RICHMOND — To support Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins hired a quarterback-friendly coach, promoted a good communicator to offensive coordinator and added one of the NFL’s best big-play wide receivers among three key free agents on offense.
With the team’s apparent improvement offensively, the Redskins have provided Griffin with better tools to succeed — and to be judged by. During last season’s 3-13 fiasco, Griffin was adversely affected by his recovery from knee surgery and behind-the-scenes battles with Mike and Kyle Shanahan. The question is, how much?
The Shanahans and their supporters would argue Griffin’s inexperience as a pocket passer, stubbornness and out-of-control ego were mostly responsible for his regression — after committing only seven turnovers as a rookie, Griffin had 16 in 2013 — and the team’s collapse following its first NFC East title in 13 years.
For the Redskins and Griffin, the good news is he’s in a better place with Coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay, formerly Washington’s tight ends coach. Just in case anyone had forgotten how miserable Griffin was last fall, his strong comments Thursday about Gruden and McVay were not-so-subtle shots at previous management.
“It’s really just a good thing to have two coaches who believe in you,” Griffin said after struggling in the rain during the opening practice of training camp.
“Sean and Jay have done a great job. They’ve given me a lot on my shoulders. I cherish that. You want to be asked to do more — or at least [to] do the bare minimum.”
You don’t have to be an experienced investigator to read between those lines: With the Shanahans gone, Griffin feels liberated. His teammates have notic ed.
“The stress is kind of off . . . worrying about a head coach,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “You don’t know about if he really likes you, if he doesn’t like you, things like that. From the jump, Robert kind of knew Jay wanted [him] . . . and that he can be special. We all see that.”
Everybody’s happy. You know what that means? No more excuses.
Gruden and McVay, also Washington’s de facto quarterbacks coach, have spent most of the offseason reassuring Griffin they’re behind him. The addition of wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts figure to bolster a position in need of playmakers. Although new guard Shawn Lauvao lacks all-pro talent, he’s supposedly solid in the running game.
Repeatedly in the offseason, Griffin praised team president and General Manager Bruce Allen for “going out and making us better. We brought in guys who can help us in a lot of ways. As a quarterback, that’s all you can ask for.”
Even if Griffin’s season falls short of the high level he reached as a rookie, he may have to show considerable improvement for the Redskins to avoid their eighth last place finish in 11 seasons. That’s a lot to put on a 24-year-old signal caller entering his third season. But Griffin cost the Redskins four high-round picks. In any evaluation of Griffin, that fact will hang over him.
Griffin understands what’s on his shoulders.
“The more you play, the more you grow,” Griffin said. “[There’s] no magic thing that I can say. Everyone is going to have their opinion about what anybody needs to work on.
“[You] learn from your mistakes [and] don’t make ’em over and over again. That’s part of playing quarterback. If you keep making the same mistake, you’re not going to be out there.”
By being receptive to Gruden’s coaching, Griffin has helped to improve the mood of the team, which needed a pick-me-up. “Everybody feels different in the organization,” Griffin said. “We have the opportunity to come in with more energy. There’s a togetherness in that locker room and in the building.”
Finally turning the page on last season could strengthen the bond. I get that Griffin is emotionally scarred. He may always believe Mike Shanahan didn’t want to draft him (there’s something to that) and resent Kyle Shanahan, who’s a whiz with X’s and O’s but could learn to speak to people better. With that established, it’s time for Griffin put 2013 in his rearview mirror.
In the District, the Shanahans are old news. They’re gone. Griffin won. Moving forward, he should start acting like it and take the high road if asked about the Shanahans.
The Redskins did what they had to do, rallying around Griffin and putting his needs first. Now they need him to prove the Shanahans were wrong.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.