First, when the UConn contingent traveled to Newport, R.I., for Big East Conference football media day last month, Griffin emerged as the champion lobster-eater for the Huskies. For the record, he downed four of them.
“I’m not one to be complacent,” Griffin said the next morning when asked about improving his play at tight end this season. Perhaps the two characteristics go hand-in-hand. In both areas, it’s all about technique. “I tried to have more [lobster] but these guys from Syracuse ate them all. I’m kind of slow. It’s hard to get all the meat out. There’s a lot of work involved.”
And that brings us to the personality trait no one will every question about Ryan: His work ethic on the football field. In his first four seasons at UConn, including his redshirt season in 2008, he has made a natural progression from scout team, to regular, to starter and now to being considered one of the top tight ends in college football.
The 6-foot-6, 247-pound Griffin was one of 25 players named to the preseason watch list for the Mackey Award, which goes to college football’s best tight end. Hubie Graham of Pittsburgh is the only other Big East player on the list. Griffin also made the watch list for the Lombardi Award, which goes to the nation’s top college lineman or linebacker.
People have noticed.
Griffin has been utilized in UConn’s passing game with increasing frequency every season. He enters 2012 fifth in school history in receptions by a tight end with 87 and he’s fifth in yardage with 1,016 receiving yards. Despite those numbers, Griffin doesn’t fancy himself as a wide receiver and has no problem being in the running for an award for linemen.
“The tight ends are part of the O-line and we feel like we’re a big part of the running game,” he said. “As usual, there are always holes we need to fill [with the loss of linemen Moe Petrus and Mike Ryan] and we need to reshuffle some offensive line spots. But we’re confident we can lead these guys and show the young guys the way.”
The Londonderry, N.H., native has played in 36 games over the past three years and was the third-leading receiver for UConn last season with 33 catches. But over the summer he was determined to expand his skills and become a better blocker. Griffin said there is room for improvement in every facet of his game, including route running.
“I want to be that solid ‘Y’ tight end that can come down on the five-technique [defensive lineman] and move them off the ball,” he said when asked what is still missing from his package. “That’s what I’ve been working on this offseason. [Offensive line] Coach [George] DeLeone has been getting on me about my blocking techniques.
“This will help me become a better player. I’m not one to be complacent.”
Griffin was a second-team All-Big East selection last year. It’s clear he has a chance to be the best tight end in the Big East this season. And there could be a future for him in the NFL as well.
“In the new NFL, with the explosion of these guys [at tight], it’s fun to watch,” Griffin said. “They’re doing so many things through the tight ends. It’s exciting for me.”
And when UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni talks about the leadership contributions of the seniors, there’s no doubt Griffin is part of that.
“The real motivation for us is our [5-7] record last year,” Griffin said. “It was unacceptable and wasn’t close to what we were capable of. Coming into our second year under Coach Pasqualoni, we know we can do better than that.”
2012 Preseason Mackey Award Watch List
Alex Bayer Bowling Green Jr.
Ted Bolser Indiana Jr.
Chase Clement LSU Sr.
Jack Doyle W. Kentucky Sr.
Tyler Eifert Notre Dame Sr.
Gavin Escobar San Diego State Jr.
Joseph Fauria UCLA Sr.
C.J. Fiedorowicz Iowa Jr.
Brandon Ford Clemson Sr.
Matt Furstenburg Maryland Sr.
Crockett Gillmore Colorado State Jr.
Chris Gragg Arkansas Sr.
Hubie Graham Pittsburgh Sr.
Ryan Griffin Connecticut Sr.
Ryan Harper Texas State Sr.
Chase Hoskins Eastern Michigan Sr.
Garrett Johnson Mississippi State So.
Malcolm Lutzenkirchen Auburn Sr.
Philip Najvar Baylor Jr.
Jordan Otten San Jose State Sr.
Ryan Pantale Boston College Sr.
Chris Pedersen Wisconsin Jr.
Jacob Pedersen Wisconsin Jr.
Mike Ragone Kansas Sr.
Kyler Reed Nebraska Sr.
Lucas Reed New Mexico Sr.
Jordan Reed Florida Jr.
Mychal Rivera Tennessee Sr.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins Washington So.
Dion Sims Michigan State Jr.
Jake Stoneburner Ohio St Sr.
Levine Toilolo Stanford Jr.
Michael Willson Rice Sr.
Luke Willson Rice Sr.