Kyle Shanahan says Redskins don’t need to change offense to protect Griffin

Rex Grossman, Pat White, Kyle Shanahan

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, right, works with Pat White, center, and Rex Grossman on Wednesday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday that the Washington Redskins don’t need to eliminate the option-style running elements from their offense to protect quarterback Robert Griffin III during the upcoming season as Griffin returns from offseason knee surgery.

Shanahan, speaking to reporters after the team wrapped up a two-day minicamp at Redskins Park, echoed sentiments expressed earlier this offseason by his father, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan. Kyle Shanahan, like his father, said the team’s option game helps to safeguard Griffin by slowing down opposing pass rushes. He pointed out that Griffin was hurt last season on improvisational runs on passing plays, not designed runs, and he said that Griffin will learn to protect himself better by sliding at the end of runs and by throwing the ball away when under pressure.

“He stayed healthy last year running the zone read,” Kyle Shanahan said. “So I feel pretty good about that.  You really hope no one gets hurt. It’s hard to control injuries. … When you do the zone read, everyone [on the opposing defense] is accounted for. There’s not many free hitters in it.”

Griffin, last season’s NFL offensive rookie of the year, had surgery Jan. 9 to have the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his right knee repaired. He originally hurt his LCL during a game against the Baltimore Ravens, then reinjured his knee both early and late in the Redskins’ playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Mike Shanahan was widely criticized for allowing Griffin to stay in the Seattle game at the quarterback’s urging. Some analysts have said the Redskins should curtail Griffin’s running this season. Griffin said recently he had no problem with how he was used in the offense last season. But he also said he thanked his father for saying publicly that he would like to see his son throw the ball more frequently and run with it less often this season.

Mike Shanahan has defended the offensive system that the Redskins crafted for Griffin last season, which included the option game and other elements borrowed from the college version of the sport. Kyle Shanahan reiterated that Wednesday.

“You just look at all the zone-read clips,” Kyle Shanahan said. “I mean, not many big hits happened on that. Usually everyone is blocked for. You know who isn’t blocked. Look at the big hits. Look at what plays they were. The three injuries were pass plays. They weren’t the zone read. The zone read is something that I learned going through the year that I think really helped us. It’s the least pass rush I’ve ever seen as a coordinator — guys just sitting there scared to death, just watching everybody, not moving. I really enjoyed sometimes, actually, being able to drop back and not have four guys just teeing off on the quarterback, all trying to hit him in the pocket.”

Griffin also failed to finish a game against the Atlanta Falcons last season when he suffered a concussion.

Kyle Shanahan said what the Redskins do on offense this season will depend mostly upon what defenses do against them.

“I really can’t answer that until I see the defenses we face,” Shanahan said. “There’s nothing that we’re gonna do that says, ‘Hey, we are gonna do this’ or, ‘We’re gonna do that.’ The thing that’s awesome about having a guy like Robert is Robert is capable of being great at anything. It doesn’t matter whether it’s dropping back, play-pass, bootlegs, zone-read options. It really doesn’t matter. He’s capable of being great at all of it. So it’s fun when you coach a guy like that, that you really don’t have to force anything. We’re gonna do whatever the defense gives us and if they give us that, we’ll take it. If they take it away, it’s enjoy throwing the ball and doing other stuff too.”

Shanahan, like his father, said that Griffin will improve his quarterbacking self-preservation skills as a second-year pro.

“I’m Robert’s coach, so it’s my job to help him with everything,” Shanahan said. “It’s not just Robert. I think it’s every quarterback who’s ever played the game. A guy’s got to get used to sliding, knowing when to fight for yards, when not to fight for yards. I think it’s harder for guys their rookie years because the speed of the game’s a lot different. Where you used to have a little more time to slide, now people get up on you a little quick. And when someone gets up on you quick and you slide at the last second, that’s when you get hit under the chin and stuff. You’ve got to slide early, anticipate things.

“It’s not just Robert. It’s all quarterbacks. I think a lot of rookie quarterbacks, it takes time to get that feel and they learn through experience. And I think Robert had a lot of experience last year, and I think he’ll definitely be better from that. And we’ll keep harping on it, and I think it will come natural for him.”

Of course, even if the Redskins do plan to tweak their offense for Griffin, it’s unlikely that they would announce it now and give opponents so much time to adjust.

“The threat of Robert running was, to me, the thing that I enjoyed the most throughout the year,” Kyle Shanahan said. “I go crazy thinking about blitzes every week, how we’re going to pick all this stuff up. About halfway through the year, I’m starting to realize we’re not getting any of these blitzes I used to see. It takes a lot of stuff you used to worry about, you don’t get. The threat of a quarterback running makes defenses play sound. It makes them play 11 on 11 as opposed to 11 on 10 like they’d been doing my whole career that I’ve seen. And so just the threat of a quarterback who can run, especially in the running game with the zone read and everything, whether that’s working or not, just the threat of it opens up everything else.”

Griffin has said he thinks it is a realistic goal for him to be practicing with the team when training camp opens July 25 in Richmond. Mike Shanahan has said it will be up to doctors to determine when Griffin will be cleared to practice. Backup quarterback Kirk Cousins worked with the starting offense in offseason practices.

“It’s not tough to coordinate,” Kyle Shanahan said. “You do the same stuff. You work everybody, no matter who’s in there. It doesn’t matter what quarterback is in there. We’re really working the same plays and everything. You use some plays more with one guy than others. But you’re still working with all of them. The thing that’s frustrating is you know you’re eventually going to play with [Griffin] and you like to work him and practice with him. But you can’t do that. So it’s part of the injury and you’ve just got to wait and be patient and get ready when he comes back.”

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

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