Redskins seek balance between risks, rewards of Robert Griffin III's running

September 13, 2012

Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III’s running kept the New Orleans Saints’ defense decidedly off-balance in the Washington Redskins’ season-opening win last weekend at the Superdome. It’s giving the St. Louis Rams plenty to think about as they prepare for Sunday’s meeting with the Redskins at the Edward Jones Dome in Griffin’s second NFL game.

But not everyone is convinced that it’s a great idea for the Redskins to send Griffin sprinting down the field with regularity. Some analysts worry that quarterbacks who run too often in the NFL, where defenders are both fast and menacing, are subjected to unnecessary injury risks.

Even if they don’t absorb a single jarring hit that leaves them sidelined, the accumulation of shots they absorb over an entire season takes its toll, they argue.

“If you’re talking about close to 10 designed runs per game and also asking the guy to throw the ball close to 30 times, that’s a lot of work for one guy,” former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said this week. “You could argue he’s too valuable to take that risk, and there’s a difference in stature between him and a guy like Cam Newton.”

Griffin is listed at 6 feet 2 and 217 pounds. Newton, the Carolina Panthers’ standout second-year quarterback, is listed at 6-5 and 245 pounds.

Another former NFL quarterback, Trent Green, said during the preseason that a gifted young quarterback like Griffin should use his running skills early in his career as he is developing into a polished pocket passer, then stay behind the line more often as his career progresses. Green cited the late NFL quarterback Steve McNair and Michael Vick, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, as players who followed that progression.

Running regularly with the ball over an entire career, Green said, becomes hazardous. “It takes its toll on you,” Green said. “Look at Michael Vick and the injuries he’s had.”

The Redskins, however, don’t seem overly concerned, at least not at this point.

“Not really,” veteran linebacker London Fletcher said this week. “For him, he just has to be smart — when to slide, [when to] try to get an extra yard here and there or whatever. There are going to be times when he’s running the football when he has no choice but to get hit. He’s a football player. We’re all football players. That’s just part of it.”

Griffin had 10 carries for 42 yards against the Saints, part of a dazzling debut in which he also threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns on 19-for-26 passing. Griffin did most of his running early. He had nine carries for 30 yards in the first half, beginning with a 12-yard dash on the Redskins’ second offensive play.

“That first run for 12 yards, I thought, ‘That’s pretty good,’ ” said Hasselbeck, now an NFL analyst for ESPN. “That first designed run, I thought, ‘That’s interesting. But I get it.’ The more designed runs I saw, I said if I have to put myself in [Redskins offensive coordinator] Kyle Shanahan’s shoes, I would say, ‘This is the most I want to do.’ ”

But the Redskins say they’re confident in Griffin’s ability to protect himself.

“Robert had over 600 rushing attempts in college and he has a good feel for when to slide, a good feel when to get out of bounds,” Coach Mike Shanahan said this week. “Now, it’s not going to be perfect every time. But quarterbacks have to learn that and he did a pretty good job at the collegiate level knowing when to slide and stay healthy.”

Griffin will continue to hone his self-preservation skills over time, Fletcher said.

“Really, I just told him once he got on the field he’ll get a feel for when to run, when to get out of bounds, when to slide and all that type of thing,” Fletcher said. “Some things, you’ve just got to experience. You’ve got to go out there and play.”

In the meantime, Redskins opponents will have to be ready for Griffin to take off and run.

“In Mike’s quest to acquire RGIII, he felt all along that defenses can’t defend those dynamics,” Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said during a midweek conference call with Washington area reporters. “Basically, he’s right. If you’re lucky defensively, you create a one-on-one situation with the quarterback. [But] with his athletic ability, he usually wins that.”

“We’re going to have a long week,” Fisher added of his team’s preparations for Griffin. “It’s not easy.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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