NFC East: RG III

Some Washington Redskins news and notes for Friday morning:

Griffin
Briles on RG III: Baylor coach Art Briles watched his former quarterback, Robert Griffin III, work out earlier this week. He saw a guy he used to see with regularity. "I think it's as fresh and uplifting as I've seen him in a long time quite honestly," Briles said on the SiriusXM Blitz Wednesday via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post. "The thing about ACLs: I've always thought they take a complete year to get over. And I think he rushed himself a little bit, just because that's the way Robert is. He's always going to be determined to do more than is humanly possible."

Briles' prediction? "So I think this year, I do think we'll see a very healthy RG III. I think we're gonna see a guy that's happy playing the game, that has a fire and attitude that you need to have a chance to be successful, because that's who he is."

Revisiting Week 1 2013: Steinberg also wrote about former Redskin Chris Cooley saying that Griffin should not have started the 2013 opener. It wasn't because of Griffin's health, but rather his readiness. Griffin was cleared by doctors and was ready physically. But it's clear in hindsight he was not prepared to play in an NFL game. Mike Shanahan did a bad job of managing Griffin, from not pulling him in the Seattle game despite his gut feeling to do so and to being afraid of how his moves were perceived by the young quarterback. If you have a conviction on something, do it. Instead, Shanahan did not and instead we got the mess of last December.

Jackson
More on Jackson: ESPN980's Chris Russell exchanged texts with safety Tanard Jackson, who told him his fourth suspension was not like the others, that it had nothing to do with marijuana. It's hard to buy any story from a guy in his position, regardless if you want to or not. Maybe it's true; maybe it's not. Bottom line: Whatever Jackson thinks, the NFL's ruling is the one that matters. They ruled he tested positive for violating the NFL's substance of abuse policy. It's over.

Power rankings: The Redskins ended the 2013 season ranked No. 31 in ESPN's power rankings. The rankings suggest they'll be better over the next three years -- but not by a whole lot. The panel of experts ranked Washington No. 24 Insider for what it could do over the next three years. That's a dropoff from last season and it stems from a fall at quarterback and coaching. They dropped 12 spots at quarterback and 19 at coaching from this time last year. The knock on Griffin traces back to his knee injury and a subpar season. And going from Mike Shanahan to first-time head coach Jay Gruden caused a tumble (of course, had Shanahan returned after such a bad season they might have fallen far regardless). It's not as if Gruden's hire was considered a great one at the time, so until he proves himself there will be split opinions on him. They also were knocked for the front office. The Redskins need Griffin to rebound and they'll climb in the rankings, but they also have to do a much better job building the defense. If Griffin plays well, the offense is in excellent shape. But the defense needs more help and will need several new parts after this season.
Some Redskins items from recent days that you might have missed:

More work: Quarterback Robert Griffin III will work with quarterbacks coach Terry Shea next week. Griffin worked with Shea earlier this offseason for a week, but wanted another tune-up before training camp begins July 24. Shea focused hard on Griffin’s fundamentals, including narrowing his base, getting his feet to turn with his body in the pocket and raising where Griffin held the ball -- at times last year he held it too low, leading to a wind-up throw. Griffin clearly has worked hard this offseason. I'm curious to see how that pays off this summer and during the season. He’s also said to have his explosion back, as has been discussed for a while – as multiple people have talked about seeing a difference in that area. But the real key for him is developing in the pocket. Griffin needs to succeed without that extraordinary explosion, though it certainly does help when defenses fear your legs.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesWashington hopes the offseason work Robert Griffin III has put in will pay off in the fall.
Skepticism over RG III ranking: Last week Mike Sando wrote a terrific piece, ranking quarterbacks based on a poll of executives and coaches and evaluators . Griffin did not fare well, being placed as a tier 3 quarterback tied with Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton. The rankings prompted Kevin Seifert to question why Griffin had fallen so far after just one bad season; he also asked if they had forgotten a record-setting 2012 season. People fall in and out of love quickly in the NFL and I think Griffin is the latest example. Watch how fast opinions change if he gets off to a good start.

Vinny on Snyder's fight: Former Redskins executive Vinny Cerrato knows Dan Snyder well, which is why he doesn’t think he’ll abandon his fight to keep the nickname. Snyder is not going to suddenly think the other side has a point, not when he views the matter much, much differently. Besides, what has been evident over the years is that he’s ultra-competitive and does not want to lose this one. Cerrato’s point is one that others have mentioned, too: The only way Snyder might relinquish the battle is if (and he stressed if) he somehow gets a new stadium out of it in a decade or so.

Family torn on name: The Wetzel family is a pivotal one in the Redskins’ battle over the nickname as Walter Wetzel is the one who designed the current logo used on the helmet since 1972. Wetzel’s son, Donald, tells The Washington Post – and has told other outlets in the past – that he’s proud of the name and the logo. But his nephew told the Post that he definitely is on the other side with his thoughts. Guessing this is a microcosm of the debate played out among Native Americans.

