RICHMOND — Rather than leave the ball in Alfred Morris’ hands and set his running back up for certain doom Wednesday afternoon, Robert Griffin III did something he’s become all-too-familiar during his first two seasons with the Washington Redskins.
Griffin pulled the ball away from Morris and ran it himself.
The result was, by the crowd’s response, the highlight of practice — a scamper down the left sideline where Griffin appeared to be pushed out of bounds after a 15-yard gain, but instead carried all the way down the field to the end zone, roughly 60 yards, for a touchdown.
It had the looks of a zone-read option — a play that was a staple of the Redskins’ offense during the last two years. Griffin denied that was the call, instead insisting that he wanted to avoid Morris getting stuffed by the defense and losing yards on the play.
But he acknowledged that the Redskins, under first-year coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay, plan to sprinkle the play into games this season when circumstances dictate.
“It’s a part of every quarterback who can move around a little bit in their game,” said Griffin, who ran a scant few zone-read plays later in the practice session. “Everybody’s run it, from [Green Bay quarterback] Aaron Rodgers all the way down the list. It’s something that you want to sprinkle in, keep a defense aware of, make them have to practice it, but it’s not something that you want to make a focal point of your offense.”
Washington did that the last two seasons under former coach Mike Shanahan and former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, asking Griffin, Morris, and a variety of receivers and backs to carry the ball when needed.
It was an especially useful strategy in 2012, Griffin’s rookie year, when there was still a novelty to running such a play in the NFL. That year, Griffin ran for 815 yards, a league record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and added seven touchdowns on 120 carries.
With Griffin recovering from offseason knee surgery last year, the Redskins ran the play less frequently. They still gave the defense a zone-read look, but Griffin often faked the handoff and threw the ball instead.
“He’s good at [running] it,” Gruden said. “It’s another way to attack the defense and get the numbers in your favor offensively. How much we’ll do is gonna be a game plan basis and how he feels about it and how we feel about the actual play going in each week. But it’s something that will be talked about every week, for sure.”
Griffin, Gruden and McVay have been vague on describing their type of offense, noting only that it would include multiple sets and a variety of formations. In reality, it looks similar to what the Redskins ran the last two seasons — a vaguely West Coast scheme that incorporates a healthy balance of stretch runs and bootlegs in the passing game.
Players spent much of the organized offseason workout session learning it, and the first five days of training camp were spent gradually installing it. By Tuesday, when the Redskins took their first day off, they had worked through the bulk of the playbook; on Wednesday, the offense worked through specific situations, such as the two-minute drill and goal line-to-go plays.
“We’ll mix in quick-gain screens,” Griffin said. “We’ll take our shots. We’ll run the ball. If a zone read creeps in there every now and then, it doesn’t bother me, but it’s whatever Coach Gruden and Coach McVay want to do there. There will also be situations where I can use my legs in passing sets and passing downs as well, so it’s not just an emphasis on, ‘Hey, we’re going to run.’”
Yet, they will. Gruden said he doesn’t want to turn to the zone read seven or eight times a game, but once or twice — mainly as a distraction for the defense — is a possibility.
That’s a similar recipe to the one he used in the last two years as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator while working with quarterback Andy Dalton.