Since his hiring in January, Gruden has acknowledged the quarterback’s capabilities and the success that the Redskins have had in the past running those schemes. But he has stressed the importance of developing a well-rounded attack tailored to the strengths of Griffin and his teammates.
During an interview with SportsTalk 570’s Andy Pollin, Gruden said the Redskins can still expect to see the read option, but that he didn’t intend to use those wrinkles with great frequency.
“We’ll have sprinkles here and there,” Gruden said. “It’s not going to be a major part. I want to make sure that we have other things that we can do besides the read option, because it takes a toll. You have to practice it a lot to be very good at it. It kind of takes away from the defense’s ability a little bit, it takes away from other plays that you need to work on, your protection schemes, your running game, all that stuff. It just takes away from that. So we want to make sure that we work on the core running game that we have, the core drop-back passes we have. And then once we get going, we get those implemented, maybe sprinkle in some read option.”
The topic of Griffin and the read option, and how often he should run those plays, has been under debate since his rookie season, when he burst onto the scene and baffled defenses with his arm and legs. Former coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan designed an attack that featured read-option plays similar to those Griffin ran at Baylor. But after Griffin took a pounding as a rookie (suffering a concussion, bruised ribs, sprained knee ligaments and eventually two torn knee ligaments), the question of whether the Redskins should scrap those plays arose throughout 2013 as Griffin made his comeback from knee surgery.
Initially, the Shanahans tried to run an offense that featured Griffin primarily as a drop-back passer. But eventually, they reintroduced the read-option plays. But, as was the case in 2012, the read-option plays in 2013 — which at times featured Griffin as the runner, or called for him to pitch the ball to a running back or trailing receiver — served as a change of pace, and not the offense’s bread and butter.
The Redskins last season used the read option on 83 of their 453 running plays (18 percent), according to ESPN Stats and Information. In 2012, the team ran the read option on 118 of 519 run plays (22.7 percent). Griffin carried the ball 120 times for 815 yards (an NFL record for a rookie quarterback) in 15 games in 2012. Those 120 carries included designed runs and off-schedule scrambles. Last season, in 13 games, he ran the ball 86 times for 489 yards.
It remains unclear exactly what Gruden’s idea of sprinkling in the read option entails. But it’s possible that the number of those plays decreases even more this season. The 83 plays run in 2013 ranked seventh most in the NFL. With the additions of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts to an offense that features Pierre Garcon and running back Alfred Morris, the Redskins wouldn’t need gimmick plays to create a spark nearly as often.
Gruden has maintained a lukewarm take on the read-option attack whenever the subject is broached. Although well aware of Griffin’s capabilities, he wants to protect the quarterback, and also run a scheme that makes him comfortable.
In March, when asked about his plans for the read option, Gruden said, “If he’s not comfortable with the read option as much, then we won’t run the read option. But it’s just trying to get to know each other. I implement a system and we start from the very beginning and we go from there, and we branch off from there, moving forward, either adding more things or figuring out what he likes or what he’s good at. It’s fun. It’s fun to have a guy like Robert because I think there’s really not much that I can throw at him that he can’t do. I think he can do it all.”
Griffin last offseason had expressed a desire to run less and develop into more of a pocket passer. But he and the Redskins struggled early last season while running a pass-heavy attack. He at times appeared hesitant to run, and also seemed less confident in his passing abilities. During an interview with The Post last week, the quarterback described last season as a journey of “second-guessing and wondering.”
Griffin said that he expects to get back to the “exciting brand of football” that he played as a rookie. But that doesn’t mean he wants to run the ball more, or see the number of read-option plays increase. He anticipates that his understanding of the game and his passing abilities will improve to the point where he only needs to run when plays break down and when openings in the defense present themselves.
“It’s just a natural progression when you get into the NFL,” Griffin said. “I think we did some unconventional things my rookie year that had me out there running a lot and I think the focus [last year] was put too much on becoming a pocket passer. It’s something that happens over the course of time. You can always get better, but you can’t change the way you personally play the game. That’s what we’ll get back to. It’s not that I’ll get back to playing how I was as a rookie. I’m a better player and feel like I was even at the end of last year even than what I was as a rookie. It’s just about going out, playing the game the way you play the game, trusting your instincts and then everything else will come.”
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