It’s been four months since the Washington Redskins took Robert Griffin III with the second pick in the draft, and they still haven’t unwrapped the package. Oh, he’s played some in the preseason — a quarter here, a half there — but so far Mike Shanahan has given little indication of what his offense will really look like in New Orleans in Week 1, when the Saints are salivating on the other side of the line.
Some of this is to be expected, of course. August is a time for smoke and mirrors; the flavor of the month is always vanilla (or at least vanilla swirl). But even by those standards, Griffin remains exceedingly mysterious, much more so other recent rookie quarterbacks.
Want proof? Consider Saturday’s much-anticipated matchup at FedEx Field between RG3 and Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, the man taken ahead of him in the draft — a game won by the Redskins, 30-17. In barely more than two quarters, Luck threw 23 passes. That’s almost as many as Robert (31) will throw in the entire preseason (assuming Shanahan sticks to his plan to hold him out of Wednesday night’s finale against Tampa Bay).
Thirty-one passes might be enough for Tom Brady to get ready, but are they enough for a QB who’s in his first year in a system, who’s still getting used to dropping back from center? That’s the gamble Shanny is taking. It’s like he’s playing Texas Hold ‘Em with all the cards facing down. Nobody knows how he’ll employ Griffin’s many talents, especially the kid’s ability to run the option. He’s banking on RG3 being the X Factor early on, the Great Unknown.
Clearly, though, there’s a tradeoff: In his three preseason appearances, Griffin hasn’t gotten nearly as much experience reading defenses and making decisions as other rookie quarterbacks. Last preseason, I’ll just point out, Cam Newton threw 57 times and Andy Dalton 60. In the three years before that, Sam Bradford and Matt Stafford threw 55, Matt Ryan 59 and Joe Flacco 68. Luck, meanwhile, has thrown 64 with a game to go. (And while I’m at it, Jay Cutler threw 62 as a rookie when he played under Shanahan in Denver in 2006.)
In other words, aside from Mark Sanchez (37), every rookie QB in the past few years — the ones who’ve been starters from the get-go, I mean — has thrown about twice as many passes in the preseason as RG3 has. (And all of them, Sanchez included, played in all four preseason games.) Is this a good thing? Whatever happened to the idea that young players need to play under game conditions so they can make mistakes and learn from them? It’s an idea that’s embraced elsewhere in the NFL … pretty much everywhere but Washington.
But none of the Redskins, from the coach on down, seems much concerned about it. “I think he keeps on getting better and better — and more comfortable with what we’re trying to do,” Shanahan said after Griffin completed 11 of 17 for 74 yards and a touchdown in his final preseason tuneup. Still, averaging 4.4 yards per pass attempt against a defense like Indy’s is nothing to get excited about, particularly on a day when the running game averaged 5.4 yards per rush (and Alfred Morris averaged 7.6).
Part of the reason for that is that RG3 went 0-for-3 on deep balls, two of them to Pierre Garcon (one of which went off his fingertips) and the other to Leonard Hankerson. “It’ll come,” Robert said. “In those types of situations, you have to get used to a guy’s game speed. Once we get a few more reps, we’ll hit ‘em.”
Exactly. You have to get used to a guy’s game speed. And what better place to do that than in an Actual Game, even if it’s just a preseason game?
When I asked Santana Moss about Griffin’s unusually limited playing time (five quarters, basically), he said, “That’s what you’ve got practice for. We’ve done a lot this year in camp and OTAs.” Besides, he added, “People have been trying to do away with preseason games… . [How much Griffin plays in August] is never going to be enough. But he’s a young guy, and he’s only going to get better.”
Indeed he is. The question is: Is he progressing as quickly as, say, Luck is progressing? Andrew had no running game to speak of Saturday and far shakier protection, but he still managed to complete 14 of 23 for 151 yards and a TD (a perfect 31-yard toss T.Y. Hilton after avoiding the rush).
We won’t know for two weeks if Shanahan’s approach is the right one. Maybe he’s right. Maybe preseason games are overrated. Maybe RG3 will light up the Superdome in his NFL debut. Or maybe he’ll look like a young quarterback who needs more schooling — and should have gotten more schooling in the preseason.
In the meantime, Robert, enjoy your off day Wednesday.
• Dan Daly can be reached at email@example.com.
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