NFL Nation: Robert Griffin III

Redskins learn from RG III injury

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
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It was the slogan. It was the documentary. It was a coach who figured they could ease him back in. It was a doctor calling him superhuman. It also was a group that overlooked the obvious: When it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL, especially for a young guy, there’s no substitute for repetitions. That’s where Bruce Allen, in essence, said the Washington Redskins organization erred last summer when it came to Robert Griffin III.

Griffin
Allen told ESPN 950 radio Monday that having Griffin play after only a couple of weeks of practice was “disrespectful to football.”

That's easy to say now. Although his return was heavily debated, it wasn’t as if many in the organization were saying behind the scenes that Griffin should wait a few more weeks.

His knee was ready and cleared by Dr. James Andrews. His game? Another matter. Griffin did not look sharp in the throwing sessions the media could watch. But at the time, you figured it was natural rust and would be shed soon. Griffin, after all, was an athlete on a different level.

Ah, but playing quarterback is about more. It’s safe to say Griffin could have used a few more weeks of nurturing his game before returning. The problem at the time was this: The Redskins were entering the regular season, and he didn’t have time to continue rebuilding his game. Coaches often say young quarterbacks grow more in the offseason between their first and second seasons. Griffin didn’t have that. It took him a while to gain any sort of consistency and rhythm. A big play or game would be followed by erratic play; it never really changed.

There’s no doubt coach Mike Shanahan felt as if he had no choice but to insert Griffin. Allen never mentioned him, but Shanahan had the ultimate authority. There was so much hype surrounding Griffin's desire to return, which left the coach wondering how it would be perceived if he didn’t start him. Shanahan had the utmost confidence in Kirk Cousins -- but Cousins sprained his foot and missed two weeks, not returning until right before the opener.

Shanahan could have made a decision, just as he could have made one in the 2012 playoff loss and not used Griffin. A coach with two Super Bowl rings has that authority. Shanahan failed to make the decision; no one from the organization publicly disagreed with the move, either.

It’s funny, though, because life is different for Griffin with Jay Gruden. It’s almost as if the Redskins are trying the George Costanza approach: Whatever was done in the past, do the opposite. Gruden is more player-friendly and certainly more compatible with Griffin. They are trying to decrease the importance of his legs (the Shanahans incorporated them in part to ease the transition to the NFL), at least on designed runs; when he has run in camp, it’s been off scrambles. If any situations arise with Griffin when it comes to injuries, my guess is they will take a different approach there, too.

Gruden knows what went wrong here in the past. But it wasn’t just one or two people who learned a lesson when it came to handling Griffin’s injury. It was an organization. More than one person shared in this responsibility. If they learned from it, Griffin and the team can move forward with confidence.
Examining the Washington Redskins' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

Jay Gruden only had two quarterbacks in each of his three seasons with Cincinnati, but Griffin still needs to prove his durability. If something happened to him, they woulld still be in good shape with Cousins and McCoy. If they go with two then McCoy gets left off.

Running backs (4)

The Redskins could also stash Chris Thompson on the practice squad as further insurance. Thompson can easily bump himself onto the roster with a good summer; he’s a good fit in Gruden’s offense and the new coach liked Thompson coming out of college. But durability is an issue. By keeping four here, the Redskins can go with an extra player at another spot. This means Evan Royster is on the outs, but he doesn’t give the Redskins anything they don’t have in better players. He is insurance only.

Receivers (6)

I am not cutting Leonard Hankerson, rather I’m just not sold that he will be on the active roster at the start of the season. If he shows this summer that he can play, then, yes, I would have him on the 53-man roster. But the Redskins were not sure what to expect from him and when he might be healthy. Therefore, I can see him taking a little longer to return. Gruden likes Moss and they drafted Grant. Robinson needs to take a step.

Tight ends (3)

Rookie tight end Ted Bolser would head to the practice squad, where he can develop. He didn’t look close to a roster spot just based on how he looked this spring. Reed is firmly entrenched as the starter with Paulsen their top blocker and Paul a special teams ace.

