New Redskins coach Jay Gruden has not yet met or spoken with star quarterback Robert Griffin III. And yet it is the relationship that will determine the course of a floundering franchise.
That lack of trust between the previous coaching staff, Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle, the offensive coordinator, led to fractured relationships with Griffin. Gruden's first mission is to build a relationship that avoids those pitfalls. But he likes the raw package that he'll be working with.
"I see a ton of talent [in Griffin]," Gruden said. "I see a guy that can run and a guy that can maneuver in the pocket. I see accuracy and I see long-ball accuracy and I see toughness. I see a guy that wants to win and I see a strong leader. I see every trait that a quarterback has to have to be successful."
What Gruden can't yet see is a finished product. Griffin's accuracy suffered in his second season and the reasons are many. After a brilliant rookie season, Griffin still had issues to tweak, but last January's knee injury took away his time to do so. His fundamentals were shaky throughout 2013, whether from the injury or just bad habits that crept into his game. He wasn't consistent going through his progressions when staying in the pocket, according to multiple current and former NFL personnel managers.
But Gruden still sees the high ceiling that pushed Washington's front office into making Griffin the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NFL draft at a cost of three first-round draft picks and a second-round selection. One rough season hasn't changed that opinion. And Gruden has a solid track record of getting the best out of quarterbacks with less talent.
Brooks Bollinger was a star college quarterback at Wisconsin and played seven seasons in the NFL. He was Gruden's starting quarterback in 2009 with the United Football League's Florida Tuskers, helping that team to the league championship game. Bollinger led the league in touchdown passes, completion percentage and passing yards that season under Gruden's tutelage.
"Well, if [Gruden] can help me, he can help anyone," Bollinger cracked. "You have to be creative, and some of the places he's been and the transitions he's made will help him. ... I see him as a guy who can do a really good job of looking at a player like that and saying, 'What does he do well, and how can I maximize that within what I know and I do well?' I don't see him inventing a ton of stuff or trying to go outside of who he is, but I think he can find plenty to fit [Griffin's] strengths."
Griffin remains on vacation and was unavailable to comment, though he did post on Twitter about how excited he was to get started working with Gruden. Agent Bob LaMonte, who represents Gruden and negotiated his five-year contract with the Redskins, made it clear that Griffin's presence was a major selling point for Gruden, who had interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings on Tuesday for that coach opening and with three other teams last offseason.
"I would say that it'll be interesting to see how fast [Griffin] progresses in it because he has nothing to fall back on. It's brand new for him," said Charley Casserly, a former Redskins general manager and an NFL analyst for CBS Sports. "Now that gets into a little bit of coaching, being able to take the guy and bring him along, which we have a track record on Gruden. He's good at this. So I would say the pressure now is on Griffin to respond."
Gruden's offense is from the West Coast tree that emphasizes short passes and has a drop-back passing structure similar to what Griffin was used to in his first two seasons. Gruden has added zone-read plays to his offense in Cincinnati, which ran more inside zone runs and power runs than the stretch plays more often employed by Washington under the Shanahans.
But by all accounts, the Xs and Os will take care of themselves. It is the relationship between Griffin and his new coach that is the early focus.
"It's got to be genuine. He's got to believe it, and I'm gonna let him know that I'm a trustworthy guy," Gruden said. "He's also got to understand that I expect a lot from the starting quarterback. I expect him to come in and prepare and work hard, and I expect him to take the blame on some throws. I expect him to be a great leader. I expect him to do extra things to be great."
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