll say it. Even better, Griffin looks reasonably good going about these early preseason practices. Not season-sharp as he will freely admit. Yet whatever rust remains on this Mississippi State running back from his lengthy recovery is not too obvious from sideline observation.

"I'm like 90%, I'm pretty good. I'm missing like one little piece and I'll be 100%." Yet even at 90%, "It felt great, I've been missing it a long time, I'm glad I could finally come back."

Come back a second time, too, from the same injury albeit to different knees. The first was the result of a spring 2011 accident as Griffin caught a high throw during drills, tried turning mid-air and landed awkwardly as the ACL let go. The standard recovery and extra effort required to get a ‘skill' player up to speed left Griffin sidelined into mid-October and limited upon return, with just 16 rushes. He did get the first college touchdown at least on a ten-carry day against Tennessee-Martin.

2012 was more productive, though snaps were still limited by a deep running back rotation. Griffin got to carry 32 times and netted seven yards per-attempt, tilted by a 60-yard breakaway against Arkansas for touchdown to ice the victory. But the second setback came soon afterward and again during a practice, as Griffin snapped the other ACL during Gator Bowl camp.

In no way does he enjoy doing the whole recovery/rehab act all over again. But at least he could apply the first-time lessons to this spring and summer, Griffin said. "That really helps. I did it before so I already know what to do to get back right. This one feels a lot better. I've seen what I did wrong the first time and I know what to do."

Mostly the doing was a whole lot of "running and conditioning that Coach (Matt) Balis puts us through," he said. "That's key." Maybe more key is Griffin's upbeat attitude. Instead of falling into funk over yet another career detour he attacked the off-season vigorously, which is one reason he looks just about right to observers right now.

The other reason? Pride. Simple player pride. "You can't show weakness at practice!" he grinned. Because even teammates on defense pounce on any such signs. So even if it hurts Griffin makes every move, takes every cut, spots each step as if nothing were wrong. Besides, "I mean it's key to try to get back to natural running form. If you don't you have a limp, you have a little gimp in your step.

"I felt alright. But it's always room to improve. When you miss that much time you kind of get behind."

Falling even a stride behind this August is risky to any running back desiring snaps and stats in 2013. Mississippi State is still stocked, stacked even, in the backfield. Put another way, if LaDarius Perkins is having to push to stay top Dog then how much pressure is there on the underclassmen not to miss a step?

And Griffin affirms Perkins' status, with an expert's opinion.

"He's the leader, he's the go-to guy. You see Perk do something you should probably do it too, because he's probably doing it right!" At the same time Derrick Milton, Josh Robinson, and Griffin can do a whole lot of offensive things right. So as Griffin agreed it will be who does what best that sets the week-by-week, game-by-game rotations.

"Competition is what fuels us. Its what makes us all better. I think we've got one of the best running back groups in the entire country." And we haven't even mentioned the new kid, though Griffin certainly can talk about freshman Ashton Shumpert's precocious skills.

"He's going to be alright, as soon as he learns everything he might be one of the best all-time here." For that matter the depth chart does not directly list another option, slot receiver Brandon Holloway. The speedster practiced as a true running back in December and spring too. Whether Holloway lines-up in the backfield this fall is to-be-seen, yet Griffin surely expects so.

"I don't know what we have to do but we've got to get him the ball. Give it to him, throw it to him, because he's a different kind of fast."

For that matter this collection of Bulldog backs should be up to any scheme or situation. Preseason practicing backs-up what was seen in spring with the runners playing receivers in expanded plans. "It's opening-up the offense," Griffin said. "You can't just run the ball, you have to be able to catch it too.

"That's what we pride ourselves on, being able to do everything. And our coaches want us to be able to do everything, to not be one-dimensional."

Even if the calendar reads August 5 these Bulldogs can hear a clock ticking already. Realistically there are two good weeks ahead for many players to stake their depth-chart claims, before specific gameplanning begins. For Griffin it means picking up his own pace as he masters—or maybe even doctorates—in the Mississippi State offense.

"I've done it before, I've come back from it before, so I plan on doing it again," he said. ""I know pretty much most of the offense so I ain't that far behind. But it's still a lot I can improve on."

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