Robert Griffin III strode to the podium Wednesday at Redskins Park for his first news conference of the preseason wearing a burgundy-colored long-sleeve shirt embossed with the phrase “No pressure, No diamonds” in bold, gold letters.
Indeed, pressure abounds in Griffin’s world. On Thursday, he will hit Redskins Park’s football fields with his teammates for the first practice of training camp and the start of a journey that the team hopes will lead to long-sought redemption.
On July 18, Griffin signed his rookie contract — a deal worth $21.1 million over four years, including a $13.8 million signing bonus. In April, he was drafted second overall by Washington, which forked over three first-round picks and a second-round choice to the St. Louis Rams for the right to select him.
But the Heisman Trophy winner insisted Wednesday that while he expects to lead the Redskins back to glory, he will not do it alone. He said the staggering amount of attention he has attracted before taking his first NFL snap will be shared with the other 89 players on Washington’s training camp roster. They have drawn motivation from him and he has encouraged them to join him in the spotlight.
“It’s less about myself, but about helping this team get back to where we want to be,” Griffin said. “They want us to be in the forefront, they want us to be talked about in not a bad way. So I think those guys look at it as, ‘We’ve got our chance to have the spotlight, so let’s go seize it.’ ”
With big contracts, endorsement deals and commercials behind them, Griffin and the Redskins will get down to the task at hand Thursday in heat forecast to reach 100 degrees. They believe that together they will reap the benefits.
“It’s just all business now,” Griffin said. “We’re getting down to the season time and I think everybody came back in great shape. . . . Everybody’s ready to go out and compete and I am, too.
“I’ve been through the offense, had a trial at it and got a taste of how fast the game is and what I need to do as a quarterback to help this team win,” he added. “I feel a lot more comfortable. It’s actually more relaxing, and there’s nothing else going on outside of football anymore. We’re in training camp now so we’re pretty much on lockdown, but for a guy like me, that’s a good thing.”
The Redskins are counting on Griffin to end 20 years that have ended mostly in disappointment. Since winning the Super Bowl to cap the 1991 season, the Redskins have made the playoffs only four times (1992, 1999, 2005 and 2007), and have seen only two quarterbacks (Gus Frerotte in 1996 and Brad Johnson in ’99) reach the Pro Bowl.
The Redskins wasted no time heaping expectations and responsibility upon Griffin. After just three rookie minicamp practices, Shanahan named him the team’s starting quarterback. As he absorbed offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s extensive playbook, Griffin also worked to earn the trust of his veteran teammates on and off the field.
“He’s embraced the whole objective of being the leader of this offense,” said left tackle Trent Williams, who will protect Griffin’s blind side. “He’s worked so hard to get this offense down and not make a mistake, and when you see a rookie doing that, it makes everyone want to work to be that much better.”
“Robert’s taken huge strides, we’ve taken huge strides as an offense,” Williams added. “I know everybody says it, and it sounds cliche, but I really do feel like the sky’s the limit this year. With every offseason, we’re getting in key guys at key positions, and we’re adding on building blocks, and before you know it, we’ll have all the pieces and we’ll be contending for an NFC championship, and hopefully a Super Bowl championship.”
Williams was one of the first building blocks that Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen put in place when they took over the team three offseasons ago, drafting him fourth overall out of Oklahoma. He aims to put a four-game suspension for repeatedly failing drug tests behind him and prove that he also can be a leader.
Williams swears his troubles are behind him. He reported to practices with a renewed sense of commitment and appeared quick and strong in offseason training activities.
Other newly acquired building blocks include wide receivers Pierre Garçon and Josh Morgan, who must provide big play threats; two-time Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather to lead a revamped safety unit; and rookie guards Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis to help bolster depth along the offensive line.
Holdovers such as wide receiver Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley are seeking to prove they still can contribute despite the infusion of youth at their positions. Fred Davis replaced Cooley as the starter last season and Moss must contend with Garçon, Morgan and second-year pro Leonard Hankerson.
Training camp represents comeback quests for other key players. Starting running back Tim Hightower, defensive end Jarvis Jenkins and starting left guard Kory Lichtensteiger all are coming off of season-ending ACL injuries. Starting right tackle Jammal Brown is trying to come back from a bad hip that has landed him on the injured reserve list the last two seasons.
On defense, the biggest question mark concerns the strong and free safety positions, where a collection of castoff defensive backs — Meriweather, Madieu Williams, Tanard Jackson and Cedric Griffin — are seeking to revive their careers.
Taking all that into account, Robert Griffin can rightly say this year isn’t just about him. He even scoffed at the notion that he is the “face of the franchise.”
“There really is no true face of the franchise, because if we just had faces, we’d all be dead,” he says with a smile. “You’ve gotta have a heart, some legs, some skin. That’s those guys in there. I’m just the mask. Those guys are the body of the real team.”
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