Robert Griffin III needs to refine his skills off the field as much as on it

Is it time to panic about the Redskins’ offensive woes or is too much being made of preseason struggles for RGIII and the first-teamers? The Post Sports Live crew offers their levels of worry. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist September 1

Robert Griffin III has struggled on the field, and he has a long way to go off of it as well. Griffin’s shortcomings in his role as the face of the Washington Redskins is as much of a problem as his shakiness in the pocket. Griffin says he wants to lead the team to Super Bowl titles, but there’s a lot more that goes into being a great leader than merely making strong throws.

Even during Griffin’s electric rookie season, some within the organization and others close to it raised concerns about Griffin displaying a know-it-all attitude. It seemed the young quarterback had it all figured out, or at least often came across poorly while speaking with people who had thrived in the NFL much longer than Griffin.

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

Griffin’s confidence only increased after he was selected as the NFL’s 2012 offensive rookie of the year. We know what happened next: Emboldened by his success, Griffin pushed for changes in the offense he was not ready to execute. He clashed with former head coach Mike Shanahan and play-caller Kyle Shanahan, triggering events that played a big part in last season’s 3-13 debacle.

The elder Shanahan was so frustrated about Griffin’s hardheadedness — and too tired to fight with other high-ranking team decision-makers about Griffin — he followed the fire-me playbook and got out of Washington while collecting the final $7 million on his contract. To hear some of the team’s football people tell it, Griffin learned from that bad experience.

Whenever new Coach Jay Gruden speaks, Griffin listens. Although Griffin finally wised up and again became receptive to coaching, he still needs more help than Gruden, who is responsible for the entire team, has time to provide.

That was evident on the first day of training camp, when Griffin separated himself from everyone else on the field by wearing a black sock and a black cleat and a white sock and a white cleat. Griffin explained it was something he has done since college to represent the “yin and the yang. White and black working together. We’re all brothers. We’re doing it together.” Okay. Whatever.

But Griffin’s ineffectiveness and feud with the Shanahans led to the relationship being detonated. How could Griffin think it would be a good idea to stand out from his teammates on a day that marked a new beginning for the group? And Griffin’s insistence on clinging to his college days is tripping him up in the pros.

Griffin’s accomplishments at Baylor are widely known. He won a Heisman Trophy and brought national recognition to a school that plays in the shadow of many higher-profile Texas universities. Baylor this week unveiled a statue of Griffin at its new football stadium.

Often, while he bristles at questions about his subpar preseason performance, Griffin points to his success at Baylor as proof he’s headed for a long, outstanding career. Griffin seems to forget he directed a spread offense at Baylor. Gruden’s offense features complex route concepts and requires quarterbacks to make quick decisions and throw in anticipation of receivers being open. Griffin’s history at Baylor won’t help him master what Gruden is demanding of him.

There’s nothing wrong with having fond memories — but memories don’t pay bills. If Griffin truly wants to reach the highest level of the sport, as he claims, being rooted in the present is the only way to roll.

That brings me to another of Griffin’s favorite pastimes: social media. Griffin is a 24-year-old athlete who became a star in the age of social media. It would be surprising if he didn’t use the platform to reach his fans. But enough already. Griffin promotes his brand on social media so much, you wonder whether he has time to do anything else.

That’s not to suggest Griffin slacks off in the film room. Gruden has no issues with Griffin’s commitment to learning his craft. It’s just that Griffin seems to crave the spotlight. That’s not a good look for someone teammates look to for stability. If Griffin eventually becomes one of the game’s top quarterbacks, he’ll get the attention he deserves.

A good mentor could teach Griffin much of what he lacks. Luckily for Griffin, the ideal person for the job works in the same office. Doug Williams, who rejoined the franchise in February as a personnel executive, saw it all during a nine-year NFL career. (He also played two seasons in the defunct USFL.) Much like Griffin, Williams experienced difficult times after he was a first-round draft pick who shouldered the hopes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers long ago. Williams reached the top with Washington, leading it to the 1987 Super Bowl title.

The former Super Bowl MVP’s office door is always open. Griffin, however, hasn’t walked through it nearly enough, people in the organization say. If Griffin is as smart as he sometimes appears to be, he’ll reach out to Williams, who knows what Griffin must do to develop into the leader Washington needs him to become.

After giving up four high-round picks for the pick to draft Griffin, Washington is starting all over again with him entering his third season. There’s still time for Griffin to get it right, but he has a lot of work to do and it’s getting late.

For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid

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