Offensive line (10)

In reality, I could see them keeping only nine offensive linemen. It all depends on how Long and/or LeRibeus looks at guard. They love Long -- Gruden has said he could compete immediately -- so if he shows he can play, then they could cut Chester. Compton is a little surprise, but they like him as well. This position will be fluid and I’m not sold on the 10 I have listed.

Defensive line (6)


This one is fluid as well because it depends in part on Bowen’s health. I like Chris Neild and so do they, but can they keep him? Golston is more versatile and a key player on special teams, but he’s also 30 and they must get younger.

Linebackers (9)

As of now I’d have Rob Jackson out, especially if Jenkins develops as a pass-rusher. But this will be a close race. And I have them keeping an extra guy inside in Hayward because of his special teams ability.

Cornerbacks (5)
Chase Minnifield remains eligible for the practice squad. Richard Crawford is coming off a knee injury and it’s hard to place him on here without seeing him play. The one benefit for Crawford is that he can play in the slot; they need depth at that spot.

Safeties (4)

I really don’t feel good about this position and am not confident that I have this one right, at least for that final spot. Robinson’s special teams ability gives him the edge over Bacarri Rambo, who must have a strong camp. Akeem Davis can help on special teams, but with no NFL experience he will be stashed on the practice squad.

Specialists (3)

The Forbath selection is based on never having seen rookie Zach Hocker kick in an NFL game. If Hocker is consistent this summer and shows a strong leg, then he can win the job.

Camp preview: Washington Redskins

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's John Keim examines the three biggest issues facing the Washington Redskins heading into training camp.

A rookie coach: Jay Gruden showed during the spring that he’ll coach with energy, creating a different vibe at Redskins Park. He’ll catch passes, defend receivers, throw a pass or two. And he looked for coaches who bring a similar energy. The difference was noticeable throughout the spring workouts open to the media.

Gruden, too, is a players’ coach, which can be viewed as positive or negative (all related to wins and losses).

Thus far, his relationship with quarterback Robert Griffin III has been all positive. If that continues, it’s a major boost to the organization after the toxicity of last season, regardless of who was at fault. It helps that Gruden is able to keep his ego in check; you don’t get the sense that there are any ulterior motives with him.

Having said all that, we have no idea how Gruden will handle a season in charge. What if there’s an issue with Griffin? What if the defense doesn’t produce and he thinks the Skins need to tweak their scheme? Will Gruden be able to make those hard decisions when necessary? In-game and in-season adjustments matter greatly, and Gruden has to prove himself in this area. He was not a unanimous hotshot choice to be a head coach, but the Redskins believed in him and thought he could handle the job. But now a first-time head coach has to do what established coaches such as Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan failed to do: lead a consistent winner. And he has to do that with general manager Bruce Allen, who has all the football power for the first time in his career.

Robert Griffin III’s rise: Griffin was viewed as a savior in 2012, setting records as a rookie and helping the Redskins win the NFC East title for the first time since 1999. His future, and that of the organization, looked tremendous -- even though when they were 3-6 it appeared they had the right quarterback, but not the right team.

Then came last season. And harsh judgment on Griffin and his future. Even as a rookie there was skepticism about whether Griffin’s career could last given all the running he did (sometimes by design, other times by necessity and other times because of poor decision-making). But last season, his mechanical flaws were critiqued more harshly, and his ability to develop as a pocket passer was questioned. Meanwhile, anonymous-sourced stories abounded about his ability to lead the right way and develop as a passer.

Griffin went from a beloved figure two years ago to one who now engenders sharp opinions one way or another. Now his personality is even questioned. Griffin can regain the love, but he’ll have to turn a strong offseason into an even better regular season. His road to redemption is not a long one, but he just has to get it done. Considering this is the first real NFL offseason he’s had, it’s not a big leap to think he’ll play better than in ’13 – even in a new offense. The Redskins’ ability to give him quicker reads with receivers more capable of winning at the line will help.

Where's the D? Washington improved its pass rush by adding a coach devoted to it (Brian Baker), signing a free agent (Jason Hatcher) and drafting another outside linebacker (Trent Murphy). That, combined with holdovers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, should give the rush a boost. Corner David Amerson gives the Redskins a young player, whom they love, to build around in the secondary.

