ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Say this for Robert Griffin III: The kid knows how to make an entrance. Even behind a offensive line missing three starters Thursday night, he ran the Washington Redskins offense with confidence and polish. As crazy as RG3 Mania has been up to now, you get the feeling we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. If he keeps playing the way he did against the Buffalo Bills in the preseason opener, it won’t be long before fascination gives way to obsession.
Nobody would have been too bothered if Griffin, in his first appearance on the NFL stage, had shown occasional signs of being, well, a rookie. That is, if he’d overshot a receiver because his adrenaline was pumping too hard. Or if he’d misread a defense and thrown a ball where he shouldn’t have. There’s so much riding on him at the age of 22, so much invested in him, that it would only be normal if his performance sometimes reflected the weight of those expectations — never mind his relative inexperience at the most important position on the field.
As we’re quickly discovering, though, there’s very little that’s normal, athletically, about Robert Griffin III. And in the 7-6 win over the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium, all he needed was 14 snaps to remind us of that. In those plays, he completed 4 of 6 passes for 70 yards, had another ball dropped and another caught just out of bounds. (Or so the official ruled. Griffin wasn’t so sure.) His last throw, a high-arching screen to Pierre Garcon in the right flat, went for a 20-yard touchdown for the Redskins’ only score.
“You couldn’t have asked for much more,” Mike Shanahan said. “He managed the game well, got us in and out of the huddle … [made the right] reads … [went through his] progressions.”
But then, this is what Griffin does, what he’s always done. He’s used to these situations where all eyes are on him. He lives for these situations. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have won the Heisman Trophy and ended up, to the surprise of many, as the second pick in the draft.
“I’ve played football for a long time,” he said. “The game hasn’t changed. It’s just the size of the players and the talent level.”
He couldn’t help noticing, though, that the vanilla defenses that are so popular in preseason games aren’t nearly as difficult to decipher as the kitchen-sink-type schemes Shanahan has been throwing at him in camp to get him ready for New Orleans in Week 1. “I was able to read things a lot cleaner,” he said, and this enabled him to find Garcon for gains of 20 and 18 yards to set up the TD.
“He’s a rare breed,” another of his receivers, Josh Morgan, said. “He’s always watching film and picking everybody’s brain, just basically being a sponge.”
What also jumps out at you about Griffin — and did again Thursday night — is that he’s not trying to win any velocity contests. He only throws the ball as hard as he has to … and this makes it extremely catchable. “You ever see the movie ‘Little Giants?’ Morgan said. “He’s like Junior Floyd throwing those rolls of toilet paper. His passes are that soft.”
And yet, this was just an appetizer, a preview of coming attractions, the barest of hints of what Griffin might be capable of. Not once, for instance, did he show off his rare mobility — and either run the option (something the Redskins have added to their offensive repertoire) or take off from the pocket. He thought about running a keeper once, he said, but the linebacker was playing for it, so he threw instead.
That’s undoubtedly how it’s going to be in these preseason games, too. Shanahan will keep things very basic so that, when September roll around, opposing defenses will still be guessing what the Real RG3 is like.
“I’m not going to be running around as much as people like or want to see,” Griffin said. But then, he added, there wasn’t much need for that against the Bills. “I didn’t get touched [all night]. That was a great feeling. Nobody got near me on any of those [pass] plays.”
With Shanahan’s offense, as with all good systems, it’s mostly about Making The Plays That Are There To Be Made. In his Redskins debut, RG3 made a bunch of them. And before he’s through, he’s going to make a bunch more. Excited? You should be.
• Dan Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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