Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan’s most important job is to prepare Griffin for his first NFL season. Although quarterbacks generally struggle as they transition from college to the sport’s highest level, coaches can help minimize growing pains. If Shanahan’s methodical plan for Griffin is working, we’ll know it.
The proof will come in the Heisman Trophy winner’s success, if only in spurts, while utilizing a much bigger portion of the playbook than the Redskins showed during preseason games. But if Griffin regularly appears overwhelmed in executing even the most mundane task under game pressure (relaying the correct play call from the coaching staff, getting the team in and out of the huddle promptly, etc.), then perhaps Shanahan should not have been quite so deliberate.
The good news for the Redskins and their fans: Nothing that occurs during Sunday’s opener in New Orleans will be cause for alarm. It’s simply too early to reach conclusions about Griffin. Conversely, if Griffin is beyond-his-years effective against the Saints, Redskins fans shouldn’t suddenly start making plans to watch the team in the Super Bowl (it’s also in New Orleans). Historically in the NFL, a quarterback’s performance at the outset of his career doesn’t necessarily provide an indicator of future success.
Just ask Ryan Leaf. The San Diego Chargers selected the former Washington State star second overall (the same spot in which the Redskins chose Griffin) during the 1998 draft. The top pick? Some guy named Peyton Manning. Before that draft, however, there was debate among NFL decision-makers about who was the better prospect.
The Leaf-Manning chatter intensified early during the ’98 season. Leaf led the Chargers to a 2-0 start, and the Indianapolis Colts, with Manning, lost their first two games. The Colts would actually start 0-4 as Manning threw 11 interceptions.
But before long, the truth became clear. Leaf couldn’t handle the face-of-the-franchise pressure that accompanies riches and fame. As it turned out, he also wasn’t very good at reading defenses. He played just four seasons and finished his career with 14 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions.
Meantime, Manning has been in the express lane to the Hall of Fame. Without question, Manning, who has joined the Denver Broncos after 14 years with the Colts, is among the greatest quarterbacks of his generation, a four-time league MVP and Super Bowl MVP.
Troy Aikman’s bust is already on display in Canton. And fortunately for Aikman, his opening performance wasn’t all the Hall of Fame voters considered.
The Dallas Cowboys used the top pick in the 1989 draft to pick Aikman. Owner Jerry Jones viewed Aikman as the cornerstone of his attempt to restore the luster to a once-admired franchise that had fallen on hard times (sound familiar?). Then Aikman went out and threw six interceptions in the Cowboys’ first three games. He lost all 11 games he started that season.