As Robert Griffin III’s game, character and talents have been poked, prodded and turned inside out in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s NFL draft, the biggest uncertainty posed by analysts and talent evaluators surrounds Griffin’s ability to fit into the Washington Redskins’ offensive scheme.
At Baylor University, Griffin relied on his play-making abilities in a spread offense. Talent evaluators have spent the past four months projecting how his skill set will translate to a pro-style system, in which he’ll be asked to work under center, remain in the pocket, run play-action and move through his progressions.
When his college season ended, Griffin’s representatives at Creative Artists Agency sent their client to quarterback guru Terry Shea in Arizona for nine weeks of intense preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day. They knew one key for Griffin would be showing teams he’ll have no problem adjusting to a pro-style offense.
“It’s a learned skill, to drop back, cross your feet over,” Shea said. “That’s not something you wake up at age 10 and say, ‘Okay, I drop back now.’ You really have to put some time into it.”
By the second week of working together, Griffin had the drops down, Shea said, and the two were able to turn their focus to his release and arm mechanics. Wrinkles there were ironed out quickly, too. For all the attention Griffin’s feet and speed have received, Shea calls him “a passer in the purest sense of the word” and believes the NFL is getting a quarterback mechanically ready for a pro system.
“He disciplined his feet to where he never reverted back to old habits,” Shea said. “Some quarterbacks tend to go right back to what they did in high school or college. He was very disciplined. He was able to translate all this information into performance.”
Now coaches will have to help Griffin make the mental adjustment. He’ll have to play with his back to the offensive line on fake handoffs, turning around, quickly orienting himself and fending off defensive pressure. He’ll have to know where multiple receivers are at once. And he’ll have to memorize a lot more plays than he did in college.
Baylor, in fact, didn’t have a physical playbook. The Bears’ offensive players learned plays in meeting rooms and quickly installed them on the practice field. “We would install anywhere from four to eight new plays a week,” said Philip Montgomery, a Baylor offensive coordinator.
Montgomery said parts of Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan’s system actually will be easier for Griffin than they were in college. In particular, he noted the running game, in which the quarterback won’t be required to make reads or as many snap decisions.
“I think he’ll be exceptional in it,” Montgomery said. “I don’t think he’ll have any problem with it. . . . He and I have already talked about some of those things. He feels comfortable with it, and that’s the most important thing.”
Griffin plays down any talk that he might be better suited for one system than another. He grew up cheering for John Elway on Shanahan’s Denver teams and thinks he’ll be a nice fit for the scheme in Washington.
“It’s not a matter of the pro-style system only fitting a certain quarterback,” he said. “It’s fair game. Everybody’s got to make the same reads, and last time I checked I was able to throw the ball a little bit. So it’s not a problem to me.
“I don’t want teams to just entirely focus on my running ability and say he can’t throw, because they’ll be mistaken. Because that’s something I take pride in. . . . Running backs are supposed to run, quarterbacks are supposed to throw, receivers are supposed to catch the ball. So if we all do our jobs, we’re fine.”
While the Redskins’ offense will not change, they will look to emphasize parts that best suit Griffin’s abilities. Griffin will continue to work on dropping back, but coaches are eager to see how he runs bootlegs.
Former Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian saw plenty of this offense facing the Houston Texans twice a year when it was led by current Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
“If you just extrapolate what Houston does . . . and just say, ‘Okay, we’re going to replace Matt Schaub with RG’ — it’s enough to make you lose sleep at night,” said Polian, now an ESPN analyst. “Just in the bootleg game alone, to say nothing of what he can do with option, short yardage and goal line.”
Griffin likely will hit the field for the first time with coaches during the team’s organized team activity May 21. While he’s already met multiple times with Washington coaches, he’ll likely receive a playbook to study this weekend.
“That offense is perfect for him,” NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said. “Mike Shanahan’s West Coast offense will utilize his skills very well. The run game will be his friend. The play-action and movements and keeps will be a large part of what they do because he’s so good at it. It will be fun to watch.”
At Copperas Cove High in Texas, Griffin operated from multiple sets and even had some experience in a pro-style system. Jack Welch, Griffin’s high school coach, said the talented quarterback gives coaches options and they don’t need to be married to a single system or philosophy for every down of every game.
“That’s why I think it’s a match made in heaven,” Welch said. “I think Shanahan will have a lot of fun with Robert.”
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