But will that be enough to improve the defense? There are plenty of other question marks on a defense that remains in transition. Washington might have as many as five starters age 30 or older; this is not a once-great defense hanging on, it’s a once-struggling defense trying to get better. The D will receive a boost from the above additions, but still needs more.

The Redskins have to prove they are not a boom-or-bust defense. They tackled poorly in the back end last year, one reason they ranked 32nd in yards per pass attempt at 7.58. They have a new starting inside linebacker, Keenan Robinson; since being drafted in 2012, he has 11 career tackles, two torn pectoral muscles and zero starts. Safety Ryan Clark has been a solid player and is a terrific leader, but he needs to show he can still play at age 34. If a defense needs to be strong up the middle to win, the Redskins have this: a solid nose tackle in Barry Cofield, question marks at inside linebacker, and question marks at safety. While Griffin’s play garners the headlines, the defense holds a major key to success.
The Washington Redskins' passing game struggled last season and not just because the starting quarterback was coming off knee surgery. The protection failed; the receivers didn’t get open; the coaches could not add as much to the offense as desired.

But with a new staff, a quarterback more like himself and with a full offseason and better receivers, the Redskins’ passing attack should improve. Of course, there have been many times in the past that an aspect of the Redskins should have improved and did not. Quarterback Robert Griffin III has maintained all along that nothing has yet been accomplished. He is absolutely right.

One veteran offensive player said what helps is that Jay Gruden’s passing game is similar to what Washington ran under Kyle Shanahan. It also helps that the coaches say the run game will be the same. Still, it’s a new offense that Griffin and the others must learn.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Richard LipskiLook for Robert Griffin III and the Redskins to be more effective throwing deep with improved receivers led by offseason addition DeSean Jackson.
I know that Gruden’s favored alignment on first-and-10 was two tight ends and two receivers last season in Cincinnati. I don’t know how often he will use what alignment, but the Redskins did invest in the passing game -- DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts to pair with Pierre Garcon, all of whom can win downfield -- and you don’t do so without the intent to maximize that talent.

The Redskins have devoted 15.57 percent of their cap space to receiver -- that’s 36.05 percent more than the average NFL team.

Also, the feeling, for now at least, is that the Redskins will rely less on play-action passes than they did in the past. The Redskins averaged an NFL-best 11.85 yards per pass attempt from play-action in 2012; they averaged 6.97 yards per attempt last season, 26th in the NFL. By comparison, Cincinnati ranked 12th last season at 8.22 yards per pass attempt from play-action (all statistics courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information).

However, the Bengals definitely ran it less: they ranked 19th in the NFL with only 47.6 yards per game out of play-action looks. The Redskins, meanwhile, were ninth at 70.3 yards per game.

The sense is that the Redskins won’t need to use it as much because of an improved receiving corps, one that is much more capable of winning one-on-one battles at the line (unlike last season). Therefore, in theory, it should result in quicker opportunities for Griffin. That will allow the Redskins to use less complicated reads until Griffin and the receivers grow in the offense. Without the benefit of a regular offseason a year ago, the Redskins could not expand the offense under Griffin the way they would have liked. When they tried to, it did not work for a variety of reasons.

Griffin has had a good offseason and, the veteran said, has done a good job of picking up the offense. But the fact remains that this is his first legitimate NFL offseason and he’s learning a second offense. Don’t complicate matters (even if every NFL offense is complex). This should allow him to be more decisive and play to his strengths, which should include throwing the deep ball.

A lot of this depends on how well the protection holds up. If it doesn't, then play-action can be used more often.

Gruden inherited different talent offensively than he had in Cincinnati. The Bengals did not have a workhorse runner as good as Alfred Morris. They did not have the depth among the receiving talent Washington now appears to have (including tight end Jordan Reed). Of course, the Bengals did have other weapons: receiver A.J. Green, one of the game’s best; running back Giovani Bernard, good at running from the spread and catching passes out of the backfield.

