Robert Griffin III wasn’t Robert Griffin III last season.
The Washington Redskins franchise quarterback’s decline from rookie prodigy to second year flop was both sharp and disheartening. His fall from grace can directly be attributed to two factors: health and coaching.
It got bad on many levels for Griffin, who watched from the bench as backup Kirk Cousins performed admirably as the team’s starter, prompting a small yet noticeable divide among the fanbase. Frankly, the Redskins’ disastrous 3-13 campaign couldn’t end fast enough.
When it did, the team turned a new page, firing Shanahan and tabbing Jay Gruden as the new head coach. Griffin, however, needs more than a new page. He must skip to another chapter.
Expect him to do just that, with Gruden providing the biggest boon to Griffin’s 2014 stock.
Shortly after he was hired, the Cincinnati Bengals’ former offensive coordinator provided an immediate breath of fresh air for a club long clouded in Shanahan’s smog.
“With Robert, we’ll obviously use his skill set differently. When it comes to the quarterback position, my job is to make him comfortable and productive,” Gruden told SI.com in January. “I’m not going to try to turn RG3 into Andy Dalton or Drew Brees. He isn’t them. They’re not him. I would be foolish to try to turn RG3 into a pocket passer. It would be foolish. The way he is as a runner, we have to take advantage of that. He strikes fear into defensive coordinators when he runs outside. I’m going to let him be himself.”
Any Redskins fan will appreciate Gruden’s logic of fitting scheme to player — not the other way around. Shanahan and son Kyle, then the club’s playcaller, spent too much time trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, forcing Griffin to run a read-option scheme that often limited his best attributes.
Gruden will take full advantage of Griffin’s skills as a runner, allowing him to escape the pocket at his own discretion. Griffin, after all, ran for 815 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012. For comparison’s sake, he scored zero rushing TDs in 2013. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
It’s no secret that Griffin and Shanahan butted heads, especially when times got tough. After one honeymoon season, they quickly realized they weren’t compatible together. Griffin intimated as much earlier this month, taking a not-so-subtle jab at his ex-coach.
“Everybody in that building is going to be for us being successful and for us winning,” Griffin said, per FoxSports.com.
You don’t need a degree in psychology to read between those lines. Griffin added that there are no longer any “ulterior motives” within Washington’s organization. That alone tells you how damaged his relationship with Shanahan ultimately had become.
Shanahan isn’t the sole reason for Griffin’s fall from grace last year, though. The quarterback should be held accountable for rushing back too quickly from reconstructive knee surgery. Physically, his bulky knee brace limited mobility. Mentally, he was constantly tentative about stepping up in the pocket or getting hit.
Now, the shackles have come off — literally and figuratively. And it’s evident to the new coaching staff.
“I think people underestimate when you have a brace on your knee how much that truly restricts you,” Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay said, via the Washington Post. “So I think being able to take that off, he looks extremely explosive.”
If you don’t believe me, at least take it from McVay, who affirmed Griffin “looks like he is exactly what he was in the 2012 season.” He’s credible enough, folks.
Griffin could well recapture that 2012 magic, which included a division title and Pro Bowl selection. He just has to work for it, and that entails refining himself as a passer.
Despite an immeasurable amount of talent, Griffin has a tendency to get sloppy with his mechanics, causing misfires and turnovers. To correct that, he’s recently enlisted the services of noted guru Terry Shea, whose work with many high-profile QBs is well-documented. Thus far, Griffin has shown an improvement in fundamentals, but that’s easy to do in shorts and a T-shirt.
As he enters his third season, traditionally when quarterbacks are expected to take a big leap forward, all eyes will be on the face of the Redskins’ franchise. Every training camp pass will be watched closely. Every snap in the preseason will be dissected. Come Week 1, narratives will be written up by the media — either “he’s baaaack!” or, simply, “he’s back.”
In my professional opinion, you’re more likely to witness the former. The real Robert Griffin III is about to stand up.