September 03, 2014

Robert Griffin III knows he'll always have his critics, but he's only concerned with two - himself and new coach Jay Gruden.

The embattled Washington Redskins quarterback has moved past an injury-plagued season that saw him struggle and into a new-look offense set to debut Sunday on the road against a formidable Houston Texans defense.

Griffin helped the Redskins make the playoffs with a stellar 2012 rookie campaign before tearing his ACL in a postseason loss, and though he was ready for last year's opener, nagging injuries and tension with former coach Mike Shanahan led to him being shut down for the final three games.

His struggles - he had an 82.2 quarterback rating compared to 102.4 as a rookie - led to criticism, which increased during the preseason as he looked tentative at times.

For Griffin, he feels like that just comes with the territory.

"I've learned that not everybody's going to like you, and that's just the nature of the business," Griffin said. "You just have to move on from that kind of stuff. I think Jay being here has helped me grow as a person. Trust me, I'm not worried about anybody liking me.

"Our job is to ignore the noise and stay focused on what we have to."

Griffin has expressed a desire to be more of a conventional pocket passer rather than being known as a running quarterback despite thriving in Shanahan's read-option offense his first season.

Washington also has a more-than-capable workhorse back in Alfred Morris, who has rushed for 2,888 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first two seasons in the league.

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

He'll get plenty of opportunities to throw this season under Gruden, who took over after Shanahan's firing following Washington's 3-13 campaign. The Redskins signed former Philadelphia standout receiver DeSean Jackson and return Pierre Garcon, who led the league last season with 113 receptions.

Gruden isn't concerned with Griffin's ability to grasp the system and improve as the season begins.

''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.''

For 11 straight seasons a team has gone from worst to first in its division, and Washington is hoping to extend that run to 12. Same goes for Houston, which finished 2-14 in 2013.

"They're going to come out wanting to right their ship, we're going to come out wanting to right out ship," Griffin said. "We're both going to play hard for our (new) coach. They have a lot of good players on that defense and we're going to have our hands full."

Bill O'Brien is now leading Houston after it fired Gary Kubiak in December. O'Brien inherits an imposing defensive front led by J.J. Watt, who just signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension with $51.8 million guaranteed.

''Money doesn't motivate me, greatness does,'' Watt said. ''I'm so fortunate that I don't have to worry about the money, so I can focus on the greatness. At the end of the day, I want to play this game because I want to be the absolute best I can be.''

Houston wasn't nearly at its best last season, but that failure helped add South Carolina standout Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick. Watt now has plenty of help in the pass rush and said the two have been working together to improve throughout the offseason.

''Every day we work a little something,'' Watt said. ''As you've seen in the (preseason) games, he's a very talented player. I just try and teach him a couple of the things I've learned in my time in this league and ways that we can help each other because I really think it can be a lot of fun.''

Clowney, though, revealed that he suffered a concussion in a joint practice with Denver on Aug. 20. He missed the Texans' final two preseason games, but says he passed the league protocols for head injuries in just over a week and will play Sunday.

The Texans have plenty of question marks on offense. They traded quarterback Matt Schaub to Oakland and handed the reigns to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will be starting for his third team in as many seasons.

"I think being in the league and having to do it multiple times has made it easier for me in terms of being able to step in here," Fitzpatrick said.

The health of running back Arian Foster also may be an issue after he missed eight games last season with a back injury that forced him to have surgery. Foster, who averaged 1,421 yards over his previous three seasons, said he's ready to go Sunday.

"I'm wonderful, physically," said Foster, who sat out all four preseason games. "I'm excited about that. I can't wait to play football."

It seemed during the offseason that leading receiver Andre Johnson might be playing football elsewhere. He grew frustrated after the Texans' dismal season and expressed a desire to be traded, but he didn't hold out and reported to camp on time.

Johnson should be a valuable target for Fitzpatrick, who will be backed up by Ryan Mallet after he was acquired from New England last week.

These teams haven't met since Houston's 30-27 overtime victory at Washington in 2010.

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