- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Jay Gruden tailored his offense in Cincinnati to his quarterback. He’s going to do the same in Washington. That means the Redskins’ offense will have a different look than the Bengals. It also means Robert Griffin III’s legs will continue to be a major weapon.
Gruden made it clear the day he was hired that he liked the zone read-option, so obviously he wants Griffin to use his legs. And Gruden's agent, Bob LaMonte, stressed after Gruden was hired that a big reason for his excitement was Griffin’s ability to be dynamic. That doesn’t mean just throwing the ball. So there wasn’t much doubt how Gruden would want to use Griffin. Just in case, though, he went a little further in a story for Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback.
“I worked with Andy Dalton for three years in Cincinnati, and built a foundation of concepts and protections that I think worked well with him,” Gruden told MMQB. “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. 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.”
Griffin needs to be himself, but at times that conflicted with what the Redskins needed. Or with what he truly wanted to be, which was a pocket passer who could extend plays. That’s what the Redskins really need, for Griffin to extend and then make big plays downfield. Like he did as a rookie against the New York Giants on fourth down. Putting fear into defensive coordinators does not mean he has to scramble and run the ball. Rather, it's that ability to extend plays that scares anyone.
Griffin does need to develop as a pocket passer, but to limit him there at this point would be wrong. He has to grow more into that role, and the Redskins would love for that to happen. They always pointed to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers as a guy whose game they would like him to emulate; he extends plays with his legs. Yes, when you do that there are more risks for hits. But when you can’t, that risk is there in the pocket. And when you’re in the red zone, the ability to extend a play is crucial. Look how many big plays were made by San Francisco and Seattle because of the quarterback's mobility.
And for Griffin to become a better pocket passer, he has work to do, developing more consistent fundamentals and progressing through reads a little faster. That's natural for a young quarterback who did not need to worry about either aspect in college. The problems weren’t all on him last year, but this is how he can help. A good offseason of work will help, as, perhaps, will greater trust in what he’s being told and by whom.
Griffin does not have to become Peyton Manning or Brees to win and be successful. Griffin won being himself as a rookie. He also was hurt twice being himself (the concussion and knee injury both occurred on scrambles). Defenses played him without as much fear this season, especially early in the year when he first returned from his knee surgery. They knew he couldn’t hurt them with his legs like he did in 2012.
Another year removed from surgery and, perhaps, without the brace, Griffin can get back to that point. But he can help himself in little ways, by keeping his eyes downfield as he runs, allowing potential big plays to develop; it’s what Seattle’s Russell Wilson has done in the playoffs. Wilson is still improving as a quarterback, and there are things he does that Griffin did this season as well -- missing open guys, throwing behind receivers on slants. It gets overshadowed because of the team Seattle built around him, allowing the Seahawks to still win. But Wilson is more focused on extending plays rather than taking off and running, and he can deliver strong passes from the pocket when necessary (as can Griffin).
I’m quite sure Gruden understands the risks of a quarterback who runs too much. Heck, in college and when he played professionally, Gruden was a quarterback who ran too much. His brother, Jon, hates the zone-read because he says it will shorten careers. It makes sense that the two have discussed this topic. So it’s safe to say Gruden wants Griffin to develop as a passer and get to a point where he doesn’t have to rely on his legs. Griffin wants that as well.
But it’s good that Gruden will focus on what Griffin does best, rather than force him into a style that doesn’t suit him. They just need to find the right balance.