RG3 impresses on first day of practice with Redskins vets
ASHBURN, Va. -- Forget the passionate, full-blown swoon experienced by Redskins fans and the entire Washington D.C. area over the arrival of Robert Griffin III; you should hear the reception he's getting in his own locker room.
Players aren't stupid. They know what wins in the NFL, and Griffin spells hope and potential for the Redskins in ways they haven't tasted for decades now. The road back to Washington for a sixth season was far easier for 37-year-old free agent London Fletcher to travel after knowing that RG3 was on hand and ready to finally end the team's revolving door at quarterback.
"Obviously them being able to get into that second pick [of the draft] was something huge for me,'' said Fletcher, the Redskins middle linebacker since 2007 and a veteran of many playoff-less seasons. "I'm a guy in my 15th season and going into another year with not having a quarterback was not very appealing to me, I'll tell you that. So when they were able to make the trade, knowing we would be getting either Andrew Luck or him, it definitely made the situation a lot brighter as far as coming back here. I've had enough years of that other stuff.''
Redskins fans know what "other stuff'' Fletcher has been putting up with the past five years. They've suffered through it, too. Suffice to say Fletcher wasn't offering a ringing endorsement of current Washington backup Rex Grossman, who split time last year as a starter with the departed John Beck. On Monday at Redskins Park, as the team's Griffin era got off to what felt like
"This is early, and he's got a long way to go,'' Redskins receiver Santana Moss said. "But just off what he's shown thus far, you can be excited knowing that if he's not going to be that guy that first year, he's going to be that guy soon. Right now he's been doing everything that we expect. He's looking sharp."
Added fellow Washington receiver Pierre Garcon, the ex-Colt who knows a little something about what a franchise quarterback is all about: "He doesn't look like a rookie. He's throwing and he's putting the ball where it needs to be. He's doing a great job. He's accurate on his deep ball and everywhere else.''
In truth, Griffin wasn't the picture of perfection on a rainy Monday. With the Redskins going through the paces of the first full-squad workout in their spacious new practice bubble, Washington's new savior sailed a few throws, double-clutched a time or two before pulling the ball down and running and occasionally looked a bit off-balance when throwing from the pocket.
But there were plenty of positives, too, with Griffin flashing his strong and accurate right arm on numerous occasions in the 1:45 workout, showing a good command of Washington's offense and generally looking comfortable in the spotlight. If anything he might have been a bit too amped early on in the practice, eager to show the entire Redskins roster what all the fuss is about.
"With rookie mini-camp [two weeks ago], you're more there to try to show coach: 'Hey, you know, you drafted me. I'm as advertised,''' Griffin said after the practice. "But when you're with the vets, it's more, 'I can help this team win,' and show them why coach has so much confidence in you. So yeah, it's a little bit more pressure, but to come out and put helmets on and play football now is pretty simple.''
Watching Griffin in this baby-steps part of his indoctrination to NFL, I couldn't help but be struck by how many times the Redskins' play calls had him rolling out of the pocket to throw on the run. Or occasionally boot-leg it around one end. Griffin rolled right and he rolled left. I'll bet he even rolled out of bed Monday morning. If it was a preview of what was to come this season, Washington fans can expect him to throw from the pocket a clear-cut minority of the time in 2012.
And I can see why Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would make that call. When Griffin throws on the run, he's deadly accurate, even when he's rolling left and throwing against his body. From the pocket, he looks a little less certain of himself, and at times didn't get comfortable or fully mechanically set before releasing the ball. The footwork just isn't as smooth in that part of his game. At least in late May, with the Redskins' Sept. 9 regular-season opener at New Orleans still 111 days away.
"It's part of his game,'' said Garcon of Griffin's rollout skills. "I have to get used to it, to know he can keep a play alive when he's rolling out of the pocket. The plays always on no matter what happens. You just have to be alive at all times with him. You have to be ready for whenever the ball comes out.''
In Indianapolis, Garcon, of course, played with one of the greatest pocket passers of all time in Peyton Manning. The roll-out really wasn't in the Colts' playbook, and if it was, it was never called. But with Griffin, the rollout is going to be his signature move, as it was at Baylor. He's said as much on Monday, noting how pleasantly surprised he was that so many of his quarterback keepers around end were wide open.
"Every time you boot, there's like nobody there, and that's not something that was usual for me in college,'' Griffin said. "But I like it, the way our offense is set up. Everything looks the same. Those keeps are probably going to be a big part of our offense, and there are different ways to run them.''
If Griffin took even one snap in the shot-gun formation on Monday, I missed it. It's clear the Redskins want to get him as much work under center as possible, after Baylor used him almost exclusively in the gun. Griffin even wore a yellow glove on his left, non-throwing hand in the practice bubble, perhaps to help him get used to taking center snaps. But that's only conjecture, because when asked about the glove, he later quipped: "The simple answer to that is I was a huge Michael Jackson fan growing up.''
Griffin is the one with the burgeoning fan club in the Redskins locker room. Fletcher lockers next to the rookie quarterback who prompted Washington to trade away two first-round picks and a No. 2 to St. Louis in early March, and he likes everything about the new, fresh face of the franchise.
"You can obviously see the maturity, the leadership, all the intangibles you would like in your quarterback,'' Fletcher said. "He's very humble, very respectful, and not coming in feeling like he's entitled to anything. He's willing to work, he works hard, he's here early, and he's in the playbook. A lot of different things that, believe it or not, there are some first-round draft picks, especially some high guys, they come in and feel like things should be given to them. That's not the case with him.
"He has an aura about himself that people want to gravitate to him, just get to know him, and talk to him. You can see why everyone felt so highly about him.''
That aura was fully on display Monday for the first time at Redskins Park, in what is hopefully the first day of a longterm and successful relationship between a quarterback-starved franchise and its newest savior at the game's most pivotal position. With RG3 finally on the field in D.C., the swooning continues, and perhaps the suffering will soon cease.