- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As Robert Griffin III high-stepped down the sideline Sunday, viciously spiking the ball as he ran, the Redskins quarterback looked like a former version of himself.

Eighteen days had passed since Griffin was benched by coach Jay Gruden in favor of Colt McCoy, a journeyman playing for his third team in three seasons. But even before then, Griffin had seemed out of whack. He was unusually indecisive in the pocket and hesitant to make plays with his legs in losses to Tampa Bay and San Francisco. His press conferences, usually honest and energetic, had devolved into repeating a single phrase — “focused on San Francisco” — for seven minutes straight.

Griffin maintains that his approach hasn’t changed this season. Even after being benched, he said, his confidence never wavered.

But as he high-stepped down the sideline, celebrating a first-half touchdown that was later overturned in Washington’s 24-13 loss to the New York Giants, an older version of himself reappeared, if only for a moment.

“You’ve got to go out there when your number is called and be ready to go and play with an enthusiasm and a fire in your belly,” Griffin said, “and that’s what I did.”

Griffin still has not led the Redskins to a win in more than a year, and he still has much to improve upon from a fundamental standpoint, but his renewed confidence in recent days has been clear. And it will only continue to grow as he steps back into the starting role.

The Redskins placed McCoy on injured reserve with a pinched nerve in his neck, leaving Griffin in line to close out the season’s final two games, beginning Saturday against the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s an opportunity for the Redskins to finish the season on a high note, and for Griffin in particular to reestablish himself as a viable starter moving forward.

“Yeah, I haven’t played very many games this year, so my goal is to always go out there and be the guy,” Griffin said. “And that’s my only focus. So I’m not really worried about anything else.”

Griffin said he’s “in a great place mentally” despite his benching, Gruden’s harsh public criticism of his mechanics last month, and various reports of his sinking popularity in the locker room.

Though Griffin was woefully ineffective for much of the second half Sunday, Gruden said he has noticed a small change in the third-year quarterback’s level of confidence.

“I think he might have been pressing a little too much early in the season, putting a little bit too much pressure on himself and therefore some of the troubles incurred,” Gruden said. “But he’s taken this game, taken this game plan and these plays and has a better understanding and a little bit more confidence. I don’t expect perfection from him, but we want to see improvement from a weekly basis.”

Specifically, Gruden said he would like to see Griffin continue to improve his decisiveness in the pocket, his ability to diagnose opposing coverages and quickly deliver the ball. The first-year coach added, however, that those skills take time to develop, “especially when you’re learning new concepts with a new system.”

Gruden also was critical of Griffin’s tendency to stay on the ground briefly after being sacked or hit. When asked specifically about one such play, a sack late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Gruden said Griffin’s delay altered which plays were called.

“He’s got to get up. He’s got to get up quicker,” Gruden said. “He has got to avoid those crazy falls if he can, but he’s such a competitor and tries to get every inch that he can that sometimes he puts himself in harm’s way. But that’s Robert being Robert. He just has got to understand that as a starting quarterback, you’ve got an obligation to stay healthy for this football team, and sometimes you need to avoid some hits, get the ball out of your hands and live to fight another day.”

When asked about Gruden’s comments, Griffin said, “I’m not going to over-analyze that stuff, guys. I’ll get up. That’s all that matters.”

Since his controversial postgame press conference Nov. 16, Griffin has made every attempt to squash potential headlines. He has gone through several phases of interaction with the media, from his “focused on San Francisco” press conference to silence and then polite cliches following his benching. For the most part, he has shut down his social media accounts.

On Tuesday, Griffin seemed to revert to his normal self, explaining that his relative silence on Twitter and Facebook is by design. He said he’ll become more active on social media after the season.

“I just felt like for me, anything that I was saying — whether it was positive or negative, whether it was a positive re-tweet or anything like that — it was getting twisted and turned, against me and against this team,” Griffin said. “So I felt like I shouldn’t say very much. … I feel like I can be free up here and talk to you guys, but sometimes things get twisted and turned and it creates a distraction for the team. I didn’t want that to happen.”

After the ups and downs that this season has provided, Griffin and the Redskins now find themselves in a spot similar to where they were last year. Washington is looking for any semblance of momentum that a win would provide. And Griffin, back to his normally gregarious self off the field and back in the starting role on it, will look to take the bright spots from last week and build upon them.

“You’ve got to go out there and have fun and play the game the way you know how to play it,” Griffin said. “So that’s the only real focus.”

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