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RG3's transformation vital to Redskins turnaround

Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden watches from the sideline in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton) Photo:

Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden watches from the sideline in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

WASHINGTON (AP) The mission for Robert Griffin III is to become a passer who can run, instead of a runner who can throw.

It's going to take some time.

The Washington Redskins can only hope there is an inevitably that ''when'' is used instead of ''if'' in RG3's transition to a more traditional quarterback. The hopes of a franchise that's become sorely accustomed to last-place finishes are riding on it.

In charge of the transformation is rookie NFL head coach Jay Gruden, hired after Mike Shanahan was dismissed following a 3-13 season dominated by coach-QB tension. Gruden has been candid about the improvements Griffin needs to make. The quarterback's inconsistent and sometimes tentative work at training camp and during preseason games suggests a learning curve that could last well into the regular season and possibly beyond.

''It will come,'' Gruden said. ''He's got the ability to do it, he's got the smarts to do it, he's got the wants to do it. He's just got to do it.''

Griffin wowed the NFL as a rookie in 2012 operating an offense based on the read-option, capitalizing on his threat as a runner. But he missed all or part of four games last season because of injuries and made it known he wants to be more of a conventional quarterback. The read-option is still there, but it has been marginalized in Gruden's playbook.

Griffin bristles at the suggestion that he can't be a pocket passer.

''I made my name throwing the ball in college,'' he said. ''I won a Heisman Trophy with Baylor.''

True, but history suggests that neither tons of yards passing as an amateur nor a shiny trophy is enough to guarantee long-term success in the NFL.

Here are some other things to watch as the Redskins kick off their season Sept. 7 against the Houston Texans:

FROM SHANNY TO JAY: New coaches inevitably make rookie mistakes, but they also get a honeymoon. Or, as receiver Santana Moss put it: ''It's just like getting that new girlfriend. ... The new one ain't going to get on your nerves until down the road. She might be like the old one.''

Regardless, Gruden's style is a turnabout from Shanahan's. He's loose, informal, more of a players' coach. He doesn't have a lead role in the front office, and he delegates authority to his assistants. The last two Redskins head coaches to operate in a similar hierarchy, Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn, didn't fare well, but Shanahan's authoritarian rule was likewise a failure.

D-JAX: Three-time Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson is the Redskins' biggest offseason addition. If he behaves himself, he'll be quite the catch. The team already has Pierre Garcon, who led the NFL in receptions last season, and still-going-strong Moss, plus another accomplished newcomer, Andre Roberts. Griffin certainly can't complain about his options when he drops back to pass.

BLITZIN' D: No longer under Shanahan's thumb, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is free to unleash his ideas and schemes - and the early returns are promising. The additions of free agent Jason Hatcher and draft pick Trent Murphy combine with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan to give the Redskins plenty of ways to sack a quarterback. The defense was far ahead of the offense during the preseason, although safety Brandon Meriweather's two-game suspension for his latest helmet-first hit could be a significant setback.

A BIT MORE SPECIAL: For all that went wrong with the Redskins last season, nothing was worse than the special teams. The Redskins addressed the matter by hiring a new special teams coordinator, Ben Kotwica, and signing several free agents specifically known for special teams prowess. Said tight end Niles Paul: ''We've got guys in here that actually want to be on the teams.''

GETTING THEIR BOUNCE: Worst to first is now standard stuff in the NFL. For 11 years running, at least one team has won its division after finishing in the cellar the season before. That gives the Redskins some legit hope, especially in an NFC East that doesn't appear to have a dominant team. The talent on last year's roster was better than 3-13, and there have been several upgrades. If nothing else, it won't take much to surpass the fiasco of 2013.

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AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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