RGIII: Zone-read plays will always remain at least a small part of offense

The Post Sports Live crew looks at Robert Griffin III's 2013 statistics and debates how much improvement would constitute a successful 2014 season. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND – During a portion of the 11-on-11 action in Wednesday’s practice, 2012 Robert Griffin III resurfaced. The quarterback took the snap, faked a handoff and called his own number instead and took off, darting through an opening along the line and then to his left. It looked very much like the unfolding of the 76-yard touchdown run against Minnesota that season.

Safety Ryan Clark made a beeline for Griffin, but stopped short, and it was hard to tell if it was because the quarterback had kicked it into another gear and rendered the safety helpless, or if Clark had just held up in the non-contact drill. Linebacker Keenan Robinson made a valiant effort as he tried to chase the quarterback out of bounds. Griffin may have stepped out of bounds, but he kept racing toward the end zone much to the delight of the Redskins fans in attendance.

“There’s nothing wrong with that knee now!” one spectator called out.

Griffin trotted back upfield and said to Robinson, “Keenan, you were running extremely well,” with a laugh.

“That’s all I could say,” Griffin later said. “We all felt offensively that was a touchdown and I certainly felt like it was a touchdown.”

It looked as if Jay Gruden’s playbook did indeed feature a couple of zone-read pages. Griffin revealed after practice that actually wasn’t the case on that play.

“It actually wasn’t a zone-read play,” Griffin confessed.

Instead, the quarterback had decided to improvise. Griffin saw how the defense had set up and figured that his running back would get clobbered on the play – a called run – so he modified the play.

“Coach actually asked me what the hell I was doing,” Griffin said sheepishly and then laughed, ‘I saw something, coach!’

Wednesday’s practice did, however, feature a couple of zone-read plays, where Griffin either handed off, or faked the handoff and passed. And, the quarterback said – reiterating what Gruden has said when asked about the matter – the zone-read runs for Griffin do still remain in Washington’s playbook. Those designed runs simply have been moved somewhere toward the back of the book, where they can be found and sprinkled here and there in a pinch. But the plays will always be there.

“It’s a part of every quarterback who can move around a little bit – their game,” Griffin said. “Everybody has run it, from Aaron Rodgers on down the list. It’s something you want to sprinkle in, keep the defense aware of, make them have to practice it, but it’s not something that you make the focal part of your offense. That’s why we have the guys that we have, that’s why we run the offense that we’ve been running, and you haven’t seen very much of the zone read. But it is there, and it’ll be utilized as coach deems necessary.”

Griffin has repeatedly said that he wants to be a pure passing quarterback, who uses his legs here and there. Even on Wednesday, he disagreed with the notion that his running ability is what made him famous.

“It’s not how I made my name,” he bristled. “I made my name throwing the ball in college when I won the Heisman Trophy at Baylor”

However, Griffin, who last offseason lobbied for Washington to scrap the zone-read plays and use him in more of a traditional role, did say that he has no problem running those plays under Gruden, and that he’ll leave it up to his coaches to determine how to call the offense.

“We’ll mix in quick gains, screens, we’ll take our shots, we’ll run the ball and if a zone-read creeps in there every now and there, it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s whatever Coach Gruden and Coach McVay want, and I also can use my legs in the passing game if something’s not there.”

Griffin’s discussion of the topic came two days after Washington’s handling of him in 2013 resurfaced. During a radio interview on Monday, general manager Bruce Allen was asked to look back at then-coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to play Griffin at the start of the season even though he hadn’t practiced fully or played at all in the preseason.

Allen, who last season deferred to Shanahan on the decision, called the decision to do so “disrespectful” to the game of football, and that Griffin probably shouldn’t have played.

Asked about Allen’s take, Griffin said, “I saw what Bruce said and I know where he’s coming from. That was the previous coach’s prerogative and I can’t really do anything about that. All you can do is fly with the punches. I’ve said before multiple times, I played the hand I was dealt last year.”

Griffin did heavily lobby to play, and his comeback was turned into an “All In for Week 1” documentary and campaign. But Shanahan made the final decision.

What isn’t a matter of debate is the level of enthusiasm and comfort that Griffin has displayed now that the Gruden Era is underway.

He concluded his response to Allen’s comments by saying, “We’re all ready to move forward this year and move on with this new regime and I’m more than glad that I’m able to practice all offseason and training camp with no stress and get better with my guys.”

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

What’s ahead:

Washington has a walk-through scheduled for 4:10 p.m. Wednesday. Here’s our camp guide, if you’re planning to attend.

Also from The Post:

Redskins sign DE Jake McDonough

T. Williams stands out | D.C. Sports Bog: Williams trained with AP

Bog: Team launches ‘Redskins Facts’ campaign | Ads show up

Confident S Thomas catching coaches’ eyes

More NFL coverage: Home page | D.C. Sports Bog | The Early Lead | Fancy Stats

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @lizclarketweet | @JReidPost | @Insider

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 · July 30

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