Redemption: A lot of Redskins have talked about getting the “bad taste out of their mouths” from last season. Niles Paul joined that chorus in an interview with Omaha.com. Paul said, “This is clearly a redemption year for us, and we want to let that be known.” I did a two-week look at players with something to prove, but there’s no doubt the organization as a whole has a lot to prove. But the Redskins have said the right things in the past only to do ... nothing. They can back up these words if Griffin rebounds, the pass rush is terrific, the tackling in the secondary is a lot better and the inside linebackers produce.
  1. Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay praised quarterback Robert Griffin III for how he handled the offseason – physically and mentally. “He did an excellent job above the neck,” McVay said, “as far as absorbing the new system, some of the terminology. … He’s done an excellent job translating his knowledge in the meeting room onto the field, recognizing some of those looks. Some of the audible situations we’ll give him the opportunity to call things at the line. He’s shown he’s fully capable of doing it and that’s what gives him a great chance to have success this year.”
  2. Griffin did not call audibles the first two seasons, but in talking to players the past two years, the Redskins had built-in rules in their offense so that if a bad look presented itself, there were automatic checks to another option.
  3. Cord Jefferson wrote an interesting piece on receiver DeSean Jackson in ESPN The Magazine. One thing that jumps out is his father’s involvement in his life. We already knew about this, but Jefferson wrote about Jackson’s father having an argument with his oldest son Byron after the latter told him he was giving up football after stints in the World League of American Football and the Canadian Football League. Jackson’s father eventually pulled a gun on him, leading to them being estranged. That was broken because Byron Jackson returned to help groom his younger brother.
  4. But it also illustrates the pressure put on DeSean Jackson to succeed in the NFL by his father. It wasn’t always easy, though in the end it sounds as if Jackson understood it better. And the heavy role his dad played is what Griffin gets. It’s why Griffin feels as if he understands Jackson’s motivation, which in turn helps him relate better.
  5. For what it’s worth, the Redskins obviously were pleased with what they saw of Jackson on the field this spring. As one coach texted last week, “He’s the real deal.” That’s not a surprise given his talent and background, of course, but they are excited about what he’ll do in Washington. Then again, I doubt they’d say otherwise right now.
  6. OK, in case you missed the last week of the Redskins’ nickname controversy: Here’s a story on a school board in the state of Washington that said they won’t force the local high school, in a heavily Native American district, to change its nickname; Senator John McCain said the name should change; a Redskins Pride Caucus was formed by Virginia politicians tired of the controversy.
  7. Here’s something I stumbled upon about Redskins running back Lache Seastrunk. Before last college season, he guaranteed that he’d win the Heisman Trophy. Don’t believe me? Here’s his quote to the Sporting News, “I’m going to win the Heisman. I’m going to win it in 2013. If I don’t, I’m going to get very close. I’m shooting for that goal. I will gladly say it.” Seastrunk also told the Sporting News, “I feel like there’s no back who can do what I do. I know I’m the fastest back in the country. I know I’m the best back in the country. Nobody’s going to work harder.” Have to say, I like guys who aren’t afraid to say how they feel. Don’t forget, Seastrunk said this spring, “I don’t have any weaknesses.” This kid could be a reporter’s dream.
  8. This story by Phil Sheridan surprised me as well: In the last 10 years, the Eagles have a home record of 44-36 and their road mark was 45-34-1. It’s mystifying how a team that has largely been a playoff contender during this stretch hasn’t been better at home. They were only 4-4 at home last season as well, though they won their last four (before losing a home playoff game). In the last 10 years, the Redskins have gone 5-5 in Philadelphia. Players get a kick out of pulling into the parking lot in their buses, seeing little kids flip them off and seeing eggs splatter on the windows. By the way, Philadelphia has added 1,600 seats to the Linc for this season.
  9. If the New York Giants want their passing attack to flourish again, it would help tremendously if third-year receiver Rueben Randle becomes a consistent target. He caught 41 passes for 611 yards and a team-leading six touchdown receptions, which our Dan Graziano likened to a “little like being the tallest dwarf.” Graz has a way with words. Anyway, Randle had three games of 75 or more yards but 10 with 40 or fewer. That has to change. And Giants receivers coach Sean Ryan said recently, “I've seen a difference in his seriousness towards his work. This spring, I thought he was locked in. I thought he did a good job learning the new offense. Like I said, he's got some football intelligence to him. Things come to him. He sees things pretty well. But I thought he really worked hard at being locked into the meetings and on the field as well. I noticed a difference in him." Receiver is a tough position for young players to learn; we’ll learn a lot more about Randle after this season and the direction he’s headed.
  10. For the first time in a while, Dallas lacks star power when it comes to its pass rush. Not that anyone else in the division will feel sorry for the Cowboys, entering life without DeMarcus Ware (not to mention Jason Hatcher and his 11 sacks from this past season). The problem is, where will their rush come from? The best options are a rookie second-round pick (DeMarcus Lawrence) and a defensive tackle coming off ACL surgery (Henry Melton). Calvin Watkins explored that situation here.