Griffin is a different threat than Andy Dalton. Griffin, obviously, is more mobile but he also has a stronger arm and should be more dangerous throwing downfield. But keep in mind that Cincinnati led the NFL with 83 pass attempts on passes that traveled at least 20 yards or more (the Redskins had 60 such attempts) but were 16th in completion percentage (37.3 percent) and 13th in yards per attempt (12.83). Again, if Griffin is sharper, then it would help here: The Redskins ranked second in the NFL in yards per pass attempt on these plays in 2012 (though they were 31st in number of passes attempted). Last season, the Redskins ranked 26th in completion percentage (28.3) and 25th in yards per attempt (9.92). With Jackson, a healthy Reed and an improved Griffin, I would expect both numbers to improve by a decent amount.

Also, what we have learned thus far about Gruden is that he will adjust. Well, actually, all we know is that he says he will adapt. That is why he is leaving the same run game in place, knowing it has been effective. Though some aspects of his offense have to remain the same -- you need core beliefs -- he can’t, and shouldn’t, ask Griffin to be Dalton.

The Redskins need Griffin to be Griffin again. They have the receivers to help him get there; they definitely need the line to help as well. Otherwise, a lot of what the Redskins hope to do -- and want to do -- will have to change.

Redskins' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
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Midway through the 2012 season, the narrative surrounding the Redskins’ future had changed. They went from a team headed nowhere to one guided by an exciting young quarterback, capable of big-time wins.

Griffin
A year later that narrative changed, with Robert Griffin III's future -- and that of the Redskins -- more in question. One knee injury altered that storyline.

As the Redskins look to the future, it’s clear that one person holds the key to their success over the next three years: Griffin. They could still succeed if Griffin fails, but that would require them to solve a position they haven’t been able to for a long, long time. (They’ve had two Pro Bowl quarterbacks since 1998: Brad Johnson in ’99 and Griffin in ’12.) Maybe backup quarterback Kirk Cousins could be that guy, but that’s far from certain.

Of course, the defense must play better. And the defense is hardly built for long-term success at this point, unlike an offense that features a young nucleus. The defense is aging and needs more good young players.

The head coach, Jay Gruden, needs to prove he can handle his new gig. The general manager, Bruce Allen, must show he can build a winner -- he’s fully in charge now for the first time in his career. The pressure is on both men, but Griffin’s play on the field trumps all because of the importance of the position. If he plays well, it’s easier for Gruden to coach and for Allen to build. If Griffin stumbles or gets hurt, everyone in charge has a much tougher task. Griffin's play can get guys paid -- or fired. That's power.

The Redskins also tied their future to Griffin the minute they sent a large haul to St. Louis in exchange for the No. 2 pick: three first-round picks and a second. That preceded news about the two-year salary-cap penalty that restricted their ability to fortify the roster. Add it up and Griffin’s success became even more important. They need him to deliver.

If Griffin improves and stays healthy, the Redskins have a dynamic young quarterback capable of delivering big plays and, perhaps, titles for years to come. Doing the latter takes more than one player, but Griffin’s performance in 2012 gave Washington something it had not had in a long time: hope. That hope still exists, though it now comes with fingers crossed. But nobody else can deliver what Washington needs more than Griffin.
This and that from coverage surrounding the Washington Redskins:

Kerrigan
Kerrigan wants more: The fact that Ryan Kerrigan wants to stay with the Redskins long-term isn't exactly a big surprise. Even if he wanted to leave, Kerrigan is now signed through 2015 so there's no way he'd say so at this point. But what stood out a little more is when he told the Muncie (Ind.) Star Press that, "I'm tired of being consistent. I want to be consistently really, really good. I don't want to be just consistently average anymore. I want to be consistently good." Again, Kerrigan should say something like that. But it's a good, and proper, mindset. If Kerrigan wants to get big money in a couple of years he'll have to do more than he's done his first three seasons. Thing is, I believe Kerrigan when he talks this way. Again, having a coach devoted to teaching the outside linebackers rush techniques -- and getting away from guys who mostly focused on assignments -- will help.

