The preservation of Robert Griffin's body is paramount to the Redskins. After ACL and LCL injuries late in 2012, then a lackluster 2013, Griffin's ability to avoid hits when he can is under scrutiny.
Monday night in the Redskins' 24-23 preseason win against the Cleveland Browns, Griffin was banged around, slid oddly and even walked gingerly at one point.
Afterward, there was little concern about his health. He had a thigh contusion and will be fine, according to coach Jay Gruden. There was more issue with his approach, however.
"Something we have to continue to talk to him about," Gruden said. "How important he is to this team and the franchise and when he gets out of the pocket, he needs to protect himself. He's had a habit in his career of being able to get himself out of those predicaments with his speed and athleticism, but here, it being a 16-game season with the great talent across the league in the NFL, he's got to pick his shots and learn how to get down a little bit better."
Griffin ran four times for 24 yards. Each time he took off, the stadium felt on edge.
"I got caught in an awkward situation on the first one," Griffin said. "I tried to slide. It was a bad attempt at a slide."
Griffin, aware of the tension around his running, tried to reassure the masses.
"The fans have nothing to worry about there," Griffin said. "I'll keep getting better at that, I promise you that."
Flags were flying
Officials called the Redskins for 11 penalties, costing them 100 yards. The Browns were whistled for 10 penalties and lost 54 yards. Defensive holding, a point of emphasis for the officials this season, was called six times – and four times on Cleveland.
"Hopefully they'll see that this is really slowing the pace of the game down and give us an opportunity to play a little football," Redskins free safety Ryan Clark said. "Nobody wants to see Peyton Manning get beat by 40 points in the Super Bowl. I think a lot of people thought that the Seattle defense did a lot of holding and grabbing. They switched it once when New England was able to stop the Colts and they switched it again. That's just how the game works."
The three officials who worked the game – referee Terry McAuley, umpire Bryan Neale and field judge Dyrol Prioleau – were the ones who made the Redskins aware of the rule changes in Richmond earlier this month.
Also among the points of emphasis this season will be the pre-snap movement of a quarterback. Twice Monday night Griffin was called for a false start after giving a hard cadence and moving his body as he yelled, something that has been standard in the league for years.
"I don't know if those are called in the regular season or not," Gruden said.
Grant keeps grinding
With little opponent tape to watch at this point, Redskins rookie wide receiver Ryan Grant is left to watch himself.
As the tape rolls, Grant is looking for flaws. For instance, he wants to be able to "take the air out of the release" so a cornerback can't position himself sideways and shove Grant off a route early.
Grant played against press coverage every day at Tulane.
"I don't want (cornerbacks) to just sit there," Grant said.
He's developed release techniques to get loose at the line and produce the kind of separation that allows a four-reception, 44-yard night like he had Monday against the Browns.
He also caught a 14-yard touchdown from Kirk Cousins. In two preseason games -- with the usual caveat that it's preseason and against backups -- Grant has seven catches for 81 yards. More importantly, he's shown one of the most elusive concepts for rookies: consistency.
"Ryan Grant continues to make plays like has been all camp," Gruden said.
Thomas makes it through a game
After missing last season because of a Lisfranc injury and the first preseason game because of a hamstring injury, second-year safety Phillip Thomas completed his first game with the Redskins on Monday night.
Thomas said he was rusty, which is no surprise considering the amount of time he had lost.
"It feels like it's been five years," Thomas said. "But, I was excited to get out there and play with all my brothers in the secondary."
Thomas made one tackle and had one pass defensed. A meager, but well-received statline considering the circumstance.
"Tonight was just me getting my feet wet," Thomas said. "I need to work on some of my reads and keys. Get a little better with my movement."
Goal line grind is halted
The Redskins' No. 1 offense set up first-and-goal from the Browns' 3-yard line at the start of the second quarter and failed to score. After running back Alfred Morris picked up two yards on first down, the Redskins failed three times from the 1-yard to get across the goal line. On fourth down, it was initially ruled Morris scored. After a replay review, the touchdown was overturned.
Gruden immediately knew where blame for failing to score from so close should be directed.
"The play-calling," Gruden said with a laugh. "I've learned that through the media."
Gruden is making those decisions this season in his dual role as coach and play-caller. One of the challenges of goal-line situations is they are not often practiced. The risk of injury is too great.
"You don't want to have that mosh pit in there and have people rolling on people's knees and ankles," Gruden said. "Because the amount of times you do goal line in the games is limited. So, we have to do a good job of walking through our goalline runs and our goal-line offense. We just didn't do a good job of executing."
Low injury cost
Running back Chris Thompson keeps slipping back in the competition for a 53-man roster spot.
Thompson (sprained ankle) did not play Monday night against the Cleveland Browns in the Redskins' second preseason game.
Also out were tight end Mike Caussin (knee), linebacker Darryl Sharpton (high right ankle sprain) and defensive end Jason Hatcher (left knee surgery). None of those players were expected to play.
Cornerback Tracy Porter had a hamstring issue that took him off the field. Left tackle Trent Williams hurt his shoulder a bit. Williams spent some time on the ground in pain after Morris was stuff on fourth down at the goalline.
Linebacker Rob Jackson left the game with a shoulder sprain.
Gruden thinks each will be fine.
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