Redskins notes: Tempers flare

June, 17, 2014
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ASHBURN, Va. -- It felt like training camp: Temperatures threatened to reach 90 degrees in the morning and there was more back-and-forth banter. And, of course, there was a shoving match. It wasn't even the first scrap of the spring, but it was one of the more notable ones because it was a little more intense.

Defensive lineman Doug Worthington and offensive lineman Mike McGlynn were engaged on a play that ended up getting more heated. McGlynn grabbed Worthington's facemask and pulled his helmet off. They had to be separated and that was the extent of it.

"Sometimes competitive players push and shove," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "We've just got to avoid that."

"I've never seen a guy take another guys facemask off," Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III said. "That was impressive. Emotions are high; guys are ready to go."

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy, Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins will enter training camp with three quarterbacks, Colt McCoy, Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, who all ran through drills on Tuesday.
Yes they are. This wasn't the first time players snapped at one another in the spring. It happened during organized team activities when tight end Niles Paul and corner Chase Minnifield had words followed a week later by Paul and linebacker Adam Hayward.

But by this point of spring, players are more than ready to finally put on the pads so they can hit for real.

"There's no doubt they're ready," Gruden said. "Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, it's very difficult for them to handle these practices, without pads."

Jackson getting healthier: Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson said his hamstring is around 90 to 95 percent recovered. "That's good enough speed for me to get out here and work," Jackson said. The receiver missed nearly two weeks of OTA sessions because of a strained hamstring. He returned last week and looked better Tuesday.

Three QBs: Gruden said the Redskins will take three quarterbacks to training camp. Teams often take four or five to keep arms fresh. But Gruden wants to make sure the three quarterbacks he does have -- Griffin, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy -- get enough reps. Griffin, obviously, will get the majority of them in camp. If a quarterback gets a tired arm in camp, or if someone gets hurt, Gruden would have to find another one. "But I can also throw perfect spirals and complete passes," the ex-college quarterback said laughing.

Analyzing Jay Gruden's comments

June, 13, 2014
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One of the first things you notice when interviewing Jay Gruden is that he's honest. Or, at least, as honest as he can be. Not that I needed a reminder, but Don Banks' article on SI.com provided another example.

Banks is one of my favorite NFL writers and he coaxed a couple of telling quotes from Gruden after practice Wednesday. Two parts jumped out.

The quote: "Personally my belief is the read-option is better as an element of surprise. If you're making it a major focal point of your offense -- though they had success with it -- that's problematic. You want to have some of it, no question, because it's the way to get the numbers back in your favor offensively. And with a quarterback like [Robert Griffin III], why wouldn't you have some of it?

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Manuel Balce CenetaJay Gruden questioned whether the previous regime was committed to developing Robert Griffin III as an all-around QB.
"But we're trying to develop him as an all-around quarterback. And I don't know if they had that (as a goal). I'm sure they did a little bit, but I think that's the clear intent moving forward, to develop him as an all-around quarterback. That's part of his growth, from '12 to '13 to now.''

My take: It’s rare that a new coach will make any sort of comment about the previous coaching staff. Whether or not you agree with his take, it’s certainly one that can be interpreted as a dig. Nobody wants to be perceived as not trying to develop a guy. I’d say they felt Griffin was more raw as a passer coming out of college and this was the way to go. How much they would have developed him we’ll never know; I know what some of the plans were but that can be just talk. But the other part of this is that it will play well with Griffin who no doubt felt the same. He has to feel he has a coach on his side.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, the Redskins should keep the zone-read as part of the offense. However, I’ve always felt they should run it less and less as Griffin matures. If he becomes a more consistent passer, and improves his pocket presence and keeps extending plays, there will be much less reason to have him run more than a couple times a game. It definitely helped the passing game, but so too did the stretch zone play-action. Both created confusion for linebackers.

The quote: "Some of the quick passing game will be about having the ability to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands to receivers out in space, and let them make a big play after the catch. It's a low-risk, high-reward type play, and you'll see some of those implemented in our offense. But then, here in Washington, they actually had some good play-action shot plays, and we'll carry some of those we like. There's definitely some concepts I really like and think are necessary for pro football quarterbacks.''

My take: Griffin will be comfortable with those quick passes and with the Redskins’ ability to use four or five legitimate targets in the pass game, he should be able to have a favorable matchup. Whether or not the receiver wins is another matter, but it will be available a decent amount. I know he did some of this at Baylor, but the talent gap is much greater in college. And you can’t live only on short passes. But the Redskins do have players who can do something with the ball after the catch -- adding Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson here makes a big difference. Quite an upgrade. For what it's worth, I like Pierre Garcon most in this role because he's a good combination of power and speed, allowing him to break more attempts. Jackson is best on shallow crosses. (I did not see him catch a slant pass last season, though perhaps I missed one.) Regardless, we all know he can run.

