Robert Griffin III’s physical limitations push him to sharpen mental tools

Robert Griffin III

Robert Griffin III throws at Thursday’s practice. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

If there was such a thing as a positive about the knee injuries that slowed him toward the end of last season and then required surgery to repair this past winter, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III believes that the physical limitations have led to him improving his mental approach to the game.

In the final two regular season games – when Griffin was hobbled by the sprained LCL – and the playoff game against Seattle, where he further injured himself, the quarterback lacked his usual speed and mobility. That forced him to rely more on his abilities to dissect coverages and move through his pass progressions.

This offseason, Griffin hasn’t been able to be on the field, practicing with teammates because he is rehabbing his reconstructed right knee. The physical restrictions have led to more film study.

“A lot of film work, watching the film – alone and with the coaches, within the rules of the CBA,” Griffin said. “That part of it helps, and I was talking to the guys about [it] toward the end of last year, being slowed down kind of slowed the game down for me, because I had to slow down, and it made me have to get through all of my reads. That’s what I’m getting forward to doing this upcoming season: getting through every single option that I need to get through, and while at the same time, being able to use my legs as a weapon.”

Griffin last season threw for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 65.6 percent of his passes. His completion percentage and passer rating of 102.4 ranked among the league leaders. That’s not the quarterback’s concern, however.

“I’m not a big stat-guy … but for me personally, you just work on everything: footwork, you can always be more accurate,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone complete 100 percent of their passes throughout a whole season, so you can always do that. For me, the biggest part was mastering the offense first, so I can continue to beat teams with my mind and get guys in the right position. Really, it’s about getting the guys around you to play better, and play for you.”

Griffin said while studying himself, he has seen areas where he can improve, and he expects that when he does make a full return to the field, his decision making will have improved even more.

“You try not to second-guess,” he said, “but the touchdown-to-interception ratio was pretty good, so yeah, were there some throws that you look back and today, ‘could I have made them?’ Yeah, I probably could have made them. But that’s why you play the game, and the more you play the game, the better you get. You can always get better. You never rest on what you did last year.”

Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said he thinks Griffin is experiencing the natural progression that is to be expected of a player with his mental capacity and work ethic.

“When you come in your first year, you’re just trying to learn the terminology of the system and everything’s coming at you a thousand miles an hour,” Shanahan said. “Your second year, you feel comfortable with the system. You’ve been through check-off systems, you’ve been through blitzes, you’ve been through the running game, you’ve been through the passing game, the drop-back, third down. You’ve been through it all. So in the second year, it does slow down a little bit, and people do feel more comfortable. Now you can study defenses. He feels comfortable with the running game, feels comfortable with the passing game, the check-offs, third downs, different hot [reads], and it does slow down for him. If you keep on studying the game, you keep getting better and better.”

Griffin did reach another physical milestone this week as he was cleared to begin cross-field sprints, and he also went on a two-mile run this week. But while physical accomplishments are important, he also believes honing the mental skills carries as high a priority.

“That’s been a big part,” he said, “but still got to make sure I stay focused on not just the rehab part, but also, paying attention, getting the mental reps and making sure I know it like the back of my hand.”

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