The preseason unveiling of Robert Griffin III as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins comes Thursday night in Buffalo where, the organization hopes, the highly celebrated rookie will take a small first step toward becoming the franchise centerpiece he was drafted to be.
But Griffin’s first exhibition-season dress rehearsal comes with complications. At the top of the list: Griffin’s preseason debut will occur behind a patchwork offensive line that is likely to be missing three starters who are injured.
“We’re going to go out there and hopefully try not to put too much pressure on him, give him a chance to get everyone the ball,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday at Redskins Park before the team conducted a walk-through prior to its scheduled afternoon trip to Buffalo. “He’s not going to play a ton. But hopefully he can go out there and just have some fun and go against a defense he hasn’t seen yet.”
Every move made by Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor selected second overall in the April NFL draft, has been closely scrutinized. That promises to be the case again Thursday, even with his starting job already secured and the game’s outcome meaning next to nothing.
“I remember as a rookie being extremely nervous about my first preseason game,” Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said this week. “It was a real game to me. It was a huge moment, and I think it’s a big moment for all of our rookies. I know that they have a lot to prove. Our quarterback has a ton to prove . . . I think he’ll do a good job.”
Griffin said early in the week he expects to be “more anxious than nervous” for the game.
“When you’re anxious, you can’t wait to go succeed,” he said Monday. “I look forward to going out [and] being successful as an NFL quarterback for this franchise. So in that sense, yeah, I’m anxious to go out and get it started.”
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said during the week that his advice to Griffin would be to “let the plays happen. Don’t try to make it happen.”
The major question is how much time Griffin will have to allow plays to develop. There were questions about the offensive line heading into training camp, with right tackle Jammal Brown and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger coming off injuries and little done in the offseason to upgrade the unit.
The questions have only intensified. Brown hasn’t practiced in training camp because of an ailing hip, which he aggravated while running sprints the day before camp began. He remains on the camp version of the physically unable to perform list, with no timetable for his return.
Lichtensteiger underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and is expected to miss the preseason. Right guard Chris Chester sprained an ankle this week and probably won’t play Thursday.
That would leave a line composed of starting left tackle Trent Williams, center Will Montgomery and three backups — Tyler Polumbus at right tackle, Adam Gettis at right guard and Maurice Hurt at left guard.
The Redskins must cross their fingers that Griffin’s sometimes-breathtaking running ability won’t be put on display more often than they want.
“If we could get one good drive put together, go put up some points or just a really good, long drive, I think that’d be good enough for me,” Griffin said.
Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday there had been no talk among the team’s coaches about giving Griffin an unusually heavy preseason workload because he’s a rookie who might need the extra preparation.
Griffin is scheduled to receive a standard amount of playing time for a starter, the Redskins have said. The offensive play-calling also should be of the typical preseason, no-frills variety.
“You want to win the game,” Kyle Shanahan said. “But you also don’t want to show anybody anything because you can go 4-0 [in the preseason] and it doesn’t matter.”
The Redskins’ revamped wide receiver corps, bolstered by the free-agent additions of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan in March, goes on display for the first time in a game situation. Evan Roysteris scheduled to start at tailback and split carries with Roy Helu in the team’s running back competition, with Tim Hightower slated to miss the game as he gradually recovers from last season’s knee injury.
Things are more settled on the starting defense but there’s competition at the two safety spots; free agent newcomers Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams are ahead for now.
The place kicking derby between Graham Gano and Neil Rackers will intensify; the two have performed almost identically in training camp field goals drills.
Once Griffin’s night is done, veteran quarterback Rex Grossman is scheduled to take the field with the second-string offense and rookie Kirk Cousins will work with the third-teamers, Mike Shanahan said this week. Coaches will watch closely to see which young players and on-the-bubble veterans begin to show they should be included on the season-opening roster.
“These players are working extremely hard trying to learn the offense, trying to learn the defense,” Mike Shanahan said. “Now you see them in game situations and see how they react. And so you’re trying to see people that can shine in [that] situation.”