Redskins’ Robert Griffin III still learning on the run

August 20, 2012

As Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan likes to say, every time Robert Griffin III steps on the field, he is met with another learning experience.

The rookie quarterback’s most recent lesson entailed distinguishing that fine line between knowing when to try to make a play amid a deteriorating situation, and when to concede temporary defeat and move on to the next play.

Griffin and his coaches can thank the Chicago Bears for the latest object lesson. On Saturday, in the second preseason start of his professional career, Griffin took his lumps while trying too hard to make something out of nothing.

In a couple instances, Griffin subjected his body to unnecessary pounding because he didn’t simply throw away the ball more quickly. The most crucial mistake came late in the first quarter with the Redskins deep in their own territory. Griffin was sacked and fumbled the ball because he tried to get off a pass to an open receiver rather than tuck the ball as Chicago’s Israel Idonije hit him from behind.

In all, Griffin — who a week after playing well against the Buffalo Bills was far less impressive against the Bears, completing 5 of 8 passes for 49 yards — was sacked three times. But although the Redskins’ offensive line remains battered and bruised, Griffin — after reviewing the game both on his own and with his coaches — admitted that the sacks were his fault, not the line’s.

“We had three sacks. I told the offensive line today, kind of joking, ‘We’ve just go to work on a few things, and throw the ball away when we don’t have the screens and don’t get those sacks,’ ” Griffin said. “You never want them to feel bad about those type of things when it’s your own fault. So when it comes to those things, I’ve got to get the ball out of my hands, know when to make a play and when not to try to make a play, and just say move on to the next down.”

Griffin has appeared unflappable at times, staring past converging pass rushers and going through his downfield reads. And despite his impressive speed, Griffin hasn’t been in a hurry to tuck the ball and run. But honing his judgment ranks among the priorities on a to-do list that will naturally take some time to check off, Shanahan said.

“You put him in different situations,” Shanahan said. “Third downs, a couple screens we had called were covered. We took a couple sacks instead of throwing it away. Every time he goes into a game situation, it’s going to be a constant learning experience and you just hope you don’t make the same mistake twice.”

On one play, Griffin took a shot from Bears defensive end Julius Peppers after protection broke down and the quarterback backpedaled around the backfield while trying to buy his receivers time. Griffin finally threw the ball away, but not soon enough for Peppers to slow up and avoid hitting him.

On the fumble, Griffin began to tuck the ball but then noticed running back Alfred Morris open in the flat. He thought he could reload and get off a pass as Idonije breathed down his neck.

Shanahan praised Griffin’s heart and effort, but he stressed that turnovers must be avoided.

“On that play, we had someone miss a free safety blitz right away, so we put him in a very, very tough situation,” Shanahan recounted. “He did step up in the pocket, and he saw somebody wide open in the flat and the guy got him from behind. You don’t have eyes in the back of your head, but he almost made an unbelievable play there and unfortunately it was a turnover. In the future he’s going to know, ‘Hey, sometimes these guys are pretty quick, especially guys that are 6-[foot]-6, 6-7 and 300 pounds and can still run.’ You’ve got to protect the football, but that’s part of the learning experience.”

Shanahan further explained: “It’s a fine balance. You have to understand there’s people behind you, and ball security’s number one. But it’s going to happen. You’re going to have those things that happen, and on the one scramble that he had I don’t think I’ve seen somebody cover that much ground to the 15-yard line as quick as he did. You’re going to have some positives, have some negatives, but we’re always going to emphasize protecting the ball.”

In college, Griffin was able to use his speed to elude defenders before making plays. Now he is facing bigger and faster opponents. Griffin showed on a 14-yard scramble Saturday that he still is one of the fastest players on a given field. But he considers running his last option. For the sake of protecting both field position, the ball and his body, Griffin acknowledged that he must — and he expects to — decide what to do with the ball more quickly.

“It just comes with the feel for the game,” Griffin said. “Some times against the Bears, I held the ball longer and made great plays, and some times I held the ball a little bit longer and threw the ball away or took a sack. You’ve got to eliminate the sacks and get a feel for what you can and can’t do. By far, the players in the NFL are better than the players in college. That’s just a given. But you just have to make sure that you know; you don’t concede all the time, but you don’t always have to make the best play in the world.”

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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