Redskins Mailbag: Areas of improvement for RGIII, and more …


Robert Griffin III looks to improve his effectiveness as he enters his second season. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Things have come to a bit of a lull on the Redskins front with players now a couple weeks into their summer vacation. Just five weeks, and things will get cranking as the players report for training camp and begin laying the groundwork for the 2013 season.

The latest bit of Redskins news came Friday evening as Robert Griffin III wrapped up another week of rehab, and after three straight days of cutting and change of direction drills, hadn’t experienced any setbacks.

Also, in case you missed it, Sam Huff has retired from his position as a part of the Redskins’ radio broadcast.

This week’s mailbag is heavy on RGIII, with his progression as a player, his recovery and habits ranking among the questions sent in from readers, and there are a few other interesting topics as well. So, let’s begin.

I have often read about the progression of a second-year quarterback from his rookie season. How could RGIII improve much from last year’s fabulous season?

– David Schroeder

As impressive as Griffin’s rookie campaign was, he still wasn’t perfect. Some of his goals this offseason (in addition to getting healthy) include improving his feel for defenses, command of the offense, and decision making. Improvement in all of those areas will help make him even more of an effective quarterback. The Redskins last season struggled particularly on third downs, converting only 35.8 percent of those plays for first downs. (The Patriots led the league by converting 48.7 percent of their third downs for first downs.)

Of all the downs, Griffin was least effective on third downs. He completed 69.7 percent of his second-down passes (85 for 122) and 66.5 percent of first down throws (105 for 158). However, his completion percentage dropped to 59 percent on third downs (62 for 105). Additionally, after averaging 9.79 yards per first-down completion, and 8.14 yards per second-down completion, Griffin averaged just 5.84 yards per pass on third downs. Compare Griffin’s third-down completion percentage to those of Aaron Rodgers (63.9), Peyton Manning (62.9) and Tom Brady (61.3), and you’ll see room for growth.

Also, a franchise quarterback must be at his best in crunch time. Griffin was most effective in the second quarter of games, completing 68.7 percent of those throws for an average of 9.0 yards per pass in that quarter. Of his 20 touchdown passes last season, 10 of them came in second quarters. Griffin’s completion percentage dipped to 62.7 in the fourth quarters of games, and he averaged just 6.68 yards per completion. He threw four fourth-quarter touchdown passes last season. His passer rating in second quarters was 126.3. It was 86.1 in the fourth quarters of games. Griffin also suffered 13 fourth-quarter sacks as opposed to eight in the first, three in the second and six in the third quarter all season long.

How can RGIII look so good barely six months after having ACL, LCL and meniscus [surgery] while players with less repairs like Tampa Bay’s Darrelle Revis and the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose take so long in their return?  Does the disparity in the healing time-frames make any sense? 

– Olufemi A. Adepoju

It’s because no two bodies are the same. Robert Griffin III appears on pace for a speedy return from his knee reconstruction, but he’s not the only example of such a comeback. Remember, Adrian Peterson tore his ACL in December of 2011 and returned by the start of the 2012 season. Carson Palmer in 2006 tore his ACL in the playoffs (January) and returned by the third preseason game. Meanwhile, the same year that Peterson made his comeback, a guy like Tim Hightower tore his ACL two months sooner than Peterson, and wasn’t able to make a full recovery in time to play in 2012. Everyone’s healing powers are different, and the quality of treatment could differ as well.

When RGIII lines up under center, what is it that he is saying? And how did he come to have the habit of sticking his tongue out all the time? 

 – Paul Seefeldt

Griffin, and every other quarterback in the league, comes to the line and barks out the cadence, things he sees in the defense and whatever adjustments he believes the offense needs to make based on the looks they’re getting. As for him sticking his tongue out, he does do it often, but I’m not sure how that habit developed. I think it’s more of a concentration thing that he may not even be conscious of at the time he’s doing it. I guess I need to follow up on this with him.

Do the assignments in the defensive backfield change significantly behind a 3-4 defense as opposed to the 4-3?  Are the safeties more likely to have their responsibilities change than the cornerbacks?

 – Bert Katz

There can be some differences, but the changes aren’t as drastic on the back end as they are on the front end. There are teams that run some of the same coverages (take the Cover 2 for example) regardless of if they have a 4-3 defense or a 3-4 front. The zones and pass coverage responsibilities change a little because you can drop four linebackers into coverage instead of having just three linebackers.

A lot has been said about the Redskins needing a third-down back because Evan Royster didn’t fit the bill last year.  I can agree to that to some extent but when I was watching games, a lot of times it looked like RGIII didn’t even look to check down no matter who the back was. He looked at his receivers and then scrambled when they weren’t open.  I don’t see anyone really mentioning that.  It’s always Royster’s fault.

– Brandon Stahl

There certainly were times where Griffin took off running rather than going to a check down, but some of that has to do with the pressure he was under, what he was seeing and whether or not those check-down receivers were in the spots they were supposed to be in. Royster is a solid runner, and he has decent hands. He had decent numbers as a third-down back, but not game-changing. Seven of his 15 receptions came on third downs. He averaged 6.1 yards per catch on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage, and 9.0 yards per reception on passes thrown to him within 10 yards of the line. The main thing is, he lacks the explosiveness to make a catch and quickly shift into another gear and produce big gains.

Which injured player other than RGIII are you most looking forward to seeing come back this season?

– Anthony Jenkins

If I had to pick one, I guess I’d have to say Brian Orakpo. I think he could have the largest impact as he should provide a much-needed boost in the pass-rushing department. Orakpo has plenty of motivation as he enters this season hoping to make up for lost time and finally establish himself as an elite pass-rusher. He also is entering a contract year, so great production out of him this season should bring a pretty decent payoff. But at the same time, I’m also intrigued by what a healthy Brandon Meriweather can do for the defense, if he can make it back. Safety was a big area of weakness last season, and Meriweather in one half of football looked like the two-time Pro Bowl player we saw in New England years ago. He struggled with consistency in Chicago, however, and hopes to regain his Patriots form rather than the struggles of his days as a Bear. Can he do it? If you’re looking for a guy on offense, Roy Helu would be the guy, because a receiver out of the backfield is something the Redskins really could have used last season, particularly on third downs. Helu’s 49 catches for 379 yards as a rookie, and that type of production, and more, can give Washington’s offense a spark.

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.

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @john_keim (starting July 1) | @D3Keith | @Insider | @PostSports

More coverage:

No setbacks for Griffin after first week of cutting drills

The Early Lead: Peterson says he thinks Griffin will be back Week 1

Morning Pixels: Bernard Hopkins tells RGIII to run from McNabb

Huff retires from Redskins’ radio broadcasts | Paul Farhi story

D.C. Sports Bog: Herzog on Huff’s departure | Huff profile from 2012, by Barry Svrluga

D.C. Sports Bog: Garcon gives uniforms to high schools in Md., Va. and D.C.

Norman Chad: The NFL stretches 17 weeks into 52

The Early Lead: JaMarcus Russell is slim, trim and looking for an NFL job

D.C. Sports Bog: RGIII ranked 15th on list of NFL’s top 100; analysts object

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.

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Mike Jones · June 22, 2013