Postcard from camp: Redskins
At Redskins Park in steamy Ashburn, Va., where Washington's NFL team kicked off its 2012 training camp with a keep-those-liquids-handy, 100-degree-heat index day in the sun. I can't remember ever coming to Redskins camp without enduring a humidity-laden sweat-fest, but this one was a scorcher even by Washington-area standards. Fortunately, the Redskins' new practice bubble is finally up and functional, and the team headed indoors for its morning 90-minute walkthrough session. But there was no escaping the soaring temperatures in the afternoon practice, which started at 3 p.m. I think I saw several bugs melt in mid-air.
I talked to a half dozen Redskins or so during my camp visit, and I have yet to hear anyone say that people just need to just hold their horses and let the kid play a game before he's lionized. You know, as Bill Parcells loves to say, "Let's not put him in Canton just yet.'' I'm not surprised by the build-up. When was the last time the Redskins had a player who could make everyone around him better, make everyone believe and make everyone want to follow him? Griffin is 3-for-3 in those rare categories.
"Being around this game for a number of years now, you can kind of tell when you meet guys who have it,'' Redskins inside linebacker London Fletcher said. "I think he's on his way. He wants to be the best quarterback he can be right now.''
I'm a RGIII backer. I think he's for real and is going to be one of the most talked about playmakers in the league this season. In time I expect he'll join the ranks of the game's elite quarterbacks. But patience, I predict, will not be practiced here. Both the Redskins and their rabid fans are starved for success, and they see RGIII as the chosen one who can deliver it. Right now.
If Hightower is healthy enough, he's probably the rusher the coaches trust most to do everything well enough, including those all-important blitz pickup duties, which are even more critical in protecting a rookie quarterback like Griffin. Helu is the best pure runner, with a great burst, but size-wise (5-foot-11, 215 pounds)he might not be suited for true No. 1 duties, making him more of a change-of-pace option on 12-15 plays per game. Royster was very productive, with a team-high 5.9-yard average carry last year, but doesn't have the speed to make many tacklers miss. Hightower should win the starting slot, but Helu and Royster could force Washington into more of a three-headed backfield as the season progresses.
Morgan had 15 catches for 220 yards and a 14.7-yard average last season in his five games, and he combined to grab 96 passes in 2009-10. And that was with the likes of Alex Smith, Troy Smith and Shaun Hill throwing him the ball. Morgan isn't yet all the way back from last October's injury, but he was on the field and running well with the Redskins' first team on Thursday, and he's sensing something good building in D.C.
"I feel like that because I just went through this in San Francisco last year,'' said Morgan, of the 49ers' breakthrough 13-3 season. "It was the same type of feeling we had. You feel it before you see it. I think we're going to overachieve and surprise some people.''
"One of the things that can't be underestimated is the addition of Raheem Morris,'' said Fletcher, the team's defensive leader. "He's phenomenal, just watching him, listening to him coach. You can see why he was promoted to head coach at such a young age. His style of coaching will help those guys even play better.''
Those Redskins fans clamoring to see if Griffin can reproduce Cam Newton's early rookie-season magic of 2011 won't be watching much of it live and in person. Unless they're willing to make some road trips. Washington starts the season with three away games in the first four weeks, and all told has only three home dates before Nov. 4. But the early-season schedule is the lighter load to lift. The Redskins open against the fired-up and revenge-seeking Saints in the Superdome in Week 1 (Griffin's hometown of New Orleans), play at St. Louis with new head coach Jeff Fisher in Week 2 and travel to Tampa Bay in Week 4. Only in Week 3's home opener against Cincinnati can Griffin give the Redskins faithful something to scream about at FedEx Field.
But the real gauntlet for Washington and its prized rookie starts in Week 7, when it opens a brutal seven-game stretch that will test Griffin against some of the league's better defenses and all three NFC East rivals: Week 7 at the Giants, Week 8 at Pittsburgh, Week 9 vs. Carolina (the Cam vs. RGIII Bowl), Week 11 vs. Philadelphia, Week 12 at Dallas (on Thanksgiving), Week 13 vs. Giants and Week 14 vs. Baltimore. A whopping five of Washington's final seven games are in the division, so the Redskins will either get to make their move from mid-November on, or they'll have to settle for the spoiler role once the weather turns cool.