Griffin piling up tackles for Commodores

Football coach Derek Mason shares his thoughts on Vanderbilt senior inside linebacker Jordan Griffin.

Football coach Derek Mason shares his thoughts on Vanderbilt senior inside linebacker Jordan Griffin.

NASHVILLE – Having coached the likes of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and All-American linebacker Zach Cunningham during his career, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason has seen immensely talented defensive players come and go.

But when it comes to Vanderbilt senior inside linebacker Jordan Griffin, Mason doesn’t mince words.

“If you get him in a room and talk to him, JG is probably the smartest defensive player we have, all the way around,” Mason said. “He knows it all, top to bottom.”

Those smarts have been put on display in Griffin’s last two games. The Tampa, Fla. native has recorded 18 total tackles in back-to-back games for the Commodores, the first player to do so in the last two decades of Vanderbilt football. Griffin also recovered two fumble recoveries last week against Kentucky, the first two of his career.

That penchant for stat-stuffing has emphasized Griffin’s importance as a senior leader on Vanderbilt’s defense. On Oct. 13 against Florida, Griffin chipped in 10 solo tackles and eight assisted stops. He managed six solo tackles and 12 assisted stops against Kentucky. Those two performances have helped Griffin leap atop the SEC standings in total tackles (86) and solo tackles (43), averaging 10.8 per game.

Yet asked to react to his individual success, Griffin is blunt.

“In the past two games that I’ve gotten 18 tackles, we’ve lost,” Griffin said. “So, I haven’t felt much joy in that. I’d rather get a win than 18 tackles.”

Griffin’s priority is to help Vanderbilt bounce back from a three-game losing streak and keep its eye on the goal of reaching the postseason. This Saturday, the Commodores venture to face Arkansas in Fayetteville (11 a.m. CT on SEC Network). Last week, Vanderbilt limited No. 14 Kentucky to just 14 points, but Mason said the Dores must stand taller in the home stretch of SEC play.

Griffin is a key piece to that puzzle, the coach said.

“People have seen him as an undersized linebacker, but I think in football we’ve seen plenty of undersized linebackers with great skills and abilities and a nose for the football, and that’s what he’s had,” Mason said. “He’s sudden, he can key and diagnose quickly, he’s always been able to do it even as a young guy. But I think now as he’s older he’s having to carry the weight a little bit with young guys around him.”

Griffin credits his football maturation to a long-held focus on details, an approach he honed during a stellar career at Armwood High in Tampa. Griffin was tabbed a high school All-American as a senior in 2014, when he registered 158 tackles, nine sacks and seven fumble recoveries for the Hawks. Griffin finished his high school career with 428 tackles, second all-time at Armwood, but he says the small details ultimately led to that success.

“I’ve learned a lot here, but I credit a lot to my high school,” Griffin said. “Coming from Armwood, we learned that you’ve got to sit down and focus on the details, and that will make you a better player. Coach Mason and Coach [Chris] Marve, they’ve just enhanced my film study since I’ve been at Vanderbilt, and it’s made me a better player.”

Details and all, Griffin’s journey through his final collegiate season continues Saturday against Arkansas. And make no mistake, the senior’s goal is to return to Nashville with a win – no matter what he leaves on the stat sheet.

“I’m just trying to do anything I can to help this team win,” Griffin said. “That’s all I care about.”