- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2012

WACO, Texas — Art Briles panicked the first time he saw Robert Griffin III throw a football in person. It was that feeling you get when a secret you must keep is close to getting out.

Griffin’s reputation as a turbo-charged sprinter preceded him to the University of Houston’s football camp in the summer of 2007, but Briles, the Cougars’ head coach at the time, didn’t expect such quality passing form and arm strength. After Griffin threw his first ball that day, Briles hurried to Philip Montgomery, Houston’s co-offensive coordinator back then.

“We’ve got to hide him,” Briles told his lieutenant.

They did better than that. They convinced Griffin to commit to Houston. He eventually followed those two to Baylor, and the rest is Heisman history.

Almost five years later, as the Washington Redskins target Griffin with the No. 2 pick in the draft this month, Griffin’s evolved combination of speed and passing skill has talent evaluators, coaches and analysts expecting him to thrive under Redskins coach Mike Shanahan.

Mike likes to run the ball … and likes to move his quarterback,” said Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who served as Shanahan’s offensive coordinator in Denver for 11 seasons. “I don’t know that I’ve seen one move like this guy in a while. He’s very smart. This guy is going to fit perfect with what they want to do.”

The Redskins believe so, too.

“You like what you see on film,” Shanahan said. “As we all know, going from the collegiate level to the pro level, there’s always growing pains. Every quarterback goes through it, but he’s got such a big upside.”

It’s up to Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, then, to help Griffin reach that potential. Their scheme, replete with play-action passes and misdirection behind the line of scrimmage, suits Griffin’s skill set well.

Rex Grossman threw for 3,151 yards and 16 touchdowns in 13 starts last season despite his relative immobility and weaker arm. The upgrade Griffin’s athleticism represents answers the question of why the Redskins traded three first-round picks and this year’s second-rounder to position themselves to draft him.

“You look at the Redskins and then you look at the lineage of Mike Shanahan — where has his success been? John Elway, Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler — movement guys, run-the-ball, stretch, play-action,” said Ron Jaworski, former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst. “Big, strong-armed guys that get the ball down the field. He sees the quarterback to be prototypical like an RG3.”

Just don’t call Griffin a “dual-threat” quarterback. He doesn’t take that as a compliment.

“I think I’ve proven that I’m throw-first, and then run if I need to,” he said at the NFL scouting combine in February.

That refined approach had Montgomery overflowing with pride following Baylor’s Pro Day last month. As Baylor’s offensive coordinator, he watched Griffin progress from an athletically gifted quarterback of a flawed team to an elite passer surrounded by a supporting cast capable of winning 10 games last season.

Griffin’s accuracy rate increased in each of his four seasons, rising from 59.9 percent as a freshman to 72.4 percent during his Heisman Trophy campaign.

“We weren’t very good when we first got here, so he was able to extend plays and make things happen, make a lot of plays with his feet,” Montgomery said. “As we grew, so did he. His maturation process as a quarterback has really developed in the sense that now he’s manipulating the pocket. Now he’s doing things down the field. When you really look at it, he made umpteen zillion more plays with his arm this year than he did with his feet.”

Baylor’s spread offense, however, isn’t like the Redskins‘ scheme. Griffin at Baylor operated mostly out of the shotgun, reading defenders as part of the zone-read running game. That, by extension, requires different footwork on play-action passes.

Mike Shanahan has said he will tailor Washington’s offense to suit Griffin’s abilities, but Redskins coaches have little, if any, concern about Griffin’s ability to master drops and reads from under center.

“You learn quickly how to play under center,” said Jaworski, who once made a similar transition from a sidesaddle-T offense at Youngstown State to a pro-style offense. “You’re throwing 36,000-40,000 balls a year in the offseason, training camp. That’s a lot of work, so you overcome those little obstacles.”

Griffin has been practicing from under center all offseason, and he displayed his progress at Pro Day last month. He didn’t have to read defenses during that workout, but he completed 78 of 84 scripted throws. Many were NFL-style throws to the sideline, deep and on the run.

Briles reveled in that performance by the crown jewel of his program. What was once a secret he now was willing to shout to the whole world.

“This guy is special,” Briles said. “You take a guy that has that length and can run and he can throw accurately? Those guys don’t exist.”

Note: The Redskins on Monday signed unrestricted free agent tackle James Lee, who has appeared in 19 NFL games, all with Tampa Bay, since 2008.