Redskins training camp: No worries with Robert Griffin III on the field

Jason Reid
Columnist August 2, 2012

Nothing bothers Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan as long as rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is on the field.

Having two starting offensive linemen suffer injuries during the first week of training camp? Shanahan draws comfort from watching Griffin elude the Redskins’ top defensive players during practice.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

Potential locker-room discord as Shanahan continues to remake the roster? Griffin, with his beyond-his-years leadership skills, will help him keep everyone together, Shanahan says.

And quite possibly another season without a playoff appearance for the District’s top sports franchise? Because of Griffin, Shanahan believes, the Redskins are moving closer — slowly perhaps, but inevitably — to becoming the type of team he was hired to build.

Beginning his third season in Washington, Shanahan has been re-energized by the smart, athletic, strong-armed passer who already has displayed many of the attributes of the best players at the position with whom Shanahan has worked. Although Griffin has yet to play in an NFL game, Shanahan doesn’t hesitate to compare the Heisman Trophy winner to Hall of Famers John Elway and Steve Young, whom Shanahan coached to Super Bowl-winning success.

Some might say that’s putting too much pressure on Griffin. Maybe, but I love the fact that Shanahan is excited.

After being duped by Donovan McNabb and misjudging John Beck, Shanahan finally has a willing and able student and partner to help him try to end the Redskins’ decades-long run of mediocrity. Griffin possesses the skills to execute whatever X’s-and-O’s combinations Shanahan can imagine, which should help Shanahan regain his once-strong reputation as an offensive tactician. Shanahan is convinced that he’s right about the player he traded four high-round draft picks to get. If you doubt his conviction, check out the extra pep in his step these days.

Shanahan’s affinity for the new face of the franchise is as clear as the tight spirals on Griffin’s passes. “What’s not to like?” versatile special-teams standout Lorenzo Alexander asked. “For anyone coming out and watching Robert, it’s just obvious what he’s about. Coach Shanahan recognized that pretty early.”

Actually, Shanahan knew it from Griffin’s first moment in burgundy and gold.

Shanahan surprised reporters in praising Griffin after only one practice during the team’s rookie minicamp in May. He stopped just short of saying Griffin would revolutionize the position.

It wasn’t only that Griffin quickly emerged as a leader while displaying his type-A personality drive, devoured the playbook as if he needed to master it yesterday and proved he could make all the required throws, though Shanahan surely was pleased with every bit of the opening show. But Shanahan downright gushed in assessing Griffin that day (and often has since) because of what he’s capable of doing “off schedule.”

“Any time that you have a guy like Robert, what I call a difference-maker, a franchise quarterback, they can make plays when there’s nothing there. And usually, the great ones do that. [Pittsburgh quarterback Ben] Roethlisberger? How many plays does he make with people all over him? That’s what you want.”

All successful NFL coaches are workaholics. They spend countless hours reviewing game tape, reassessing strategy and re-evaluating players in an around-the-clock effort to gain some edge that might help on game days.

With the Redskins, Shanahan has applied himself as much — if not more — as he did while leading the Denver Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl victories. It’s just that his results in Washington have been bad — Rex Grossman throwing into double coverage bad.

At 59, Shanahan is in good health. He’s still highly competitive. Shanahan would have remained committed to finishing the job he started even if Griffin weren’t on the roster, but “there’s no question” that having Griffin here makes coming to work more fun, Shanahan said. “You don’t mind spending 18 hours a day, every day, to get the supporting cast [for Griffin] because you thoroughly enjoy it.”

The most revered person to ever wear a headset for the Redskins knows the feeling well.

Throughout Joe Gibbs’s two stints with the team, “there were certainly people who I liked to be around at work more than others,” Gibbs said in a phone interview. “It’s really just like in any job, but probably more so in football because of all the hours we spend together.

“In the meeting rooms when we’re working, coaches spend most of their time talking about players. When you get someone who’s the right type of person off the field, and is a great producer on it or you think will be one, they can definitely influence how you feel about your football team.”

It’s too early to determine how the Redskins will fare this season. The initial signs, however, haven’t been encouraging.

Oft-injured right tackle Jammal Brown is sidelined indefinitely because of recurring hip pain. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger is expected to miss the remainder of the preseason after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Lichtensteiger tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in the same knee last October.

The Redskins’ lineup is still in transition. The likelihood is that 19 of the 22 starters on offense and defense will be in either their first or second seasons in those roles with the team.

Shanahan won’t discuss his plans for wide receiver Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley. But with the emergence of tight end Fred Davis and the signing of wideout Pierre Garcon, the longtime top targets in the passing game figure to have reduced roles. Although Moss and Cooley are team-first guys, a changing of the guard could be difficult for both and may test team unity, especially if the Redskins struggle.

Shanahan sees the potential potholes in the distance. He knows the heavy lifting is far from finished. “But what’s the one thing you need in the NFL? The quarterback,” Shanahan said. “You know if you have the quarterback, you have a chance.”

That’s what the Redskins have now. The smile on Shanahan’s face proves it.

For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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