ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – There couldn’t have been a less glamorous location than this for Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III to make his pro debut. With the bright lights always around Griffin, his first game should have occurred in another part of the state. Like closer to Broadway.
Regardless of the setting, however, the Redskins simply wanted Griffin to emerge physically sound from their preseason opener. They got that and an added bonus: Griffin’s strong — albeit brief — confidence-building performance in Thursday night’s 7-6 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
Griffin accomplished what he needed to while completing 4 of 6 passes for 70 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass on a screen play to wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who’s clearly developing something good with his new teammate.
If Griffin were at all rattled in his 14-play career opener, or confused by the defense, he didn’t show it.
Was Griffin perfect? No. Not even close. Nor should anyone have expected him to be at this point.
But for the Redskins and their fans, Griffin continued to provide reason for optimism. It’s these types of small steps that lead you to believe the Redskins finally have the correct guy in the most important position.
Although Griffin’s development is the key to the Redskins’ present and future, Coach Mike Shanahan has other concerns, too. With three-fifths of the first-team offensive line sidelined by injuries, the Redskins relied on backups to help protect Griffin and lead the running game. Not surprisingly, they had mixed results.
Evan Royster got the first shot in the three-way running back battle. He had some good moments.
And second-year defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins, who appeared headed for a big rookie year, played in his first game since suffering a season-ending knee injury last preseason. He’s slowly rediscovering his game.
Shanahan and his staff will have a lot to consider when they break down the game film. Let’s take an early look at some of what they’ll see:
●GRIFFIN’S START:Shanahan intended to limit Griffin and the first-team offense to no more than 20 plays. He mentioned 12 on the low end. The Griffin-Garcon touchdown occurred on play No. 14. That’s called following the script well.
At times in training camp, Griffin has held the ball too long while cycling through his route progressions. Most rookie quarterbacks experience that problem while trying to adjust to the speed of the NFL, which is much faster than college football. Think of go-kart racing compared to the NASCAR circuit.
The Redskins went three and out on their first two drives. On their opening possession, Griffin made a nice throw to Garcon on a sideline route that probably should have resulted in a completion (the official ruled Garcon failed to get both feet inbounds). What I liked about the throw, and I’m sure Shanahan will as well, is that Griffin put the ball in a good spot for Garcon, and not the defensive back in coverage, to make a play on the ball.
On the Redskins’ third possession, Griffin got into a rhythm, made the right reads and displayed patience by remaining in the pocket.
From the Washington 20-yard line on second down and 10, Griffin teamed with Garcon for a 20-yard gain. He went through his progressions swiftly and located Garcon. It’s all about Griffin’s ability to find the right tempo, which he did repeatedly on the drive.
That’s got to be encouraging for Shanahan and his son, Kyle, Washington’s offensive coordinator.
Granted, 14 plays in a preseason opener isn’t much. But success is always better than failure.
●GRADING THE LINE: The Redskins are hoping that right tackle Jammal Brown’s sore hip improves. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger is probably out for the preseason after having arthroscopic knee surgery. He had season-ending knee surgery on the same knee last season. Right guard Chris Chester suffered an ankle injury during practice last week.
Yeah, getting Griffin out after 14 plays made sense.
Tyler Polumbus played for Brown, rookie Adam Gettis started at right guard and Maurice Hurt was at left guard. Polumbus and Adam Gettis didn’t get much of a push on the Redskins’ first two running plays, which produced a total of two yards.
Royster ran through a big hole on the right for a 12-yard gain on the touchdown drive. The line also formed a solid wall in front of Griffin on the 20-yard pass to Garcon. That stuff was good.
Problem is, Polumbus and Hurt just aren’t talented enough to be starters on a team that has so much invested in Griffin. It’s not necessarily a problem with their technique or effort. The Redskins simply need more agile, powerful linemen like left tackle Trent Williams — their only top-notch starter.
Gettis’s career is only beginning. We’ll need to see more of him, as will the coaches, in the next few weeks to get a read on him.
●ROYSTER’S RUNNING: The coaches like Royster because of his vision (he’s good at seeing holes develop). Tim Hightower is still regaining form after knee surgery last season and the staff wants Roy Helu to be more consistent. Breaking long runs once in a while is nice, but frequent moderate gains are better for sustaining drives.
Royster had a 5.9-yard average as a rookie. He possesses the ability to make defenders miss. But Royster won’t become a starter for Shanahan unless he improves in pass protection. He didn’t get many opportunities to try Thursday. More will come.
Against the Bills, Royster couldn’t handle an exchange from Griffin and the Bills recovered his fumble. Stuff like that happens in the preseason. It had better not happen much more if Royster hopes to remain in the race to start.
●HE’S BACK: For most players, the first season back after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery is always difficult. They have to regain their stamina, strength and playing style after a lengthy break from football.
Not surprisingly, Jenkins has struggled while battling with offensive linemen in practice. He has wound up on the ground a lot, which coaches have noticed. Jenkins didn’t make a particularly significant impact against the Bills. He’s back on the field, though, and that’s something on which to build.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.