In Robert Griffin III’s world, there’s a difference between anxiety and nervousness.
“When you’re anxious,” he says, “you can’t wait to go succeed.”
Know, then, that Griffin will be way more anxious than nervous Thursday night when the curtain rises on his NFL career in the Washington Redskins’ preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills.
Griffin’s first game action will consist only of 12 to 20 plays, and it surely will not feature the various option concepts coach Mike Shanahan plans to employ this season. But it should be enough to measure how well Griffin is adapting to the speed of the NFL, his ability to read basic defenses, and his decision-making with the ball after two weeks of training camp.
The Redskins’ new franchise quarterback is eager to make a strong first impression and showcase his progress as fans await his unveiling with more anticipation than a kid on Christmas morning.
“I’m not going to make it too big to where I can’t seize it,” Griffin said. “I’m just going to go out, have fun and do what coach asks me to do.”
Ultimately, Shanahan’s mandate will be to reverse this woebegone franchise’s fortunes. But at such an early stage, his message is simpler.
“Just prepare yourself,” Shanahan said. “Know the plays that are being called and go out there and try to just concentrate play by play. Let the plays happen. Don’t try to make it happen.”
The Redskins are coming off a 5-11 season and their fourth consecutive last-place finish in the NFC East division. Shanahan targeted Griffin as the quarterback to spark their turnaround.
His elite speed, strong arm and sharp mind helped him win the Heisman Trophy at Baylor last season.
Those attributes are why Shanahan believes Griffin fits well into his offensive scheme, replete with misdirection in the backfield.
Griffin has flashed them throughout training camp, but there are signs his rise will be gradual instead of immediate.
His accuracy during team drills has been inconsistent at times, and he occasionally holds the ball too long in the pocket.
Those growing pains are expected and accepted on the practice field, coaches say.
“That’s a learning curve for everybody because in college, no matter what you do, guys can hold on to it a little bit longer than you can in the NFL,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “That’s a progression that comes. No matter what you learn in practice, you have to get rid of it quicker and quicker, but they really don’t hit you in practice. He’ll learn that in each game, too.”
Whatever first impression Griffin makes Thursday night will occur in the context of a scaled-down offense.
The Redskins plan to take advantage of Griffin’s speed and athleticism during the regular season by calling a variety of plays in which he either runs the option or carries the ball by design. There’s no reason to run those plays in the preseason, though.
Not only does Mike Shanahan want to keep those a secret as long as possible, he also does not want to expose Griffin to unnecessary contact in an exhibition game.
That means Griffin must continue to work on the footwork and mechanics of option plays and fakes during practice.
But these preseason games still are valuable because he’ll gain experience reading opposing defenses — albeit vanilla ones — and developing timing with receivers.
“It’ll be interesting to see what happens,” Griffin said. “By no means am I looking to run a lot in the preseason or in this preseason game. Hopefully, I can go out, we can protect, we can throw the ball around and be successful.”
And how, exactly, will Griffin measure success Thursday?
“A couple good drives, all touchdowns, 70-yard touchdown throws to Pierre [Garcon] and Josh [Morgan], all that,” he said. “These fans are going to be excited, so I think if we go out and put together a good drive, get the ball to Pierre, [Chris] Cooley, Santana [Moss], all those guys get a touch, I think the fans will be satisfied. And, of course, win the game.”