Mike Shanahan might make some meaningful adjustments to the option-style elements of the Washington Redskins’ offense to try to safeguard quarterback Robert Griffin III next season.
He might not.
But anyone who thinks that the Redskins coach would both tweak the offense in a bid to protect Griffin and say so beforehand hasn’t been paying very close attention to the way this coach and this team conducts business.
The way the Redskins use Griffin in their offense has been an issue since early in Griffin’s rookie year last season. Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, cobbled together an offensive system to try to take every advantage of Griffin’s varied skills. Mike Shanahan has called it the team’s “East Coast Offense,” and it includes option-style running plays borrowed from the college version of the sport.
Griffin’s style of play — and the Redskins’ methods of using him — came under scrutiny last season when he was knocked from a game against the Atlanta Falcons after suffering a concussion and exited a game against the Baltimore Ravens after hurting his right knee. The scrutiny intensified greatly when Shanahan, at Griffin’s urging, left Griffin in the Redskins’ playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Griffin re-injured his knee both early and late in that season-ending defeat, and days later underwent surgery for tears of his anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments.
Some observers have called for the Redskins to dial back on Griffin’s running to attempt to ensure he remains upright and intact for a lengthy NFL career. Even Griffin’s father said last week that he hopes to see his son throwing the ball more often and running with it less frequently this season.
Shanahan has been noncommittal on the subject. After last Thursday’s offseason practice at Redskins Park, he was asked about it and said: “We really don’t know what defenses are going to do to us. I can’t tell you for sure. You adjust the game plan during the game. Defenses are going to be more ready for different things we did last year. And we’ll be able to adjust.”
Pressed on the issue, Shanahan reiterated something he’d said earlier in the offseason at the annual league meeting in Phoenix in March — that the Redskins’ use of their option plays actually helps to protect Griffin because it slows down opposing pass rushers. “Remember,” Shanahan said Thursday, “the zone read probably gave Robert more time in the pocket than anything you could do in the National Football League.”
The key here is that anyone who believes Shanahan would put his cards on the table in full public view in May, more than three months before the season, doesn’t know Shanahan’s methods very well. He plays the coaching-subterfuge game with as much zeal as anyone. To him, it’s all about competitive advantages and disadvantages. If he really is going to make changes to his offense, he doesn’t want next season’s opponents to know that now. This is a coach who tried, without success, to influence the media coverage of the Redskins’ practice-field use of options plays with Griffin last summer, so opponents wouldn’t know what was planned for Griffin’s rookie season.
It seems unlikely that the Redskins will scrap the option elements of their offense altogether. Shanahan seems genuine in his expressed conviction that having those ingredients in the offense work in Griffin’s favor. If nothing else, Shanahan seems to want the threat of the option game to weigh on the minds of opposing defensive coaches and players. It was perhaps telling when Shanahan was asked at the league meeting about the option plays and said: “The key is you don’t have to run it. But they have to prepare for it.”
Shanahan also said then: “If you make too many adjustments [on defense], then it gives us a chance to run our regular offense.”
Griffin, for his part, said Thursday that he “didn’t have a problem” with how he was used in the offense last season. But he answered that question that way only after being pressed for an answer after initially failing to answer it directly. He also said he thanked his father following last week’s comments for looking out for his interests.
Even if the option game remains in the playbook, that wouldn’t necessarily mean there won’t be differences in how Griffin will be used and how often he’s exposed to the injury risks associated with him running the ball. Shanahan has spoken this offseason about Griffin needing to use the common-sense approach of learning how to slide better at the end of runs and knowing when to throw the ball away to avoid hits. It would stand to reason that the Redskins likewise would take the common-sense approach of minimizing the injury risks to Griffin as much as they can by curtailing the number of option plays they run and urging Griffin to get rid of the ball as often as possible on those that they do run.
Just don’t expect them to say so now.
“We’re going to try to protect Robert as much as we can,” Shanahan said Thursday. “We’re going to let him do the things that we think he does the best, and hopefully it’ll be as productive.”
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