RICHMOND — Lofting footballs into a plastic bin was not the kind of quarterback competition expected to take place during the Washington Redskins’ training camp when last season ended. Another lurching season — dramatic, ineffective, at times bewildering — concluded with four wins and not much clarity at quarterback. Then, the Redskins named Robert Griffin III the starter and ended what at one time was an open fight.
So, when the three quarterbacks were throwing footballs from about 20 yards out toward a towel bin behind a gray net in the back corner of the end zone on Tuesday, the first head-to-head showdown took place. The only thing on the line was bragging rights, though Kirk Cousins joked the stakes could well escalate.
Griffin went first, Cousins second and Colt McCoy third. That’s how the trio is expected to show up on Thursday night in Cleveland, when the Redskins play their first preseason game against the Browns — a team with its own manic quarterback discussion.
Griffin is projected to play roughly the first quarter. Redskins coach Jay Gruden said a sustained early drive could be sufficient for Griffin in the first game. If they are in the middle of a long drive at the end of the first quarter and Griffin is still in, he would finish it. Cousins said he was told the second and third quarters will be his time, with McCoy closing. Cousins said he and McCoy are likely to swap that playing time Aug. 20 against the Detroit Lions in the team’s second preseason game.
“I want them to anticipate playing at least a quarter so they get in their frame of mind that they might have to go back out for a second or third series,” Gruden said of the starters Tuesday. “You tell them one series and it’s three and out, that’s not enough for us. We have got to make sure we get some plays on tape, get them back in the flow of playing football against a live pass rush. Our whole offense needs to do that, come off the football.”
Gruden stepped back from that level of commitment a day later, saying when the starters come out will be a “game-time decision.”
For the three quarterbacks, camp has been an avoidance of another ride down unsmooth road. The offseason announcement that Griffin would start at least settled the pecking order. Who takes what snaps is clear.
“Robert’s the starter, man,” McCoy said. “It’s been that way since OTAs.”
That doesn’t mean that Cousins and McCoy, who each started at one point last season, are not grinding in Richmond and even before camp.
Cousins spent the time between the end of veteran minicamp and the start of training camp working with a quarterbacks coach and trainer.
“Whether it’s my movement skills, throwing mechanics or feet, just trying to work on those,” Cousins said. “I think it’s important for me to have another pair of eyes to provide feedback. Trying to work with somebody else who can provide feedback so it’s not just me out there guessing.”
He’s often stayed after practice in camp, either throwing to a receiver or working with a team employee. Those sessions are dedicated to correction and elimination. If Cousins missed a throw or read during practice, he stays afterward to work on the error. Specifically, he’s working more on red-zone throws, fades, back shoulder throws and slants in tight windows, feeling there can never be enough work on the latter because the margin for error is so slight.
“Just trying to maximize the time,” Cousins said. “Find areas that need improvement. Work at them until they’re improved and try to make those weaknesses irrelevant.”
All three say being in the second year in Gruden’s system is beneficial. McCoy said it’s his first time being in the same system for consecutive NFL seasons. Cousins said he understands the protection calls better now. Griffin has been on-point this week leading into the game. He called Tuesday’s practice his best of camp from a mental and fundamental standpoint.
“But it helps when you have guys in the right spot, where they’re supposed to be,” Griffin said. “That’s what we’ve been preaching the entire time, everybody has to do their job and my job is take the ball, get us in and out of the right checks and make sure we’re moving the ball.”
McCoy was drafted in the third round by Cleveland in 2010. His three seasons with the Browns did not go well. He played 13 games in 2011 and threw 14 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, yet said he has fond memories of the time and continues to be friendly with several people in the organization. His time in Cleveland was the most he has played since entering the league from Texas with the most Texas of names.
The universal answer from each when asked for a Thursday night goal was simply to move the ball. Rhythm, “getting everyone on the same page,” and, essentially, not screwing up round out the quarterback ambitions for the first night.
After flying back from Cleveland, the Redskins’ quarterbacks will have three more days in Richmond. By the end, more than pride could be on the line when the plastic bin is rolled back into the end zone.