Robert Griffin III gives Washington Redskins a chance for a fresh start

Jason Reid
Columnist July 25, 2012

Forget about the Washington Redskins’ past two disappointing seasons under Coach Mike Shanahan. Never utter John Beck’s name again. The Redskins got a sorely needed fresh start when they drafted rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, and this season his development is all that matters.

It’s still too early to say how well the Redskins will perform, but there’s no hiding the fact they have major concerns along the offensive line, at running back and in the secondary. It’s wise to assume they will miss the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. Even another trophy-less season, however, would be considered a success if Griffin proves he’s worthy of wearing his Superman-inspired socks.

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

When the team begins training camp Thursday at Redskins Park, Griffin is expected to continue dazzling coaches and teammates with the powerful right arm, elusiveness and sound decision-making he displayed while taking charge on the field during pre-camp tune-ups. With each well-crafted answer to reporters’ questions, the Heisman Trophy winner figures to demonstrate he’s the right guy to lead the Redskins off the field, too.

In the NFL’s vicious workplace, however, players — especially quarterbacks — are judged solely on their ability to produce on the field, under threat of life-altering injury. Throughout the regular season, Griffin must show he’s on track to provide at least as much for the Redskins as the best quarterbacks do for their teams.

The roster has plenty of holes; the team gave up four high-round draft picks to get Griffin. Having less money than they anticipated to spend on free agents because of the NFL’s $36 million salary cap penalty and no first-round selections the next two seasons won’t help the Redskins as they try to bolster Griffin’s supporting cast.

But regardless of how bad the Redskins may still be in the short term, Griffin has what it takes to become a long-term superstar. His pinpoint passes to receivers will make them look better than they are. Big plays with his feet will make up for missed blocks. The combination should provide evidence the Redskins chose wisely in mortgaging their future for him.

Beyond statistics, though, what the Redskins need is for Griffin to lead and inspire. That’s what the franchise has lacked from football’s most important position.

“They may not have accepted me as their leader yet,” Griffin said at a news conference Wednesday at Redskins Park. “But they definitely see me as a guy who can help.”

Former defensive lineman Phillip Daniels spent 15 years in the NFL, his last seven with the Redskins. In his first season as the team’s director of player development, Daniels has already seen everything he needs to know about the rookie quarterback.

“Everybody looks at him as our way out because of what we know he can do” when the games start, Daniels said recently. “What we’ve missed, what we just haven’t had, is that type of quarterback who would just go out there and do something big and get everybody excited and believing.

“I’m not talking about statistics. We’ve had guys who could put up some numbers. I’m talking a guy that you know could just blow you away with something he does at any moment. Guys really don’t care as much about the statistics. What you want is to have someone who can be special. Man, that’s what he is.”

Daniels’s boss sure hopes so. Shanahan couldn’t care less about how Griffin measures up in fantasy football discussions. If Griffin displays progress in grasping Shanahan’s offense, then Shanahan would finally have the foundation he needs to ignite a long-awaited Redskins turnaround.

Shanahan knows better than most how greatness in quarterbacks looks in the infancy of a career. Although Hall of Famer John Elway had only seven touchdown passes and 14 interceptions as a rookie in 1983, “there was no question about [Elway’s] ability,” Shanahan, who coached Elway to his greatest success, said recently. “You saw the things he could do and you knew. . .  it would only be a matter of time. The talent and the hard work usually come through.”

Ultimately, a quarterback’s win-loss record is what determines his worth. Winning two Super Bowls completed Elway’s credentials as an all-time great.

If Griffin is everything he appears to be, the Redskins should return to prominence — and start a long run among the NFL’s top-tier teams — beginning with the 2014 season. That would give Shanahan another two full offseasons, despite the team’s cap and draft limitations, to improve the roster on offense. It’s also reasonable to assume Griffin would have a master’s grasp of the offense by his third season.

That also happens to be the last season of the five-year contract owner Daniel Snyder gave Shanahan for one reason: to make the Redskins great again.

In the NFL, you are what your record is, Shanahan says. With an 11-21 mark his first two seasons in Washington, Shanahan would be the first to acknowledge he hasn’t gotten the job done. Shanahan was sidetracked feuding with Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth. He wasted time trying to turn Beck and the turnover-prone Rex Grossman into serviceable quarterbacks.

After two awful years for the Redskins and their fans, Griffin, if he’s everything he appears to be, will enable Shanahan to press the “reset button” and finally get moving on what he was brought here to do.

After two decades of mediocrity, it’s definitely past time for the Redskins to start creating better memories — memories with a big white number 10 all over them.

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