Like the rest of the players on the Redskins' defense, Cornelius Griffin found the 2006 season trying, to say the least,
Despite starting 14 games and finishing second among defensive linemen in tackles with 68, Griffin battled injuries and wasn't his usual dominant self as the defense slipped to 31st overall. His face exuded frustration at times.
Griffin returned in 2007 refreshed, refocused and eager to prove that last season's 5-11 mark was an aberration.
He suffered a knee injury in the Week 3 game against the New York Giants, and with the bye he has time to rest and heal up for Week 5 when the Redskins host the Detroit Lions.
The last time the Redskins played the Lions, in November 2004, Griffin had a huge game. He recorded seven tackles, two sacks and two passes defended.
Entering the 2007 season, Griffin said he was in his best shape since his 2000 rookie year. He committed himself in the offseason to conditioning and strengthening his 6-3, 311-pound body.
The prevailing belief around Redskins Park in recent years is that how Griffin goes, so goes the Redskins' defense. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate and the Quarterback Club Redskins Player of the Year in a 2004 season when the defense finished No. 3 in the league.
In 2005, he missed starts due to injury but bounced back just before the Redskins embarked on a five-game winning streak that landed them in a Wild Card playoff spot. He was stellar in the playoffs.
The Redskins are a much better defense when Griffin is on the field, as has been well documented. But the supporting cast is important to his game as well.
Some teams were able to double down on Griffin frequently last year. Of course, when he's freed up, Griffin can do much more damage in terms of disrupting the flow of the offense in front of him. At his best, he cam truly dominate.
The soft-spoken and unassuming Griffin, known as a solid run-stopper and a threat at pressuring the quarterback, is modest when asked about his value to the defense.
He says that he can play a "large role" on the unit. But he's emphatic that the defense can't dwell on last year's woes.
"We've got to come out and play aggressive and hard and fast every play," he said. "If we have a bad play, forget about it and go on to the next one. We have to stick together no matter what happens. As long as we do that, we'll have a better season than last year."
The former New York Giant added: "If you hold on to the past, you can't more forward. Last year's gone. Every year's a different year. We'll set our goals high and try to reach all of them. Hopefully we get back in the top five on defense because guys are hungry and have a burning desire to win."
What are his personal goals?
"Win the NFC East," he said. "We won the division once in New York when the Giants went to the Super Bowl back in 2000. And then we had an outstanding season here in 2005."
Drafted in the second round in 2000 out of Alabama, Griffin played for the Giants for four seasons before signing as an unrestricted free agent with the Redskins before the 2004 campaign.
After two years in Washington, he had a shoulder surgery that limited his workout time prior to the 2006 season and came into training camp admittedly feeling weak.
Then came the injuries that sidetracked him last season. At the same time, rookie Kedric Golston showed promise and started nine games. Griffin became a mentor to Golston and the two are close today.
Last year's line was one of the glaring sore spots on the Redskins' defense, which recorded a league-low and franchise-low 19 sacks and forced an all-time NFL-low 12 turnovers (for a 16-game season).
In Griffin's view, everybody on defense must he held accountable for the problems, from the front seven to the defensive backs.
He said he wasn't surprised that the Redskins opted not to address the defensive line in the 2007 NFL Draft.
"As guys get older, you need young players to come in," he said. "But we already have young guys in Golston and Anthony Montgomery."
He liked the Redskins' decision to take hard-hitting safety LaRon Landry with the No. 6 pick in the first round.
"Landry's a good player," Griffin said. "I'm glad we got him, and I think he can help us, but he's still got a lot learn. He's catching on fast, though.
"We still have to come out and play fast and play together--that's the big thing. In 2004 and 2005, we played together. If somebody makes mistakes, somebody else was there to cover up for them."