What are we to think when we hear Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden talk about quarterback Robert Griffin III like he did Monday at Redskins Park?
“Robert had some fundamental flaws,” Gruden said. “His footwork was below average. He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-step drop when he should have taken three on a couple of occasions. That can’t happen. He stepped up when he didn’t have to step up, stepped into pressure, he read the wrong side of the field a couple of times.
“So, from his basic performance just critiquing Robert, it was not even close to being good enough to what we expect from that quarterback position.”
Listening to Gruden’s comments, my first thoughts were about Griffin’s remarkable 2012 rookie season, and Mike and Kyle Shanahan, and how we really didn’t realize what a miracle they pulled off with this quarterback.
They got this rookie — who according to his current coach, after 32 NFL starts, “isn’t even close to being good enough to what we expect from that quarterback position” — to throw for 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions while leading his team to a 10-6 record and the NFC East title.
If you take Gruden at his word, imagine how hard it must have been to get Griffin to perform at that level. Granted, physically, it was a different Griffin — a more dynamic Griffin, before the torn knee ligaments and surgery, his second such surgery. But what Gruden is talking about is a basic level of understanding of the position that Griffin didn’t forget on the operating table.
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This is the quarterback that Mike and Kyle Shanahan turned into a game-changer from the first snap he took in a regular season NFL game.
“His frame of mind is in the right place, it just doesn’t come out the right way sometimes, but I think he wants to get better,” Gruden said. “He knows he has a long way to go to get better and if he stays on the right track as far as work ethic and listening and preparing, then he will get there.”
I think he wants to get better? He has a long way to go to get better?
We’re a long way from the day after Christmas 2012 at Redskins Park, when Mike Shanahan gushed over Griffin.
“I love the way Robert has handled himself since he has been here,” Shanahan said. “He doesn’t handle himself like a rookie. He handles himself like a veteran the way he prepares, the way he works, the intangibles, how important football is. That is all the things you look for in a quarterback and he has all those things.”
Well, one of three things is going on — Gruden is way off base, Griffin has changed, or what Shanahan was feeding us about his star quarterback was a load of hooey.
Adding to the contrast is that it is clear that Griffin is a royal pain to deal with. You saw that come out when Gruden responded to questions about Griffin’s postgame comments following the embarrassing 27-7 loss Sunday to Tampa Bay.
He told reporters, “All the sacks are on me. When I say, ‘All the sacks are on me,’ I’m saying I can do better and I have to do better. I need every man in that locker room, player and coach, to look themselves in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better?’”
Some people took that as Griffin criticizing his teammates — “throwing them under the bus,” as the saying goes. I didn’t interpret it that way, but it did show that Griffin can’t get the words, “It’s all on me,” down his throat. He showed he listened to veteran safety Ryan Clark and others who have advised him to stand up there and take the hit when the team plays poorly — but he just can’t make the full commitment. The words stick in his throat.
Well, Gruden cleared his throat about his quarterback Monday.
“Robert needs to understand he needs to worry about himself, No. 1, and not everybody else,” Gruden said. “It’s his job to worry about his position, his footwork, his fundamentals, his reads, his progressions, his job at the quarterback position. It’s my job to worry about everybody else. And, yes, everybody else needs to improve. There’s no question about it. But it’s not his place.”
That’s as damning for the quarterback as any of the leaks that came out of Redskins Park last season.
Like I wrote two weeks ago, I believe Gruden’s bluntness in his public comments are not off the cuff simply because he’s “honest,” but rather is his purposeful effort to fight against the politics of Redskins Park. Whether that is the owner, the general manager or both, Gruden is armed with a five-year, $20 million contract, and his only chance to fight back is to go on the record with the problems facing this organization’s commitment to the savior quarterback.
Ironically, with all the criticism about the media coming from the locker room, it may be the media that Gruden sees as the only way to save his team.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.