Mike and Kyle Shanahan last season tailored the Redskins’ offense to what their rookie quarterbacks did well coming out of their respective college systems. Because Robert Griffin III ran spread and zone-read principles during his four seasons at Baylor, the Shanahans added that to Washington’s offense and frequently emphasized it when Griffin was in the game. And when Kirk Cousins had to play when Griffin was injured, he operated more of a conventional drop-back style similar to what he ran at Michigan State.
Just as the Shanahans want Griffin in his second season to become more comfortable in a pro-style, dropback game, Cousins this offseason is eager to improve operating the zone-read option.
Cousins shared that Wednesday during an interview on ESPN980 in which he discussed how newly-signed free-agent quarterback Pat White can help the Redskins practice their zone-read plays this offseason while Griffin is rehabilitating his surgically reconstructed right knee.
(The whole 13-minute interview is well worth your time because Cousins is articulate, smart and funny. Listen to it here.)
Cousins is athletic and mobile; he’s just not the elite runner Griffin is. Griffin ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine last year. Pat White ran 4.55 in 2009. Cousins ran 4.93 last year.
Cousins explained how any quarterback can succeed running the zone-read as long as the ball fakes and decisions are crisp. It’s just that fast quarterbacks such as Griffin and White have a greater margin for error.
“A guy like me, I need to be much more perfect in my ball-handling and in my reads for it to work than maybe a Robert or a Pat White has to be,” Cousins said on 980. “Now that being said, I didn’t have any reps in college with those plays, and so my ability to be more perfect is not there, whereas Robert had all these reps in college working on these plays. And so it just became a deal where I’m not comfortable running those plays at this current time last season.
“But with OTAs and minicamps and training camp, I believe that if the coaches want me to, I can gain a comfort levels with these plays, where I can be fast enough to have them be effective. And once at least there’s a threat of those plays being run with me in the game, it does change a lot of things for a defensive coordinator.
“And so it’s worth it to explore what it would look like for me to be doing those things. But there’s no doubt I need to get more comfortable than I currently am, and that will be a focus this spring.”
The Shanahans don’t want the zone read to be the foundation of their offense partly because that exposes the quarterback to injury. Griffin, they believe, has the throwing ability and mental capacity to excel in their keeper/play-action-based passing attack. Griffin simply needs more practice reps on the field because he didn’t operate that style of offense at Baylor. Unfortunately for them, he won’t get those reps this offseason because of his knee injury.
As for the future of the zone read in Washington’s offense, the key, as the Shanahans said repeatedly last season, is to have it in the playbook so opposing defenses have to allocate time each week to prepare for it. The Redskins might run it only a few times per game.
“Even the threat of it being there makes a difference,” Cousins said. “You don’t have to make it be your bread and butter. It doesn’t have to be your go-to thing. But to know that it can be there and that you can have the threat of it really keeps defenses honest.
“Our offense it really isn’t a Robert offense when Robert’s in and a Kirk offense when Kirk’s in. It’s really the Redskins’ offense when I’m in, and then when Robert’s in, it’s like the Redskins’ offense plus another dimension, and that comes with all that Robert has to offer in terms of his athleticism.”