Morgan agrees to service: Former Redskins receiver Josh Morgan agreed to do 32 hours of community service in order to have an assault charge dropped. Morgan was accused of punching a valet in the mouth for "looking in the direction" of a woman with the new Chicago receiver. Morgan said he didn't hit the man, though. Kind of a wild divergence of stories if that's the case. It's an unfortunate turn for Morgan, though the community service aspect is good for him. It's something he already does -- more so than anyone else in Washington the past two seasons. He also showed that he wasn't much help at receiver.

RG III ranking: My former partner and mentor Rick Snider didn't like ESPN's ranking of quarterback Robert Griffin III. A poll of executives and coaches (most current, some former) showed Griffin as the 19th-ranked quarterback in the NFL, in the third tier and tied with Cincinnati's Andy Dalton. I wrote about this last week, but Snider scoffed at this notion. You can't dismiss how people around the league perceive Griffin -- and this includes players, too. There are definite skeptics. And while Griffin has had a lot go right this offseason, and has worked hard, it's not as if he tore it up in spring workouts (he's still a young QB learning the game) so all that outsiders have to go on is: whatever they saw on tape and whatever they hear/read about him. I get the concerns over him, but so much is based on a subpar season in which a guy who desperately needed an offseason didn't have one. A year ago, before the injury (and perhaps even after), Griffin would have been a lot higher on the list. But he struggled as a pocket passer, was knocked by "anonymous" sources and his reputation took a big hit. If he has a big year, that ranking will shoot up. In other words: He can still change things. In a hurry. It would be interesting to talk to the same people a year from now to see how much opinions can change in one year and what the narrative is surrounding Griffin.

No more headdress: Amanda Blackhorse, who was part of the group that challenged the organization's nickname with the Patent and Trademark Office, said they targeted the Redskins first because they considered the nickname more offensive than, say the Chiefs or Indians. But those teams aren't off the hook, nor are their fans. While a small minority of Redskins fans -- or those of other teams for that matter -- dress in Indian garb, Blackhorse told the Grand Canyon News that no one should. "You can love Native Americans and not have anything against them, but yet your fans will do very bizarre rituals in these games that are very stereotypical of Native American people," Blackhorse said. "The headdress, the war paint, that's what I have a problem with," she said. "No matter how well ... you try to stage this sort of thing, you're always going to have that outcome."
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.
RG IIIAP Photo/Evan VucciQuarterback Robert Griffin III has a lot riding on his third season in the NFL.
In the spring of 2012, most of the NFL recognized Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck as the best player in the draft and a near-certain difference-maker from the moment he arrived. Baylor's Robert Griffin III was considered a close second in that analysis, and the Washington Redskins were convinced enough to bundle four high picks to ensure they could draft him at No. 2 overall.

Two years later, a massive ESPN Insider project Insider has revealed how much that notion has changed. Mike Sando polled 26 league officials -- general managers, head coaches, coordinators and other evaluators -- and found, among other things, a wide gap in views between Luck and Griffin. While Luck is now pushing into an elite tier of quarterbacks, Griffin was relegated to the third of four tiers and is, by definition, considered a below-average player with a No. 19 ranking.

Some of you might be weary of ubiquitous NFL quarterback rankings, but I thought Sando's access and process made this exercise unique. In the end, it can be viewed as a relatively accurate composite portrayal of the league's assessment on the position.

Luck's position at No. 5 spurs mild debate, but to me it was downright jarring to learn that the aggregate NFL decision-maker prefers more than half the league's starters to Griffin. If a bunch of general managers and coaches would take, say, Andy Dalton over Griffin, then, well, that's quite a fall in perception for a player who is one year removed from Pro Bowl and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

And why have opinions cooled so quickly? Largely, it seems, because of circumstances beyond Griffin's control and/or marginally related to his performance. Insiders who participated in the project savaged his personality, most notably for his apparent refusal to take blame for mistakes, and expressed concern about his ability to throw from the pocket.