But I also like that Gruden will incorporate past concepts that worked. You don’t always see that from a new coach, who wants to run his stuff only. One thing that’s noticeable with Gruden is that he doesn’t coach with an ego, willing to let coordinators do their job and to take input offensively (his expertise). Players and coaches feel like they have a lot of input (and are trusted). Again, time will tell if this approach works but if he succeeds it will be a big reason why. That and an improved pass rush, fewer turnovers and a highly productive Griffin.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Receiver DeSean Jackson returned to practice -- and it was noticeable. Jackson wasn't quite fully recovered from his mild left hamstring pull, but he was good enough to remind everyone why the Washington Redskins signed him.

Jackson stood out in Wednesday's organized team activity, getting behind the defense on one occasion and catching another long pass in tight coverage (both from Robert Griffin III).

"He feels good running straight," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "It's just sometimes coming out of cuts he's still a little bit tentative and we're just watching him. But he looked good obviously."

Jackson, who signed with Washington in early April, was unavailable to the media, according to the public relations department. But Gruden said it was good to have him back on the field. Jackson injured his hamstring on the third day of OTA workouts two weeks ago.

"It's good to see him out there push it a little bit for the team and everybody else," Jay Gruden said. "But he did a good job. He's probably working through a little bit of pain just a little bit."

Jon Gruden on his brother, RG III

June, 11, 2014
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ASHBURN, Va. -- The big brother with the Super Bowl ring watched from the sidelines, getting a feel for a team he’ll discuss during the season and for how his brother is handling life as a first-time head coach in the NFL.

Jon Gruden
ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden still says -- jokes? -- that Jay Gruden is the better coach. If that is the case he has a lot to prove. For now, he’s a rookie head coach trying to build a winning team.

But Jon Gruden said he learned a lot about his brother when both worked in Tampa. The younger Gruden served as an offensive assistant, sitting in the press box with a headset on during games.

“In a lot of ways he was like a coordinator with the Buccaneers,” said Jon Gruden, 50, and three years older than Jay. “A lot of the plays that I called went through him. He’s been able to see the game from a quarterback’s perspective for a long time. I like the way he develops young players.

“I like the way he did that for me in Tampa and the way he did that in the Arena League. If you look at the Bengals skill players, people can say all they want, but a lot of the young players played and played well fast.”

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Manuel Balce CenetaNew head coach Jay Gruden will help Washington's young players develop quickly according to his brother, Jon, an ESPN analyst.
Jay Gruden will have to duplicate that success in Washington, though the young players on offense have already been starters in the NFL. But the one player Jay Gruden needs to have this happen with is quarterback Robert Griffin III.

“It’s awful early to make a bunch of predictions,” Jon Gruden said. “He obviously had his eyes open to the NFL, and I know I had my eyes opened quickly as well. It will make him better in the long run. Mentally tougher. I think he’s obviously way ahead of the game physically. Last year he was hurt at this time. It’ll be an interesting thing to see how he likes this new offense and how he performs. I have a lot of confidence in him.

“I don’t know what happened here the last couple years. He was the rookie of the year. I just know the offense will be different. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

He also liked how the Redskins practiced, but said what stood out was something else.

"I like the way they incorporated speed with their offense," Jon Gruden said. "You see DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon and you see [Andre] Roberts and [Jordan] Reed look good, and they still stayed with their zone stretch running game. That combination is really good."

Jon Gruden will get his first chance to call a game with his brother as head coach in an Aug. 18 preseason game vs. Cleveland. He’s already worked games when his brother was the offensive coordinator with Cincinnati.

“I’m just trying to take care of my job,” Jon Gruden said. “I’ve already been fired. I’m just trying to hang onto the job I can and he’s trying to do the same.”

Jay Gruden said he likes when his brother visits. And, yes, certain memories are triggered.

“Coaching points he’s made throughout the history of some of the plays we’ve run,” Jay Gruden said. “They’re good, solid, valid points that you’d like to bring up to your team ... He’s a great presence. Hopefully I’ll get him to talk to the team a little bit [Thursday] and pick his brain some more, maybe a little golf.”
ESPN's fantasy sports writer Eric Karabell is taking a look at every NFL team for the Insiders page , checking out the storylines fantasy league players need to follow this summer.

Among this thoughts on the Redskins:

Garcon
Garcon
“Pierre Garcon should still be the first Redskins wide receiver off the board.”

My take: Garcon, not DeSean Jackson, will be the primary receiving target this season. No one has said that to me because until we get closer to the season – and probably into the season – no one really knows how things will unfold. But Garcon is a sturdier player, capable of running a greater variety of routes. Jackson caught 82 passes last season, but his previous high was 62. He can be dangerous to defend even when grabbing around 60 passes. In fact, it wouldn't stun me at all to see Jackson as the third leading receiver in terms of total catches behind Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed. Durability plays into this as well (though Jackson has missed fewer games than Garcon in his career; both have played six seasons).

