ASHBURN, Va. -- He’d reach the final step in his drop, hesitate, take a hitch step and deliver the ball. By then it was too late. The receiver was no longer open; the defender could make a break on the ball. A potential completion resulted in a frustrating incompletion.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was late on one such throw in the second preseason game against Cleveland. He was late a handful of times against Baltimore. The coaches say there wasn’t one reason for this issue. Trust was one word, however, that arose.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “It could be a function of not trusting the coverage, not trusting his footwork. That’s something he has to get out of. He has to have a trust factor that the drop will match the receiver’s depth. He has to let some things fly. He’s a little hesitant right now, which is normal with new concepts.”
That means not only a new offense, but a new way of functioning for Griffin, though it’s not as if he was never asked to throw from the pocket the past two years. He was. But it’s been a major focal point since Gruden arrived. Some days that leads to frustration. Other times there’s frustration until they put on film of practice and realize it was better than anticipated.
Gruden said in camp that if Griffin threw 45 passes, 10 might be bad. But those are the ones that they’re trying to correct. A good throw doesn’t always result in praise – it’s to be expected. Such was the case with Griffin’s 49-yard pass to Andre Roberts against Cleveland. The play was there; the play was made; move on. The bad ones get harped on so they don’t happen again.
“He wasn’t hesitant at all [Monday],” Gruden said of Griffin’s practice. “He’s throwing on time and accurate. We have to maintain that confidence going into games. That’s something that will come in time. He hasn’t really shown that hesitancy like he did against Baltimore. I don’t know if it was a push in the pocket where he felt a little pressure or maybe he saw the linebacker. But he has to learn to trust the fact that he has to let some of the balls go and let the receivers do some work for him.”
On an intermediate out route to DeSean Jackson, for example, Griffin did not throw until after the receiver had made his break. It needs to be thrown before he breaks, otherwise he’s throwing to an area where the defensive back already is sprinting forward.
As Griffin matures in the pocket, he’ll have to be more decisive. That can lead to the occasional interception when you throw to an area and the receiver doesn’t win his route. But it will lead to more consistency as well.
Until he reaches that point, Griffin’s game will be dissected. The coaches, and history, say it will take time for a mobile quarterback such as Griffin to develop in the pocket. His legs can, and should be, a part of the passing game. Two years ago Griffin picked up others on the offense by using his legs to escape trouble – or to set up big plays with zone-read fakes and more. Now, he needs more help from his protection to provide a level of trust that if he takes a split second longer it won’t result in him being crushed. Ultimately, though, Griffin knows he must improve his consistency in this area.
“He just has to continue to do it,” Gruden said. “Some of these route combinations are new for him. He has to trust the fact that he has to believe what he sees. He has to see it first and to see it he has to have some protection. But he has to keep his eyes on the right spot and go through his progressions and make his decisions and get the ball out of his hand. It will come. He has the ability to do it. He has the [desire] to do it, he just has to do it.”
In practices, Gruden takes a different approach with his quarterbacks. Some coaches would run plays and want the defense in a certain look, giving the call a better chance for success. Gruden wants the quarterback to instead react to whatever he sees from the defense. The hope is that eventually it makes for a smarter quarterback, one able to adapt.
It goes back to the coaches knowing they must be patient. They have to trust that Griffin will ultimately develop into the quarterback they want and need.
“It’s a function of getting more and more comfortable,” Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. “He’s getting more and more comfortable with some experience. The exposure and opportunities he’s had are very limited. It’s hard on anybody to get into a rhythm when a couple things go differently than he anticipates. When there’s a chance to play a full game and get into a flow and a rhythm, it’s much easier to get a feel and see what a defense is doing.”
It’s not all on Griffin, but he knows as the quarterback – the one they traded up to get – the burden falls on him. Time is great; results now still matter.
“We’ll be as patient as we possibly can, but at the same time we want to be great,” Griffin said. “We know it’s not going to start clicking right away, but we still want to make sure it is. As long as we’re working toward that we’ll get there and put up some big numbers and do some great things.”