Those reasons seem bogus to me and, more than anything, are a reminder that some NFL teams are too quick to judge players while others put too much emphasis on their most recent play. I understand why it happens -- the pressure to win immediately is enormous -- but in these views we can see the framework for how the NFL can crush a promising player before he has chance to set his feet.

Here are the facts as I see them: Griffin dropped into a dysfunctional situation, one that contributed to him being on the field for a career-changing knee injury at the end of his rookie year, and his biggest fault to date has been an inability to prevent the franchise's collapse.

How quickly the league seems to have forgotten about his 2012 performance, which was the single-biggest reason the Redskins qualified for the playoffs for the first time in five years. And look how fast the league has jumped on his 2013 campaign, viewing it as a step back rather than a predictable short-term consequence of his injury -- and the byproduct of a poisonous coaching arrangement that left him as a pawn in a nasty fight between coach Mike Shanahan and owner Dan Snyder.

One head coach in the story doubted Griffin's ability to throw from the pocket. A defensive coordinator also questioned how accurate Griffin can be from there. I wonder if that perception is based on a thorough analysis of his play, or if it's a lazy projection based on the usual assumption that talented runners can't (or don't want to be) accurate pocket passers.

In truth, data shows that Griffin has been one of the NFL's better-performing pocket passers over the past two seasons. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he ranks among the top 11 qualified passers in completion percentage (65.0), touchdown/interception ratio (2.13) and Total Quarterback Rating (65.5) on passes thrown from the pocket during the 2012 and 2013 seasons combined.

Context is important, of course, and I'm sure you can find reasons to qualify some of that success. These figures can't provide a thorough conclusion, but they do include plays that observers might have forgotten and certainly don't support a theory that questions his pocket presence.

I won't purport to have a scouting eye and always defer to those who do. But the NFL's current view of Griffin seems to me an overreaction. Along with the rest of the franchise, he seemed swallowed last season by dysfunction much bigger than him. And after he made the mistake of publicly explaining his thought process during an interception, rather than simply taking blame for the throw, he found himself branded as a diva. That might or might not be an accurate description, but if we're now downgrading players' value because of high-maintenance personalities, we're going to have to expand our search values a bit.

In the big picture, Griffin is an intelligent, strong-armed quarterback with good instincts in the running game and an example of high-level success in the NFL as recently as two seasons ago. I get that he wasn't as good in 2013 as he was in 2012, but to view him as below average seems to me the symptom of a larger problem among NFL decision-makers than a reflection of Griffin's true trajectory.

Jay Gruden energizes Redskins

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
12:45
PM ET
Jay Gruden AP Photo/Nick WassIn a short time, Jay Gruden has brought a more relaxed atmosphere to the Washington Redskins.
The energy is different, as it always is when there’s a new coach. New drills, new voices, a new vibe, new storylines that don’t involve backroom drama. The Washington Redskins needed it, badly, after a 3-13 season punctuated by anonymous swipes at star players and a few at the coaches. Reputations were altered; the direction of the franchise changed.

Life is calmer now for the Redskins. (Well, if you don’t count the storm over their nickname.) That’s the result of hiring Jay Gruden, whose candor, insight and friendliness provides the franchise a breath of fresh air. But also an unknown: Though opinion around the NFL was split on his hiring, Gruden has passed the first test of his tenure by laying a solid foundation. And the Redskins head into training camp next month energized.

It’s about a new trust, felt by players and coaches. Gruden has made it clear from the get-go: This is about the players. There’s a different level of ownership by the players and even some of the coaches. Maybe it helps that Gruden took a different path to reach this point, starring in the Arena League for many years, but he coaches without much of an ego, or at least not one that overwhelms him. He didn’t come to Washington with a system, he came with beliefs in what he wanted to run and fused them with what worked well here in the past. Not all coaches operate that way.

Any change after such a disastrous season feels like a good one. Any new voice feels like the right one, especially when the new guy is a lot different than the old one. Mike Shanahan loved having total control; Gruden favors delegating authority. Shanahan did not jump into drills to provide a look for the offense (others would); Gruden will do just that. Not that one way is the right way. And, of course, one of them won Super Bowls and the other hasn’t won an NFL game yet. That’s why, for now, all we know is that the offseason has been a mostly good one for the Redskins.