Morris
“Running back Alfred Morris will simply be underrated.”

My take: From the time coach Jay Gruden was hired, the word has been clear: They will continue to use the same run game as under former coach Mike Shanahan. That's among the reasons they kept offensive line coach Chris Foerster. While they have added size along the offensive line, the players they added all can block in the outside zone -- where Morris excels. So he'll continue to put up good numbers. I do wonder how many carries he'll get after receiving 611 combined his first two seasons. Remember, one knock on Gruden in Cincinnati: He abandoned the run too often. He also didn't have the depth at receiver he now has in Washington.

The Redskins will spread the field and I can see them throwing more, or at least wanting to. Or they'll spread the field and run the draw; will Morris be the guy they want in that situation? Or someone with a little more burst (or a threat in the pass game) such as Roy Helu or even rookie Lache Seastrunk, who was perfect for this sort of setup at Baylor. The Redskins would like Morris to catch 20-25 passes; he's working on his route running this offseason. He's still their best running back, but if they want to diversify I can see others chipping away a little at his work. Or because they want to throw more.

Griffin
“It all should come down to [Robert Griffin III]. A standout summer could, in theory, push him into the draft day quarterback class where Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton reside, in the 4-to-7 range. A poor one and he's out of the top 10. That seems unlikely.”

My take: If Griffin shows improvement this summer -- and his old burst -- then he will be dangerous, just as he was in 2012. That season, he definitely missed plays in the pass game but he made quite a few and he should be further ahead now thanks to a good offseason. Just know that Griffin's mobility looks good this spring. Add to it the extra talent around him with Jackson, Andre Roberts and a healthy Reed and Griffin will have plenty of reasons to post good numbers. It's not a stretch. But keep in mind that Griffin is learning a new passing attack. He also still has to show he can be a consistent pocket passer. But if he can extend plays better, he should hurt defenses with this receiving corps.

Will defenses blitz him as much if they see him hurting them with his legs again? Teams blitzed him on 33.6 percent of his dropbacks in 2013 compared to 21.1 percent as a rookie, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Do you want to blitz as much knowing a short pass could quickly turn into a long gain? Griffin has to improve his downfield accuracy. He went from completing 55.7 percent of his throws on routes 15 yards or more downfield as a rookie to 40.7 last season. One note: I remember one talk with a general manager before the 2012 draft who was worried about Griffin's accuracy on intermediate routes. Still, that's a big drop-off. Griffin's mechanics were off after missing a full offseason, leading to errant throws. Was that the only reason for the fall? Regardless, I'd expect that number to improve. How much? We'll find out this season.
A mega-contract shouldn’t be on his mind right now. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has other things to worry about: improving in the pocket, returning to the path he was on pre-knee injury, winning games.

Yet, after San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick signed his contract Wednesday -- receiving $61 million guaranteed, though the breakdown of the contract is favorable to the Niners making that guaranteed amount a bit dubious -- it’s fair to wonder what the other young quarterbacks might receive next spring. That is, if teams decide to give them a new contract rather than just extend their rookie deals by one year, which they can do with first-round picks such as Griffin and Andrew Luck. Russell Wilson? As a third-round pick he'll get a new deal.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Richard LipskiRobert Griffin III has a lot to prove coming off a subpar season.
For Griffin, though, the path is less clear than it is with the others. Wilson won a Super Bowl, though Seattle’s defense was the star. But he’s also a good quarterback. Luck steadily improved and led his team to the playoffs his first two years.

It’s not a huge leap of faith to say Griffin will return to the path many expected him to be on pre-knee injury. He’s had a good offseason; he’s a year removed from surgery and ditched the knee brace and he no longer has friction with the head coach or offensive coordinator. Toss in the fact that Griffin has more explosive talent around him and it’s less of a stretch. He’s still a maturing player in many ways, but his drive is impressive. It would be silly to write him off after last season.

But he’s already had two ACL surgeries on his right knee and he still has to prove he can beat a team consistently with his arm. The read option is a nice change-up, but the long-term money is earned in the pocket. Yes, he’s also coming off a subpar second season. In fairness, the lack of an offseason hurt him considerably. The mistake made by many (myself included) was in thinking last August that it wouldn’t have the impact it did. I can tell you that while certain people were bad-mouthing Griffin behind the scenes late in the season, questioning his ability to improve in certain areas, those same people said not a word about these same things, say, in August. Not a word.

The Redskins don’t have to do anything with Griffin’s contract for a couple of years if they prefer. They could extend the deal next offseason (that’s what Carolina did with Cam Newton; he’ll receive $14.87 million this season) and then worry about the next contract after the 2016 season. By then they’ll have a great idea of where Griffin is headed.

