When asked about the intricacies of quarterbacking in the NFL that rookie Robert Griffin III still has to learn, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan ran off a laundry list: recognizing different defenses, reading three- and four-man fronts, reacting to different personnel groups, setting up blocking schemes, and so on.
“He’s working every day to know the insides and outs,” Shanahan said. “That’s what you’re hoping the guy is going to do. And you can tell he enjoys it.”
As a mobile quarterback, Griffin also must learn how to protect himself by knowing when to run, when to try to elude tacklers for extra yardage, and when to run out of bounds or slide to avoid punishing hits.
Shanahan, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur are working to educate Griffin on the mental aspects of the game. But Mike Shanahan said he expects Griffin to naturally develop a feel for how aggressive he needs to be with his feet.
Shanahan believes coaches can partially help protect a mobile quarterback with playcalling, but he said Griffin largely must cultivate those instincts on his own.
“When you look at what he did in college, he carried the ball  times, and when you carry the ball  times, you get a feel for when to slide and when to run out of bounds,” Shanahan said. “I think he’s got a natural feel for that, even in the open field. He’s 225 pounds, and he’s strong, very athletic, a lot of times he’ll outrun people. When he doesn’t have that angle, he’s very smart when to make the decision to slide, and in this league, you have to do that.”
Griffin, who averaged 4.3 yards per carry during his career at Baylor, has repeatedly stressed that he is a passer first and a runner second. He’s aware that in the NFL, the defensive players pursuing him are bigger, faster and stronger than his college opponents were. But Griffin says his approach to running versus sliding will not change at the professional level.
“If I need to slide, I’ll slide. If I need to run out of bounds, I’ll run out of bounds. But by no means will I play with fear,” Griffin said.
In practices, Griffin has eluded defenders in the backfield and sprinted upfield for large gains. Other times, he has taken off running, but has darted out of bounds instead. Griffin explained Tuesday that game situations will dictate how he approaches the running game.
“I’m not going to go out there and try to run people over. If it happens, it happens,” Griffin said. “But if it’s third-and-three and it’s a crucial point in the game, don’t expect me to be sliding. There’s a fine line between preserving yourself and playing smart. If it’s first-and-10, all right, I’ll slide, or whatever. … It’s all situational.”
Shanahan acknowledges that Griffin’s scrambling ability does subject him to additional risks. But the coach says that Griffin, like other great quarterbacks, has the intelligence necessary to help minimize those risks.
“It’s a two-edged sword,” Shanahan said. “I’ve had some running quarterbacks before. Steve Young was a 4.45 quarterback -- one of the fastest guys I’ve been around. He knew when to run. We had designed plays to run. Same thing with John Elway. John didn’t have the speed of Young, but he knew when to run, knew when defenses were set up. Robert’s very sharp. He’ll have the same type of feel. But there aren’t a lot of guys with 4.3 speed or 4.35 speed, or whatever his speed is at this time, but he’s extremely quick. He’ll make some plays that are off schedule, and that’s certainly a big advantage to us.”