The around-the-clock Griffin watch moves into a new phase with the preseason beginning and the Sept. 9 season opener against the New Orleans Saints drawing nearer. Griffin and the first-team offense are scheduled to get about 20 plays Thursday night. That would be a small sample size — but still more than enough for someone of Shanahan’s experience to rate the inexperienced passer.
At this early stage of what the Redskins hope will be a long, rock-star career for Griffin, there’s no need for him to be flawless, or even particularly good, against the Bills. Just a few encouraging signs would suffice.
Griffin must be quicker in his decision-making than he has been in training camp: Read the defense, pick a receiver and throw the ball. No more waiting for the best-case scenario to develop, as he often has at Redskins Park. That’s a luxury Griffin can no longer afford.
Redskins defensive players are instructed not to hit Griffin. The Bills face no such restrictions. In fact, getting in a few good licks on a media-hyped passer in his first pro game would undoubtedly be appealing to the Bills’ defense. The faster Griffin locates receivers and gets rid of the ball, the less he will be exposed to potential punishment.
Seems simple enough. Learning how to play fast while also maintaining one’s poise, though, is among the most difficult skills for young quarterbacks to master.
In the NFL, holding the ball for even a second too long can be the difference between a successful play and a second-string quarterback suddenly becoming a starter. Griffin acknowledges he has to pick up the tempo, but the coaching staff isn’t concerned because “he’s going through the same thing” that all rookie passers experience, said Shanahan, who tutored Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway and Steve Young.
“That’s why we go out and work on it over and over. So when we go against a good defense like Buffalo, we’ll get an idea of where he’s at,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan and his son Kyle, the Redskins’ offensive coordinator, have thrown a lot at Griffin since naming him the starter shortly after the franchise gave up four high-round draft picks to get him. He has performed well in learning the playbook, players tell me, and has shown progress in making correct decisions when presented with difficult situations — field position, down and distance — in practice. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has constantly changed up alignments to keep Griffin guessing, especially about blitzes.