RICHMOND — During a portion of the 11-on-11 action in Wednesday’s practice for the Washington Redskins, 2012 Robert Griffin III made an appearance. The quarterback took the snap and appeared to execute a handoff but called his own number instead. He then darted through an opening along the line. It looked very much like his 76-yard touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings two years ago.
Safety Ryan Clark made a beeline for Griffin but stopped short, and it was hard to tell whether it was because Griffin had kicked it into another gear and rendered the safety helpless or Clark had just held up in the non-contact drill. Linebacker Keenan Robinson made a valiant effort as he tried to chase the quarterback out of bounds. Griffin may have stepped out of bounds, but he kept racing toward the end zone.
“There’s nothing wrong with that knee now!” one spectator called out.
Griffin revealed later that the play had been improvised; it was not a zone-read play that calls for him to hand off or fake a handoff and pass. But it does look as if Coach Jay Gruden’s playbook features a couple of zone-read pages.
Those designed runs simply have been moved toward the back of the book.
“It’s a part of every quarterback who can move around a little bit — their game,” Griffin said. “Everybody has run it, from Aaron Rodgers on down the list. It’s something you want to sprinkle in, keep the defense aware of, make them have to practice it, but it’s not something that you make the focal part of your offense. That’s why we have the guys that we have. That’s why we run the offense that we’ve been running, and you haven’t seen very much of the zone read. But it is there, and it’ll be utilized as Coach deems necessary.”
Griffin repeatedly has said he wants to be a pure passing quarterback who runs occasionally. Even on Wednesday, he disagreed with the notion his running ability is what made him famous.
“It’s not how I made my name,” he bristled. “I made my name throwing the ball in college when I won the Heisman Trophy at Baylor.”
However, Griffin, who last offseason lobbied for Washington to scrap the zone-read plays and use him in more of a traditional role, did say he has no problem running those plays under Gruden and that he will leave it up to his coaches to determine how to call the offense.
“We’ll mix in quick gains, screens, we’ll take our shots, we’ll run the ball and if a zone-read creeps in there every now and there, it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s whatever Coach Gruden and Coach [Sean] McVay want, and I also can use my legs in the passing game if something’s not there.”
Gruden confirmed the option will remain a part of the offense but said there’s an ongoing debate among the coaches on how best to utilize the schemes.
“There’s no question we’re still working on that balance right now,” Gruden said. “Today, he had the option to pull it and made a heck of a run. He’s obviously very good at the read-option. He’s proven he can do it. But he’s also proven to come off of a major injury here the last couple years. He’s healthy, but there will be a balance. . . . It’s another way to attack the defense and get the numbers that benefit you offensively. It’ll be a game-plan basis, how he feels about it and how we feel about the plays each week. But it’s something that will be talked about every week, for sure.”
Maintaining Griffin’s health carries the highest priority for Gruden. Although Griffin said the twice-reconstructed right knee is probably stronger than ever, it’s important the coaches ensure they minimize the amount of contact Griffin experiences.
But there’s also the matter of predictability. Gruden said that, like anything, if the Redskins overuse the zone-read plays, opposing defenses will find ways to render the attack unsuccessful.
“If you run it just a few times over the course of the game — maybe three or four times in two games — I don’t know, then it’s just something else for the defense to have to worry about in practice and will give them fits,” Gruden said. “. . . I don’t envision us running it seven, eight times a game. We’ll see how the game dictates. But it’s just like anything else. You run something similar often, the defense will figure it out. You have to be diverse in what you do. You have to disguise what you do.”
Griffin’s discussion of the topic came two days after Washington’s handling of him in 2013 resurfaced. During a radio interview Monday, General Manager Bruce Allen was asked to look back at then-coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to play Griffin at the start of the season even though he hadn’t practiced fully or played at all in the preseason.
Allen, who last season deferred to Shanahan on the decision, called the decision to do so “disrespectful” to the game of football and that Griffin probably shouldn’t have played.
Asked about Allen’s take, Griffin said, “I saw what Bruce said, and I know where he’s coming from. That was the previous coach’s prerogative, and I can’t really do anything about that. All you can do is fly with the punches. I’ve said before multiple times, I played the hand I was dealt last year.”
Griffin did heavily lobby to play, and his comeback was turned into an “All In for Week 1” documentary and campaign. But Shanahan made the final decision.
What isn’t a matter of debate is the level of enthusiasm and comfort Griffin has displayed now that the Gruden Era is underway.
He concluded his response to Allen’s comments by saying, “We’re all ready to move forward this year and move on with this new regime. And I’m more than glad that I’m able to practice all offseason and training camp with no stress and get better with my guys.”