UCLA linebacker Cameron Griffin benefits from rugby experience

UCLA linebacker Cameron Griffin benefits from rugby experience
Cameron Griffin, shown as a senior at View Park Prep in 2013. (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Football, in some ways, is easy for UCLA linebacker Cameron Griffin. You get to wear pads for starters.

Griffin has been a see-a-ball-carrier, hit-a-ball-carrier kind of player this spring. It's a product of seven years playing rugby.

"I'm willing to tackle," said Griffin, who was a freshman last fall. "Playing rugby, you have no pads and everything is in the open field. I can play out in space and make open-field tackles. Rugby taught me that."

Wednesday's practice was another example. On one play, he crashed in from the right and smothered running back Nate Starks. It was one of a handful of eye-catching plays Griffin has made this spring.

"He scrappy and relentless," linebacker Myles Jack said. "He brings that rugby mentality. He knows how to tackle. He knows how to hit."

Griffin was unable to put that on display last fall. He missed the season after having shoulder surgery in the summer. That also helped with the learning process.

"It raised my mental ability, watching how other players took criticism, how they worked off the criticism," Griffin said.

Where Griffin fits remains to be seen.

"I have only seen him practice a few times [because of the injury], but every day he seems better," Coach Jim Mora said. "He gives supreme athleticism. When I look at him, I can't decide yet if he's an inside or an outside linebacker."

At the very least, Mora said, "I have a feeling he is going to be a really, really good special-teams player for us. He can run and is powerful."