It’s tough to compare Griffin to Kaepernick because the circumstances are different. The latter is 17-6 as a starter and 3-1 on the road in the postseason, having played in a Super Bowl. Kaepernick has a much better defense around him -- the Niners were a good team before he started a game. But he was hurt last year by not having good receivers. Griffin took a team that had finished in last place three straight years to an NFC East title. There were other factors, but he was a primary one, injecting a massive dose of hope.

Their stats are comparable. Griffin tops him in several areas, but Kaepernick has a better passer rating. In 29 starts, Kaepernick has completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 5,046 yards, 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a 93.8 rating. In 28 starts, Griffin has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 6,403 yards, 36 touchdowns and 17 interceptions for a 91.5 rating.

At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Kaepernick is built for a long career. The concern some had about Griffin coming out of college is that, at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, he might not be durable. It's still up for debate. Both players are not finished products. Some of the knocks on Griffin -- the need to better anticipate throws, failing to throw to a player who appeared open -- are things I saw from Kaepernick and Wilson at times during the past season and postseason. It just didn’t hurt them as much because their teams could still win without them having great games. (Kaepernick, by the way, has three touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 1-3 record vs. Seattle).

Kaepernick did excel against the blitz this past season, something Griffin did not do after doing just that as a rookie.

But Kaepernick earned his money. The next wave of quarterbacks will soon be in position to get theirs. Whether Griffin gets that sort of cash is up to him, of course. Play well and the franchise that gave up a lot to get him will pay a lot to keep him around.

The Redskins have time to make a decision. But Griffin needs to lay a strong case for himself this fall.
 

Thoughts and observations from the Redskins OTA session Thursday (taking a look at big picture things here rather than practice plays made in the spring):

  1. Robert Griffin III worked on being more consistent with his mechanics in the offseason and there was a difference. The past two years his base was wider as the Redskins wanted to shorten the stride. He also got into a habit of holding the ball lower, leading to a longer windup when he threw.
  2. But in practice Thursday, Griffin held the ball higher – at the top of the numbers. He also threw with a more narrow base. He likes doing this because he feels more free, giving him the ability to bounce the pocket a little better. Not every quarterback throws with the same base, much like not every hitter uses the same stance at the plate.
  3. [+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
    AP Photo/Richard LipskiRobert Griffin III showed off his new throwing mechanics during practice on Thursday.
    Griffin also was throwing more over the top; less windup. So the ball came out a little quicker. He was not always accurate, but he was not off as much as he was, say, last summer when coming back in training camp. And keep in mind that even as a rookie in practice Griffin would have off days throwing the ball.
  4. Regardless, Griffin’s fundamentals were more consistent than they were during the season. The key will be transferring it to the season when it gets chaotic in the pocket.
  5. His weight transfer was different as well; much more quiet but a definite transfer. Saw it on a deep ball to receiver DeSean Jackson.
  6. Griffin escaped the pocket on one play and looked like he was going to tuck and run. But he pulled up before he crossed the line and hit Pierre Garcon along the sidelines.
  7. Keenan Robinson lined up next to Perry Riley with the No. 1 defense. It’s only May, but it’s still telling when considering that he missed all of last season and part of his rookie year. They also signed Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan, who worked with the second team. Adam Hayward also worked some with the second team at inside linebacker.
  8. The linebackers’ versatility will be a huge part of the defense this season, as you would expect. The key is that they now have three outside linebackers – Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy -- who are comfortable with their hands in the dirt, rushing from a two-point stance or dropping into coverage.
  9. Murphy beat Tom Compton during 11-on-11 work with a quick spin move to the inside. For a tall guy, Murphy does a nice job staying low on his spin.
  10. Second-year linebacker Brandon Jenkins was mostly limited to rushing the passer last season, but saw him in coverage some Thursday.
  11. Here are the players I saw returning kicks Thursday: Lache Seastrunk, Chris Thompson, Nick Williams, Andre Roberts and Rashad Ross.
  12. Chris Baker lined up at left end with the starting defense (keep in mind Stephen Bowen can’t work). Chris Neild was in the middle with Barry Cofield sidelined (hernia surgery) and Jason Hatcher was on the right side.
  13. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland still needs to be less grabby. Saw him tugging Santana Moss’ jersey downfield before the veteran caught the ball. Saw Breeland tugging other jerseys as they broke on a route (after the allotted five yards of contact). Not sure all the receivers quite appreciated his hands.
  14. Breeland was beaten on a double move by receiver Pierre Garcon. One thing Breeland said he needed to do was to keep his eyes on his man. He lost him this time, peeking too long into the backfield and awaiting a throw that wasn’t coming. Instead, it turned into an easy deep completion.
  15. Maurice Hurt worked at right tackle with the third unit. Josh LeRibeus worked at left guard with the second unit.
  16. Jackson’s speed was evident, especially on an end around. He was in traffic as he ran around the end, on the side opposite the media so it was hard to tell who it was at first. But he was moving at a different speed, which was the first clue as to who it was.
  17. Corner Chase Minnifield will get into a lot of tussles this camp – a safe prediction. He nearly got into one with tight end Niles Paul Thursday. Minnifield is physical and feisty and that will never please those running routes in practice. This time, Minnifield was grabbing Paul on the entire route and at the end Paul shoved him. Minnifield bounced up and shoved him back. It didn’t escalate.
  18. Minnifield did pick off a Kirk Cousins pass in zone coverage. Minnifield sank deep on the route and grabbed a pass that was intended for Williams.
  19. It was tough to see running back Chris Thompson’s speed last season, whether in spring, summer or before he was shut down during the season. He was coming off a knee injury. But he’s a year removed from that injury and the speed was more evident. Still worry about his durability, but he looked fast after running with a pass in the open field (during a spring practice).
  20. Safety Tanard Jackson ran with the third defense.
  21. Corner David Amerson looks more comfortable in press coverage and is using his long arms to his advantage when jamming receivers. Saw him do this a couple times, showing good technique and not getting beat in this look. It’s something he needed to work on as a rookie and I’m sure the learning curve will continue. But with his length and speed it’s a necessary tactic for him to learn.

