Year 1 of the Robert Griffin III-Jay Gruden Era is upon us. And like most newlywed couples, they look wonderful together.
Griffin is fully recovered from the knee injury that severely hampered his performance last season. He seems happier and more relaxed, partially due to the absence of a knee brace and partially due to the absence of coach Mike Shanahan.
Gruden is eager, energetic and enthusiastic, raring to start his first training camp as an NFL head coach. Son of a football lifer, brother of a Super Bowl-winning coach, Gruden is anxious to make his own mark under the family name.
Griffin and Gruden seem perfect for each other at this stage of their respective careers. They’re prime candidates to grow old and gray together — which is about 10 years for such duos — poised to join the ranks of Tom Brady-Bill Belichick, Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin, Drew Brees-Sean Payton and Ben Roethlisberger-Mike Tomlin.
Many thought Griffin and Shanahan were in it for the long haul, too, thought they could re-create the synergy that existed in Denver when the coach and John Elway won back-to-back Super Bowls together. Shanny was the old-school pro who would develop the budding star in RG3.
But Shanahan didn’t shape and mold the young QB.
He bent and nearly broke him instead. Shanahan might as well have been another defender delivering crushing blows as Griffin failed to slide.
We’ll never know what might’ve happened if RG3 wasn’t injured in the disheartening postseason loss against Seattle. That led him to rush back and led Shanahan to OK it, suspect moves at the time that are clearly boneheaded in hindsight.
The feel-good from an unexpected NFC East title in 2012 drained steadily during another 3-6 start last year, which this time wasn’t followed by a miraculous run to the playoffs. Griffin’s and Shanahan’s reputations deservedly took hits, each man appearing to blame the other for individual and collective shortcomings.
But unlike recent years when seasons crumbled, dysfunction ran amok and name plates changed on the coach’s office, the team believes it has a franchise quarterback. That’s what separates Gruden and Shanahan from predecessors Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs and Jim Zorn.
The team sold us on Griffin-Shanahan and it was marvelous for a moment, before all the cracks and flaws surfaced. Now the Griffin-Gruden pairing is supposed to restore our faith that Washington can be more than a controversial NFL laughingstock under owner Dan Snyder.
Snyder has been consistent if nothing else, alternating between proven entities (Shanny, Schotty and Gibbs) and unknown commodities (Spurrier, Zorn and Gruden).
Perhaps he can coax Mike Ditka out of retirement if this doesn’t work.
But Gruden has plenty of weapons to stave off unemployment, none more important than RG3’s faith and confidence, though Alfred Morris, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon aren’t bad, either. Hired for his fine work as the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator, Gruden is charged with keeping Griffin happy, healthy and productive.