Griffin
The feel-good offseason started with quarterback Robert Griffin III’s work. He got the necessary work in that he could not get last season because of his knee. He worked hard on his mechanics and will continue to do so; he looked much more relaxed around Gruden than under Shanahan. He’s not wearing a brace; he can be more himself. He’s as confident as he’s been in a while.

However, Griffin also is still learning to be a pocket passer. That doesn’t just mean throwing a pass from the pocket, but also knowing when to run and where and how quickly to go from your first option to your second or third. It doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t do it, but it does mean there’s an ongoing transition that will take time. Nor does it mean he won’t make plays in the process. If he’s more himself, why wouldn’t he? There are things he does well as a passer; the trick for Gruden is incorporating those while he improves in other areas. Knock the Shanahans all you want, they coaxed a terrific season from a rookie quarterback two years ago.

Jackson
DeSean Jackson’s arrival might not be the same feel-good story because there’s some risk involved, but it certainly can be cause for optimism. The guy is a playmaker; the Redskins needed a playmaker.

But Jackson is an emotional player, and the Redskins need to successfully harness that and know how to deal with him. The good news for Washington is that Griffin made it a point to learn what motivates Jackson and bond with him. That helps now; it needs to pay off during the season.

The defense can feel good, too. It added pass-rushers in Jason Hatcher and, the Redskins hope, Trent Murphy. They have a vocal leader at safety in Ryan Clark. They’ve added two outstanding linebacker coaches in Kirk Olivadotti (inside) and Brian Baker (outside), the latter of whom has focused heavily on pass rush techniques. They’ve talked a great game about a more aggressive pass rush.

Hatcher
Hatcher
But as the Redskins exit the spring, Hatcher is coming off knee surgery, joining two other key players along the defensive line in that regard. The defense might have five starters 30 years or older and there are questions about what certain players have left.

Then there’s Gruden. Players have talked about the new energy in practices, stemming from him and his new hires. Coaches like him because they have more freedom -- to hire, to implement ideas, to coach. It matters. It’s too early to say he changed the culture; Shanahan was said to have done the same thing. But Gruden has changed the mood. There’s a different level of passion, stemming from his energy and the coaches. It rubs off on players. Because of that, it (should) enable him to command the room, a pre-hire criticism. That is, as long as you bring in the right players who won’t abuse that trust. It’s a fine line.

Is he organized enough? That was a knock before he was hired. Then again, his offensive coordinator, Sean McVay, is ultra-organized. Can Gruden command the room? How will he handle it if the defense struggles and he feels they should tweak or change their coverages or philosophy? Or how will he handle in-game adjustments, clock management? Player discipline?

We’ve learned a lot about Gruden, but there’s so much more to learn -- questions that can’t be answered until the season begins. Until then, the Redskins can feel optimistic. They’ve been at this point before. The next step has always been the hardest.

Redskins notes: Tempers flare

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
2:33
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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.
The Washington Redskins enter their final week of offseason work with a three-day minicamp. It'll look a lot like their OTA practices, but the difference is that this week is mandatory. With temperatures expected in the 90s, or near them, over the next three days, it'll be good preparation for Richmond later this summer.

Here are some things -- but certainly not all -- that I'll be looking for over the next three days:

Griffin
Robert Griffin III's finish: It’s tough when you watch someone just once a week to accurately gauge their progress. Griffin has had some good moments and not-so-good ones, but watching over three days will reveal more about where he’s at in terms of his passing. Has he remained consistent with his fundamentals? Is the accuracy more consistent? What we still won’t see until games begin is the ability to extend plays, which is a huge part of his game. But a good week for Griffin would propel him into the final month before camp with a lot of momentum, capping what has been a productive offseason for him. Don't know what that will mean for the season, but he'll exit this offseason feeling much, much different than he did a year ago at this time for a variety of reasons.