 
All three can help the Washington Redskins, forming a group that could be one of the NFL's most dangerous. All three also want the ball. The trick for the Redskins and quarterback Robert Griffin III is making sure that happens -- and keeping them happy.

Garcon
Garcon
Jackson
Roberts
It's a good thing for any team to have receivers such as Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. Throw in tight end Jordan Reed and that's four legitimate targets. But that's also four players who want action. Garcon set a franchise record a year ago; Jackson established career bests and Roberts signed here thinking he'd be the No. 2 receiver.

All of that means Griffin must act like an NBA point guard, distributing the ball and keeping guys happy. It's not easy. But there's a way to make it work; it involves something the Redskins did a lot when he was a rookie and very little a year ago.

"As long as you win everyone's happy," Griffin said last month. "That's what it comes down to. Everyone understands that not everyone will catch 100 balls. That's the way it goes unless we throw a ton, which is possible. And [Alfred Morris is] a great running back. And not everyone will catch as many touchdowns as they like."

Griffin then emphasized his main point, tapping the table and slowing his delivery.

"But if we win, everyone will be happy," he said.

For now, the spring workouts give the Redskins a chance to see how it might fit during the season. They can dream of the possibilities with Garcon, Jackson and Roberts -- with Reed possibly being one of the leading pass-catchers on the team.

"I'm eager to see how we mesh together," Griffin said. "That's exciting for a quarterback. We can work matchups. We will have definite mismatches and then it will be good to distribute the ball around."

What excites Griffin, and the Redskins, is the variety of routes that can be run by these four targets in particular. Roberts can play both the slot or outside; Jackson can run routes out of the backfield, wide or in tight. Garcon excels on bubble screens because of his ability to break tackles and on intermediate routes.

Both Garcon and Jackson are threats on underneath crossing routes.

"All those guys can run," Griffin said. "None of them are limited to routes. It's not a limited route tree, which is exciting for a quarterback and exciting for an offensive coordinator calling plays. Now you know I can put these guys in any position and they can all run the routes."

Jay Gruden: 'I'm here for a reason'

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
11:00
AM ET
POTOMAC FALLS, Va. -- Robert Griffin III didn't see what he perhaps feared when he re-watched himself last season. He had braced for worse and, besides, prefers building on the positives. So when going back over his 2013 season, he said it wasn't as bad as he thought.

But new coach Jay Gruden wasn't interested in hearing it wasn't as bad as anyone thought.

"We were 3-13, so the season was bad for everybody," Gruden said. "I'm here for a reason. Most new coaches get to a team because there were issues beforehand. Everybody had their issues, Robert included."

Griffin understood that part, too, saying he worked on fixing fundamentals -- from narrowing his base to speeding up his release -- that impacted his game in 2013. He was unable to work on his game last offseason while rehabbing his surgically-repaired right knee.

"It's more about the whole team in general," Gruden said, "more than it is about Robert. When you only win three games, to point your finger at one guy as to why is asinine. It's a whole group of guys: staff, offense, defense, special teams. So we have a lot to fix."

As for Griffin, Gruden is anxious to start working with him during the Redskins' voluntary three-day minicamp that begins Tuesday (closed to the media so don't await frequent updates). To this point in time, the coaches could not work with the players on the field.

"He's working his tail off in the weight room and running and he's trying to get as much information to learn about your system and terminology," Gruden said. "So in every sense of the word as a quarterback Robert is filling his end of the bargain. He's working hard; he's getting his body ready and his mind ready. Hopefully it will pay off."

