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Thursday, June 14, 2012
In Washington, 'The Franchise' is fitting in

By Dan Graziano

Robert Griffin III
Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is trying to absorb as much information as he can during Washington's offseason workouts.
ASHBURN, Va. -- They put Robert Griffin III's locker next to London Fletcher's in the Washington Redskins' locker room, and this did not surprise Fletcher. He knows the Redskins' coaches (some of whom are younger than he is) like to use him as an off-field asset as well as an on-field one. If you were running the Redskins and you'd invested this much in a rookie quarterback, you'd want him around Fletcher as much as possible. And the veteran linebacker is fine with the arrangement. Having heard so much about Griffin, he was eager for an up-close look.

"What you want to know is whether he understands how much work goes into this," Fletcher said after the Redskins' Tuesday minicamp practice. "And you can see that he knows it and that he likes it. That's important. He wants to work. He likes to work."

Fletcher isn't going to lie, and he's not going to exaggerate what's not there. He's 37 years old, has never missed a game and remains one of the best defensive players in the league. At his age and with what he has accomplished, he doesn't suffer fools and he doesn't go in for unjustified hype. He watched Baylor last year. He knew about Griffin's talent and his smile and his socks. What he wanted to see for himself was whether the young man cared about the important stuff -- the stuff that really has a chance to make him great. The boring stuff. So far, so good.

"You really never know about a guy until you spend time around him every day," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "People can see his arm strength. People can see his speed. But what you don't know is, 'Does he like to work? How does he get along with his teammates? When he sees a little adversity, how does he handle it? How prepared is he every day for the grind that goes with it?' And he's everything that I was hoping for, so that's a big plus."

Robert Griffin III
The Redskins say they like what they have seen so far from Robert Griffin III.
If Griffin doesn't succeed in Washington, that means no one does. The Redskins traded three first-round draft picks and a second-round pick for the right to select Griffin and install him as their franchise quarterback, to mold their offense around his many talents. His assignment, long term, is to change the face and fortunes of a quarterback-starved, success-starved team and fan base. But that's the long term. As excited as everyone is, and as much as he has energized his teammates and RG3-crazed Redskins fans everywhere, Griffin is a long way from NFL success. Heck, he's nearly three full months from throwing his first real NFL pass.

So while perspective may not be en vogue in today's sports culture, it remains important. And within the walls of Redskins Park, on the back practice fields where DeAngelo Hall was breaking up and intercepting his passes Wednesday and in the new practice bubble where he's unleashing 60-yard throws, Griffin's short-term assignment is work. Drudgery. Classroom learning. Repetition. This is all he can do at this point in his career. He can't win games yet, because there aren't any. His mission this spring and summer is to fit in and to learn just like any other rookie. That is all we can judge him on right now, and again, the reviews are good.

"He's not doing stuff to make me happy," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "He's doing this because it's as important for him as it is for us. He wants it just as much as anyone else in this room does. Football is what drives him. And when you have that type of guy, you don't have to push him. You let him be himself, and you just give him the information he needs to make himself better."

Oh, yes, there is hype. And hype will continue to surround Griffin for the foreseeable future and likely beyond. He's a Heisman Trophy winner, a Subway pitchman, a media darling and, oh, by the way, a breathtaking athlete. Sports and pop culture are crowded with overhyped people who've achieved less and have far less potential. Arriving in the NFL in 2012, Griffin has no choice in the matter. The hype comes with him, and much of his success will depend on the way in which he manages it.

Which is why the best thing for him right now is to keep things simple and focus on what he can do in June and July -- work hard, fit in and learn. He's glad to hear Chris Cooley talk about his command of the huddle, and he's fine with Hall saying he's further along at this point than Michael Vick was as a rookie. He hears it all, decides what he needs to take from it, and then he goes back to work.

"It doesn't bother me," Griffin said. "People are going to make a big deal out of all the stories that are coming out about me -- [Leonard] Hankerson's gloves and stuff like that. But to me it doesn't matter. If [Hall] feels that way, he expresses his opinion. I'm glad the team is on my side."

To this point, he has given them every reason to be. The best part about Griffin so far may be his understanding of where he is on the calendar and that, while what he's able to do right now may not be the most exciting part of the job, it's vitally important that he does it well.