“You just have to let them play,” former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said in a telephone interview recently. “In the NFL, you find out quickly, real quickly, what you’ve got.
“It’s tough when you’ve got a young quarterback in there; you know they’re going to take some lumps. But from everything I’ve heard about Robert, what they’re doing with him and how hard I hear he works, I’m hearing the things you like to hear. . . . But you’ve got to give ’em a little time.”
Exactly. The moment will come when it’s appropriate to grade the pupil. Now, it’s about letting the first-year lesson plan, which so far seems solid, play out.
Some coaches prefer to have rookie quarterbacks, especially projected starters, play a lot in the preseason. There’s so much for new quarterbacks to learn regarding the complexities of NFL defenses (such as identifying coverages and blitzes), the thinking goes, that it only makes sense to put them in positions to gain experience immediately.
The Colts took a more-makes-sense approach with No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck, Manning’s replacement, who threw 66 passes in meaningless games. Griffin had just 31 attempts. Griffin’s workload was in line with how Shanahan would have handled an incumbent veteran starter.
Why? The answer, in part, lies in understanding the ultra-secretive Shanahan. He strives to reveal as little as possible. He wants to make it as difficult as possible for opponents to draw up game plans against the Redskins.
By nature, all NFL coaches are a tad clandestine in seeking to gain a competitive advantage, but none more than the guy who directs the Redskins. By calling relatively few passing plays, Shanahan and his son, Kyle, the Redskins’ offensive coordinator, have provided little insight (meaning hardly any game film) about their intentions for the season. Undoubtedly, the Colts also held back some of their playbook. All teams do.
But it made sense for Shanahan to keep the rest of league guessing as long as possible about what Griffin is capable of this season while also making sure Griffin, who didn’t run a pro-style offense in college, wasn’t overloaded in his introduction to the pros. Shanahan surely dedicated closed-field practice time to have Griffin work on the toughest stuff, which the Redskins are expected to roll out starting against the Saints.
On the other hand: Would Griffin be further along in mastering the whole playbook if he had more game reps on a wider array of plays? It’s all a matter of coaching preference, “and if there was just one right way to do it, all these coaches would do it the same way,” veteran wide receiver Santana Moss said.
“But it ain’t like that. When you been around in this league, you see what really matters is [whether or not] coaches understand their guys. . . . Coach Shanahan, everything he has done is to try to help Robert. To try to get him ready.”
Shanahan has taught Griffin all he can to this point. It’s time for Griffin to take his biggest test yet.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.