- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2014

When the Washington Redskins hired Jay Gruden to be their next coach, they did so with a nod toward using Gruden’s extensive experience as a quarterback and a coach to repair Robert Griffin III.

Griffin, entering his third NFL season, had a troublesome 2013, which began with two torn ligaments in the quarterback’s right knee and ended with him standing on the sidelines. In between was a rollercoaster of emotion — the advertising campaigns fueled by Adidas and Gatorade hyping his return from surgery, the drawn-out return to the practice fields, the frequent struggles and victories in only three of the Redskins‘ 16 games.

Sunday, however, marks a new beginning — an opportunity, beginning with a road game in Houston, for Griffin to truly move on from the experiences that have bogged down his past.

“Everyone’s going to be flying around,” Griffin said. “It’s like the Super Bowl for everybody. Everyone wants to get out there, play for real, play four quarters and win a game. That’s what we plan to do. But yeah, I’ll be excited, ready to go, just like the rest of the guys.”

Griffin was held out of the preseason a year ago, forbidden from playing by then-coach Mike Shanahan in an attempt to keep him healthy for the nationally televised opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

In some ways, this preseason wasn’t much better. Griffin, in action for parts of three of the four games, displayed a noticeable inconsistency in his play. He struggled to develop the right timing with his receivers, occasionally showed faults in his mechanics, and stubbornly refused to make the safe decisions while running, either by ducking out of bounds or sliding to end the play.

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The decisions Griffin made in those games drew the ire of critics and commentators, local and national — many of whom have ruthlessly dissected Griffin’s play and insisted the Redskins should give backup Kirk Cousins a shot at claiming the starting role.

Perhaps the most notable voice was that of Joe Theismann, the former Redskins quarterback who provided color commentary for three of the four preseason games. Theismann, employed by the team’s Redskins Broadcast Network, noted near the end of the game against Baltimore on Aug. 22 that if such a competition took place, Cousins would win the job.

Gruden has consistently downplayed any talk of Griffin being anything but the starter, giving him that role when he was introduced as coach Jan. 6 and publicly supporting him in every opportunity since then.

The only reason Griffin’s play is being picked apart, Gruden surmised, is because of the presence of the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning and the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady — “maybe two of the greatest players of all time at the position,” Gruden said.

“For people to think that a second- or third-year quarterback should be at that level is asinine,” Gruden said. “People don’t understand how hard it is to play that position. We’re just slowly starting to begin that process with Robert, and the more that we can show him and he can learn from the guys that have played it and mastered it, the better.”

At Baylor University, Griffin worked within the confines of a pass-heavy spread offense, which allowed him to make easy, wide-open throws and led to him winning the Heisman Trophy following the 2011 season.

Knowing the unique talent Griffin displayed, Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, tried to tailor the Redskins‘ offense around the quarterback’s abilities. They recognized he still had a way to go as a pocket passer, so they relied heavily upon a strong running game and moving him out of the pocket to create options downfield.

“The first year, they were successful with the run, the zone-read, the play action, that the offense was wide-open — it was easy,” Gruden said. “The second year, people saw it on tape. Those play-action passes weren’t that easy. They were forced into some more third down-and-longs, so now they’re saying, ‘OK, drop back and handle these blitzes.’ Now you’ve got to read it. If you don’t practice that, it’s very difficult.

“So, my intent was, ‘Let’s work on the running that we’re doing to do, and then let’s throw in some pass concepts and drop-back concepts and we’ll let him learn by experience and see what he can do and how much he can do.’ He can always hand it off. He can always do a zone-read. Let’s challenge him. Let’s push the envelope and try to build him as a quarterback.”

Gruden, previously the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, oversaw an offense that improved from the bottom third in total yards in the NFL in 2010, the year before he arrived, to No. 10 in the league this past season.

His goal for Griffin is simple: When the running game isn’t pacing the offense, the quarterback will be responsible for quickly getting the ball to his playmakers — wide receivers Pierre Garçon, DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts — and letting them gain yards.

Since leaving Baylor, Griffin has desired to be known as a pocket passer, brusquely objecting to a suggestion during training camp that he made his name by running the ball.

When the season opens against on the road against the Texans, Griffin, fully healthy and with a supportive coaching staff, won’t have any more excuses.

“We don’t have anything to prove to anybody else out there,” Griffin said. “All we have to do is go out and be the team that we know we can be. I guess if you want to say it, we have a lot to prove to ourselves within this building, and it’s about all of us going out there and being successful.

“Like I’ve said many times this offseason, they go as I go. If I play well, we play well. If I don’t play well, we don’t play well. I understand that. They understand that, and I’m gonna do my best and I promise I’ll play well for them.”



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