A year ago, Robert Griffin III was focused on his rehabilitation, worrying more about the present than the future. Now, he seems much more relaxed, much more focused.
In a wide-ranging telephone interview, Griffin addressed not only the circumstances of his finish to last season, when the Redskins went 3-13 and lost their last eight games, but also the way he's been preparing for the next one.
It's a difference from a year ago, when Griffin spent the entire offseason recovering from surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his right knee. After taking three weeks off following the end of the 2013 season, he began a 10-week program to lead into the start of the Redskins' offseason workouts, which began on April 7 and will resume on Monday after a week-long hiatus with positional drills and individual work.
Griffin has been working to strengthen his knee, not rehabilitate it. He has fine-tuned his delivery and spent time quickening his release. Above all, he has come to terms with the way last season ended, insisting that he was shut down because of injury concerns, not benched because of his performance.
That decision, made by then-coach Mike Shanahan, was a mere blip in an otherwise chaotic end of the season. A series of anonymously sourced reports released weekly by national media outlets targeted Griffin and his relationships with Shanahan, then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and owner Dan Snyder, inevitably leading to the firing of Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan and several other assistant coaches on Dec. 30.
"I know it's not a good reflection of what this team is or what this organization is, so all that did was show me, personally, who I'm not, and it really just strengthened our resolve as a team and our character to move forward this year," Griffin said. "We could go with clichés all day, but the fact of the matter is that it made me better, in my opinion, and that's just the way that I look at it and I know that's the way that my teammates look at it. We feel like we're in a better place today than we were then, and that's what it's all about it. That's what it's about – it's about moving forward from it."
The Redskins hired Jay Gruden as their next coach on Jan. 6 – coincidentally a year to the day after Griffin underwent knee surgery – and had his coaching staff mostly in place by the end of the month.
Per the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Griffin wasn't allowed to talk about football with Gruden, but the two did begin to build their relationship during that time. Gruden's first message to Griffin early on is that the coaching staff and the players are "in this thing together," and only by being united can the team achieve success.
"That's the only thing that you can ask for," Griffin said. "He's a guy that sees a thing from a quarterback's perspective. It's been a blessing to have him in the meeting room with us to talk about certain things, so I look forward to continuing to grow in that relationship."
Several players have said in recent months that the atmosphere around Redskins Park has changed significantly with Gruden at the helm. Griffin, too, didn't dispute that point.
"It's hard to describe unless you've been here to feel it, but it's just one of those moments where you kind of go, 'Ahh,'" Griffin said. "No one's relaxed in a lackadaisical way. It's just that guys are kind of able to be themselves. That's not a comparison or knock on anything that happened in the previous regime. It's just a testament to what Jay has brought to the table, and I think guys are excited about that."
In late March, Griffin organized a passing camp for several teammates, including wide receivers Pierre Garçon, Andre Roberts, Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson and Nick Williams, as well as tight end Jordan Reed and running backs Evan Royster and Chris Thompson. The group worked for four hours each morning over six days, focusing not merely on drills but also on speed work and dynamics and conditioning.
Their goal was to return for the start of organized workouts as one united group, but Griffin knows that all the preparation means nothing unless the Redskins begin winning games.
"We can talk all day about what we're going to do and how we're going to do it, but if we don't go out and do it, it doesn't matter," Griffin said. "I know our guys. We'll have it on the inside, in this building, and we'll know what this brand of football is. It's about us showing that to you guys."
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