Offensive design: During the OTAs, we saw a lot of situational football – red zone, third downs, two minutes, etc. Hoping we get to see even more, to get a better sense of who the Redskins might be this season. Thus far, Griffin has operated a lot under center and in shotgun during certain situations. Coach Jay Gruden sounds intent on developing him, so this helps. (Not that the other staff didn’t want to develop him; it had Griffin as a rookie and then with no offseason. Tough to develop a player who can’t practice. How it would have handled it I don’t know.)

Rookie improvement: Rookie tackle Morgan Moses knows the issue he has with staying low and has worked on it since the OTAs started. Over three days, how much improvement will he show? How about Trent Murphy? His spin move has been terrific (mostly against young players); how much else will he show? Bashaud Breeland seems to have improved and, with Tracy Porter’s durability an issue, he could be a plus for the Redskins. But is he still grabbing too much? It’s hard with the running backs to tell a whole lot, so Lache Seastrunk’s true impact won’t be known until the games start. Thus far he hasn’t stood out. Is guard Spencer Long looking more comfortable?

Hatcher
Hatcher
Defensive looks: How are they using their personnel? Will they really be doing a lot of different things this season? Or is it just offseason chatter? Won’t know for a while on that, but we’ll get to see more of what they plan to do. In some cases it’s not about having different looks, it’s about – they hope – having better rushers with the addition of Murphy and Jason Hatcher.

Offensive line: There will be an interesting battle along the line this summer, even if it’s just for one of the backup positions (especially at guard). If the Redskins keep nine offensive linemen, that means two players from this group might not make it: Mike McGlynn, Adam Gettis, Josh LeRibeus, Maurice Hurt and Tom Compton. This assumes Chris Chester keeps his job (not a lock). And they’re not going to cut Long or Moses. Remember, they signed McGlynn in free agency and his ability to play center helps. The others have some work to do.

David Amerson’s progression: He’s had a quiet camp and I mean that in a good way. It’s not like he’s messing up or getting beat and looks lost. Does that continue this week? Amerson’s continued improvement (plus a lack of cap room) is among the reasons the Redskins are not one of the teams who have inquired about recently released corner Brandon Flowers, according to a source.

DeSean Jackson: Needs to make sure he exits these three days with a good hamstring. If he’s fully recovered, it’s always impressive to watch his speed. He’s not the fastest player I’ve ever covered (Darrell Green), but he is explosive.

Coordinator chatter: We should get our first chance to interview special teams coach Ben Kotwica this week, as well as defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Will be nice to finally hear more of what they think about their groups after the spring workouts end.
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
Jun 11
4:15
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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.”
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.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Some of the younger Redskins didn’t know about one of Matthew McConaughey’s most famous movies, "Dazed and Confused." But certainly the 48-year-old head coach would. Turns out Jay Gruden didn’t know it, either.

[+] EnlargeMatthew McConaughey
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci"It's great to have him out here," QB Robert Griffin III said of actor Matthew McConaughey's visit to Redskins practice on Wednesday.
“I’m a big movie guy, too,” Gruden said. “That’s terrible. ... I can name a lot of them. I’ve got to think of that movie now. I’m going to Google that one when I get done.”

But make no mistake, while they might not have known that particular movie, they were well aware of McConaughey. He was on the sidelines during practice Wednesday, standing next to owner Dan Snyder while wearing a yellow Redskins T-shirt (the one with the R logo).

“I love Matt, man,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “He’s like one of the guys. He’s always been like that. He’s a huge fan of the Redskins, man. He’s out here like any other fan. He wants to learn and see the guys work. It’s always great to see a friend out here watching us work.”

Not all of those friends have won Academy Awards.

“It’s a big deal,” Orakpo said. “He’s one of the top A-list actors out here and he’s on the practice field just chilling like he’s one of the guys. I have nothing but respect. All the work he’s done. … He’s a phenomenal actor and for him to be out there showing support for the Redskins means a lot to us.”

At times players were taking a peek at McConaughey; at least that’s what some of the coaches thought.

“I think If I were a woman I’d notice it a lot more,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said. “But, yeah, it’s great to have him out here. He’s a big supporter of us. Anytime you can get those guys out there it’s great.”

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