Robert Griffin III tried to hide his pleasure on Wednesday afternoon when told coach Jay Gruden had been complimentary of his performance in practice the day before.
His façade didn’t last long.
After spewing pleasantries about ignoring such chatter, then reverting to clichés about teamwork, dedication and progress, a cheerful grin broke across the quarterback’s face, acknowledging that he had indeed appreciated the support from the Washington Redskins’ coach.
“No ifs, ands or buts about it, I feel great, the second year in the offense,” Griffin said. “I feel great about the guys around me working hard to get better, and that’s all that you can ask for.”
With workouts scheduled for Thursday canceled, and players meeting solely to watch film and review their efforts from the day before, the Redskins wrapped up their three-day minicamp and, in turn, the third and final phase of their offseason program.
They’ll reconvene in Richmond for the start of training camp in six weeks, when they’ll truly begin their second season under Gruden. For Griffin, who’s approaching his fourth year, it’s perilously close to a make-or-break season.
The No. 2 overall pick in the draft in 2012, Griffin is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract. The offensive rookie of the year that season, the quarterback has been unable to stay on the field, either because he’s been injured or ineffective. The contract option that the Redskins picked up for next season is guaranteed only if Griffin gets hurt; if he struggles, the team can cut him without penalty.
Though reluctant to talk about the future, Griffin understands it, which is why, through the two months of the Redskins’ offseason program, he has focused on improving. To aid in that pursuit, new quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, hired this past offseason, has worked to strip down and rebuild Griffin’s fundamentals.
A second year, and greater familiarity, with Gruden’s offense should also help.
“I think the transition for him into a new system last season was a little bit rocky for all of us,” Gruden said. “But when you have the same system going in for year two, I think he’s going to get better. You can see the progress every day that he makes, and it’s exciting to watch. It really is, with all three quarterbacks, actually. Robert, especially, is doing an excellent job every day. He’s not perfect, nobody is. I’m not perfect. But he’s really striving to be perfect, and he’s doing a great job of working.”
Two of Griffin’s greatest challenges — his decision-making and his pocket presence — won’t be fixed overnight, and they certainly can’t be overhauled in a series of limited, non-contact spring practices.
As part of those adjustments, Cavanaugh emphasized to Griffin that he must first find an appropriate base from which he can throw. Once that’s happened, Cavanaugh said he needs to learn to reset himself in situations when the pocket breaks down and suppress the urge to take off running.
“I think he understands that, and he’s been working real hard getting better at it every day,” Cavanaugh said. “There’s flashes where he goes on runs of 10, 12, 15 plays where everything is right, and then he’ll slip a little bit, but then he gets back. He now knows when he doesn’t feel comfortable, and he can figure it out watching on tape, so that’s encouraging.
“Getting better at anything, you’ve got to be aware of it, and I think he’s become very aware of some of the things that we want him to do a little bit differently — and like I said, he’s been working hard to get better.”
In Wednesday’s practice, when the Redskins focused on red-zone and goal-line situations, Griffin found Logan Paulsen in the corner of the end zone on a fade route that may have been out of bounds. The offense celebrated as the defense protested vehemently, but Gruden allowed the touchdown to stand.
Griffin, emphatic that the play counted, pumped his fist and celebrated. His excitement, and perhaps most importantly, his assurance, shone through.
“I just think we’re all feeling better about what we’re doing,” Griffin said. “Being the second year in the offense, I feel like we know a lot more than we did last year, and you know, for me as a player, you always have to be confident.”