RG III strengthening knee, bonds

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
1:00
PM ET
This is the sort of offseason Robert Griffin III wanted, and it’s one that has resulted in him noticing a difference. Both in his physical ability and also in his bonding with teammates.

He sees a difference in himself. He sees a difference growing with teammates, too. It started with being able to strengthen his surgically-repaired right knee. It continued into training with teammates in Arizona (and now at Redskins Park).

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesA smiling Robert Griffin III has been a familiar sight during Redskins offseason workouts.
“That building a trust, building a bond, those memories you create help you on game day,” he said. “People underestimate that bond. I didn’t have as much bonding time last year. I didn’t have the offseason I had to do all the things I’m going to be doing this year. But that’s not an excuse for what happened last year. I’m grateful I got the chance to go through the offseason this year. Building those bonds and trust with teammates, that matters on game day.”

And that’s why Griffin doesn’t look back and begrudgingly thank former coach Mike Shanahan for, in his words, shutting him down with three games left. Griffin is glad to be healthy in the offseason, but to him that’s beside the point.

"What I'm doing now, being able to go through the offseason with the guys and be around them and compete with them, get better, throwing, conditioning and in the meetings," Griffin said, "all that means a lot to me, but it means more to be out with my guys on game day. So, yeah, it was difficult, but you have to play the hand you're dealt. Coach made a decision and you abide by that."

Numerous people at Redskins Park have commented on how happy Griffin seems these days, as if he's been let loose to be the sort of player and leader he envisioned when he came to Washington. The ability to condition with his teammates and having a coach he's not sparring with has increased that happiness. Plus, he's also become one of their top recruiters. He met with receiver DeSean Jackson in Los Angeles after the Eagles released him. He phoned receiver Andre Roberts before free agency, in addition to numerous other players. It's a role he relishes. Griffin also said he'll have more input in the game plan and at the line of scrimmage, where audibles in the past were discouraged. Not now.

But what feels great is this: running sprints with his teammates. It's about bonding. It's about feeling good and running without a knee brace and feeling like himself again -- in more ways than one.

"That's probably the biggest difference," Griffin said. "Being able to run and strengthen the knee as opposed to trying to get it back to where it was. That's the fun part, being able to run the half-gassers, the 300-yard shuttles. All that stuff with my teammates. That's what makes it fun again."

Quick takes: RG III interview

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
6:15
PM ET

Some quick takeaways from my sit-down with Redskins QB Robert Griffin III:
  1. It’s only April, so players are always loose and relaxed. So I don’t want to make a huge deal out of Griffin’s demeanor. But it’s clear he’s in a better spot mentally than he was a year ago, thanks to the change in coaching staffs and, just as important, because of his knee. He just feels better and it shows.
  2. I’ll write more on this later, but Griffin worked hard at speeding up his release. But he does not feel in no way shape or form that reading defenses was an issue or caused a slow trigger. Rather, for him it was all about fundamentals, which he worked on with quarterback guru Terry Shea.
  3. Suffice to say, he likes the results of his work. The time for real excitement over his game is when the season begins. But he really hasn’t focused on his fundamentals since his rookie year. It’s too hard to do so during the season, at least to the degree it’s necessary. So it matters that he’s been able to do this so much in the offseason.
  4. Have said this before, but it’s worth repeating: The fact Jay Gruden is a former quarterback, who still thinks like a quarterback, makes a big difference. They’ve already watched film together in which Gruden has told him he could understand his thought process. Yes, Mike Shanahan was a former quarterback (Kyle Shanahan was not), but it’s different with Gruden. Will it be better? Time will tell. Again, it’s much easier to get along now than when you’re losing or have endured the stresses of a season. Their relationship is only in the beginning stages, but Griffin knows that.
  5. Griffin wouldn’t single out anyone in particular for the anonymous attacks. Safe to say he has strong guesses as to where he thought those were coming from; and those people are no longer employed by the Redskins.
  6. He likes being the face and leader of the franchise. That’s important; not all players in his spot have that comfort level. He does. It’s why he liked recruiting players in free agency such as DeSean Jackson. They used him a lot more than people realize.
  7. His inability to work out with teammates last offseason hurt him in his mind as far as building a bond and a trust. Not sure it ever quite got to where he wanted it to be.
  8. The excitement he feels about the offense is real. He’s also good at reminding everyone: They’ve done nothing yet. But the opportunities cause him to smile.
  9. He definitely feels different when running, thanks to being able to actually strengthen his knee. When you’re rehabbing, all you’re doing is returning the knee to where it was before you got hurt.
  10. Griffin wanted to be real clear about one topic: He wasn't benched last season; he was shut down.

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
1:10
PM ET
Apparently, not everyone thinks adding more pass-rushers is a good idea. So it says in one of the questions -- I have my own thoughts on the matter in Part 1 of the mailbag. And why do the Redskins stink in prime-time games? Could it be something other than, well, they've been bad most of the past decade? More draft questions, too. Enjoy
 

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