Griffin Might Just Have What it Takes

Every NFL fan loves the underdog and nowhere is that more special than in Kansas City where we've seen some late round draft picks and un-drafted free agents make an impact on the roster. Last season it was cornerback Benny Sapp in years past players such as Eric Hicks, Mike Maslowski, Brian Waters and Tony Richardson each received little or no attention from NFL scouts. This year one player has stood out from OTA's to training camp and that's linebacker Kris Griffin.

Kris Griffin came to the Kansas City Chiefs without much fanfare. It was a little blurb in most sports sections including ours. There we learned that the team had filled out its roster with another linebacker after signing one in free agency, Kendrell Bell, and drafting two more in the heralded Derrick Johnson and Boomer Grigsby in the middle rounds of the draft.

For Griffin he simply went about his business and put on his number 66 jersey and went to work as soon as he signed his free agent contract. The three year player from Division II Indiana (PA) stepped onto the field in OTA's in April and immediately had an impact.

Each time he made a play on the practice field, everyone in the press kept asking ‘who's that number 66' and we all checked our roster and found out that's just another un-drafted rookie free agent the team signed who probably has little chance to make the roster come September.

However Griffin looks anything like another player from a small Division II school in River Falls. Instead he's played some with the second unit defense and should get significant time on Friday night against the Vikings in Minnesota. That's where the rest of the Chiefs fans will get their first glimpse of Griffin and for those of us who have watched him practice since April are eager to see what he can do in his first NFL game.

"I'm looking forward to just getting a chance to play. I just want to show the coaches that I can play in this league," Griffin told me. "Whether it's special teams or different packages I want to showcase my talents."

Griffin is talented and he's very confident especially with the influx of linebackers the Chiefs have on the roster. With players like Mike Maslowski and Shawn Barber still out with injuries, Kendrell Bell and Scott Fujita still nursing their respective injuries; Griffin is getting more and more reps in practice.

He's also been receiving a lot of help from his teammates. In fact, Gary Stills one of the guys who might be competing Griffin for a roster spot spent some significant time working with the young rookie before practice on Tuesday. They spent time just going over techniques.

That's one thing that makes this training camp so special to watch is because of the willingness of the veterans to help the younger players. For Griffin that experience has been awesome with his teammates despite having to sing ‘If I Ever Fall in Love' in the mess hall earlier in the week. "They are a great group of guys," talking about his teammates. "They are very respectful. "There are some pranksters but everything is team oriented and you can tell this is a good group of guys."

Still Griffin has a long ways to go to make the final 53 man roster. His Head Coach Dick Vermeil told me that Griffin has a chance and that's all he needs from the Chiefs right now.

But nothing he's done in camp would indicate that he won't make the most of that chance. On Saturday night at the teams Family Fun Night, I talked with Lynn Stiles the Chiefs V.P. of Player Personnel and he made an interesting observation about Griffin when he told me that it takes a special player to adjust to the NFL from a Division II school. It's miles and miles apart and Griffin has handled that well.

To put in proper perspective the route Griffin is attempting to make in a few short months; imagine taking your 6th grader and putting him into high school and doing it over summer break. That's the leap that Griffin has had to make just to get a shot at the NFL. And despite that hurdle, he's done it with a quiet confidence that has defensive coaches hoping that he can deliver some big hits for this defense in Minnesota.

The one person that Griffin has to impress overall is Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham who has been impressed with his play thus far in camp. He's very intense with Griffin on the field and that's something the rookie linebacker has warmed up to since OTA's.

"He's a great coach, one of the best coaches that has ever coached me. He is so intense and you can tell everyday out their (on the practice field) that he wants to make you a better player. It's been good working with him and I've learned so much in just a couple of weeks from him. I know I have a long way to go but I'm getting better and better," said Griffin.

Well he'll get that first test on Friday night as the Chiefs have already announced that Kendrell Bell won't play Friday and Derrick Johnson will play just into the second quarter. Vermeil has not indicated how much Fujita would play so Griffin and second year man Keyaron Fox should get significant time against the Vikings.

In talking with Griffin he understands the odds and opportunity ahead of him but he's not backing down from either challenge. "I can play football," he said.

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