Even though it’s all the way across the country and in the Pacific Northwest, the feel-good story of former UCF star and now Seattle Seahawks rookie Shaquem Griffin continues to gain momentum.
Griffin, who was the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year last year and helped the UCF Knights go 13-0 and upset Auburn in the Peach Bowl for a perfect season, had already become very easy to root for in the pre-draft process.
This, after the NFL initially did not invite him to their scouting combine, but then reversed course, when public sentiment when his way. Griffin, despite losing his left hand as a small child, wowed everyone at the combine in Indianapolis and became an inspiration.
In a story with USA Today on Wednesday, Nate Davis spent some time recently at Seahawks training camp and and they are raving about Griffin’s work ethic and play:
— Nate Davis (@ByNateDavis) August 8, 2018
Probably the biggest compliment so far is from former Superbowl champion player and current Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. Norton told Davis:
“He’s playing surprisingly really good,” Norton Jr. told USA TODAY Sports, clarifying his surprise is a nod to how quickly Griffin has grasped his new assignments.
“I mean, this kid is fast, he’s really smart, he’s really physical, he doesn’t make the same mistake twice, and he shows up every day. He’s for real. We understand that he’s missing a hand — and everybody focuses on that note — but he’s a real football player.
“He’s a joy to coach.”
Of course, it also helps the Seahawks drafted his twin brother, Shaquill Griffin, to play defensive back a year ago. There’s no question it’s helped him get acclimated.
Seattle opens their preseason on Thursday night hosting Indianapolis.
And, make no mistake. Shaquem Griffin has got potential to help the Seahawks in spots and on special teams, and probably soon this season.
UCF QB Mack Jr. looking healthier than expected
While Miami has finally settled on a starting QB, others throughout the state have more quarterback questions than answers as the 2019 season rapidly approaches. One of those schools is UCF, who’ve been plagued by injury in the position. However, a photo released from practice on Tuesday shows once-expected starter Darriel Mack Jr. walking into the stadium without a boot.
Knights247 reporter Jason Beede was the first to notice the bootless QB in a photo released by the team. He shared the picture on Twitter.
— Jason Beede (@therealBeede) August 13, 2019
UCF fans are beginning to make hopeful assumptions that Mack Jr. may still be able to be the Knights signal-caller this season.
We reported last month that he suffered what’s been called “a non-football injury” and has not participated in training camp.
Mack took over as the replacement for injured starter and AAC player-of-the-year McKenzie Milton last November. That’s when Milton was injured horrifically in the first half of the rivalry game with USF. He managed the lead that UCF had built to a 38-10 win, which clinched a spot in the Championship game.
The following week, Mack heroically lead the Knights to a roaring second-half comeback over the Memphis Tigers. After trailing 38-21 at the break, Mack threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 59 yards and four more scores in the 56-41 comeback win.
Mack was not nearly as successful in the Fiesta Bowl loss to LSU, where he completed just 11 – 30 for a puny 97 yards with one touchdown and one interception. And, he had -3 yards rushing on 11 carries, as the Tigers repeatedly sacked him that day in Arizona.
His injury has left Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush as the likely option for the Knights. Wimbush left the Fighting Irish program as a graduate transfer and recently landed at No. 64 on Pro Football Focus’ complete list of the top 130 quarterbacks in the country, making him one spot higher than the direct middle of the pack.
PPF’s Cam Mellor had this to say about the QB
“No McKenzie Milton and no Darriel Mack lead way for former Notre Dame quarterback Wimbush to be the starter in Orlando for 2019. Wimbush played a great season in 2017 with the Fighting Irish but struggled a year ago before ultimately giving way to Ian Book in South Bend. In Josh Heupel’s offense, Wimbush should be able to use his strong arm and push the ball down the field well, up to those strong 2017 levels.”
Wimbush was a successful starter in South Bend in 2017. He threw for over 1,800 yards and rushed for over another 600 leading Notre Dame to a 10-2 record. He also set the Irish record for rushing TDs by a quarterback with 14 for that year.
The Knights also have a McKenzie Milton-like QB clone from Hawaii, again, in freshman undersized but speedy Dillon Gabriel. The 6’0 185lbs. Gabriel broke several of Milton and Marcus Mariota’s high school records in Hawaii, including most yards passing in a high school career.
But, with Mack looking healthier than expected, there could be a potential for him to reclaim his spot as QB1 as they start the season taking on FAMU. This certainly will aid in their efforts at an AAC “three-peat.”
UCF QB Milton updates possible return
After his season-ending injury, and potentially life threatening injury against USF last season, the premier player of the Knights, McKenzie Milton is continuing his long road of recovery.
He spoke with SportCenter’s Scott Van Pelt on Tuesday night to give an update on how he’s doing, and when fans might see his return to the field?
“I really feel like we’re just scratching the surface here at UCF, whether I’m playing or not. The sky is the limit here and I’m grateful to be a part of the rising of Knight Nation.” -KZ to @notthefakeSVP
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) August 7, 2019
“I’m aiming for 2020 to step on the football field again, but at this point there is no set time table, I’m just taking it day by day. I’ve made significant strides but I still need to strengthen up my leg, there’s a lot off room to grow but I’m further along than any doctor or medical trainer would expect and I feel like that’s by the grace of God. I’ve had a lot of prayers and a lot of good people taking care of me and I want to thank the UCF medical staff for putting me in the hands of the best doctors in the country and taking care of my knee.”
Though he know’s he won’t see the field this year, Milton is continuing to look at the bright side of things, being grateful for those who’ve helped him in his recovery so far. Milton was then asked how it feels to not know if his game will all come back to him the way it once was. He gave this hopeful response:
“I’ve been in the hands of some of the best doctors in the world, and went up to the mayo clinic to have my reconstruction done it’s been amazing, the nerve is back to 100% so now its about strengthening up my leg… I was a lucky one that the nerve’s coming back so fast”
With his torn nerve healed, his main focus is making his knee stronger. But the recovery time isn’t going to stop him from continuing to make his mark with the Knights. Van Pelt asked him how much satisfaction can he could allow himself knowing the role he’s played in this program thus far.
He concluded with, “I’m just grateful to be a part of this team that’s went on such a special run. I really feel like we’re just scratching the surface here at UCF, whether I’m playing or not. The sky is the limit here and I’m grateful to be a part of the rising of Knight Nation.”
Even off the filed, it is certain that Milton will continue to improve the Knights offense, allowing him to lay the foundations for his potential college coaching career.
However, the Knights currently have more questions than answers at their quarterback position, and the solutions to those questions might impact, if they can live up to their previous two seasons on excellence.
When UCF’s presumed starter to begin the 2019 season, Darriel Mack, Jr., has suffered a non-football injured broken ankle, rendering him now out indefinitely. That has now thrown a real curve ball into coach Josh Heupel’s plan to have Mack be the guy, but potentially, be challenged by Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush.
Wimbush is likely to be the next in line, but the Knights also have a McKenzie Milton-like QB clone from Hawaii, again, in freshman undersized but speedy Dillon Gabriel. The 6’0, 185lbs. Gabriel broke several of Milton and Marcus Mariota’s high school records in Hawaii, including most yards passing in a high school career.
Even amidst the QB struggle, the knights are projected to have another dominant season, projected by the AAC media to win the conference title for the third year, and most recently being ranked 17 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll.
We’ll get a first look at who UCF chooses as their QB and if it looks like they’ll be able to lead them to another dominant season, when they take on Florida A&M on August 29th.