RG III still developing pocket presence

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
9:30
AM ET
ASHBURN, Va. -- It’s just a feel and it’s something Robert Griffin III still needs to develop. And it’s why the Washington Redskins coaches point so emphatically to Griffin’s offseason, spent rehabbing and unable to improve his game.

Griffin needs to develop as a pocket passer. The Redskins know it will take some time.

“A lot of people who have no mobility have been working on that feel since they were 5 years old,” Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “It’s the way you’ve got to play. When you’re as good an athlete as Robert, you’re not forced to do that at a young age so you run around and make plays and you can always do that.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Evan VucciAs defenses have adapted to the Redskins' offense, Robert Griffin III has been forced to go through his progressions faster.
“For guys like that all of a sudden to learn to play in the pocket it’s not who you are.”

The result is growing pains. Last year Griffin overcame them because of the Redskins’ scheme. They surprised defenses with their zone-read option, which benefited not only the run game but the pass game. They consistently forced linebackers out of position with play fakes, giving receivers gaps in the defense.

But defenses have often focused on stopping the play-action pass. The gaps are gone and now Griffin must go through progressions quicker. He’s in his infancy having to do this.

“It takes time,” Shanahan said. “You’ll never officially be that type of guy. You have to be who you are and that’s to mix in both of it and run when they give it to you and stay in the pocket when they give it to you. The reps Robert has gotten [in this] has been mainly this year. He didn’t get too much of it last year.”

That’s why Griffin one game will look like he’s turned a corner only to stumble the next. Against Minnesota, for example, Griffin showed the ability to anticipate throws more so than in other games. He threw receivers open. One time, for example, tight end Jordan Reed was still behind a linebacker on a route, but was heading to the middle of the field. Griffin threw to that area and Reed broke free for the catch.

But in other games Griffin might take too long to make his reads, leading to feet pointing one way and him throwing another. Or he’ll tuck the ball and try to run when he’s still more than 5 yards behind the line and not see receivers who are open. It’s a habit he showed last season, too, though he has improved in this area. Of course, he also has to deal at times with throwing the ball with defenders driving his blockers into him.

Still, it’s an ongoing process for Griffin.

“It’s a feel when to stay a passer and when to turn into a runner,” Shanahan said. “It’s very tough to do both. Guys who have no choice to turn into a runner stay a passer forever until they get killed or get rid of the ball. Guys who make plays with their legs, they get caught in between a lot. Yeah, you want those guys who can make plays with their legs, you want them to turn into a runner and change the game just like Robert has done a lot. But there’s a time and place for it. Sometimes the defense gives it to you and sometimes they don’t. When you don’t have it you have to get more comfortable staying a passer and keeping your eyes downfield and progressing and getting rid of the ball.”

Shanahan also dismissed the comments made by San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who said after beating the Redskins Monday night that Griffin should not be playing. As Shanahan pointed out, doctors declared Griffin’s right knee healthy a long time ago.

“Anyone playing with a knee brace who is coming off their first year after an ACL, he might not be quite as explosive or quite as fast,” Shanahan said.

That doesn’t mean Griffin has suddenly gone from world-class runner to, say, Peyton Manning in terms of speed. Griffin still can pick up yards on the ground; he can still extend plays.

“We’re talking a 4.31 to maybe a 4.35 [in the 40-yard dash],” Shanahan said. “I don’t think he all of a sudden turned into a guy who can’t run. He can still make plays and still do both. He has to pick his times. Sometimes he doesn’t have an option and sometimes the pocket breaks down. Sometimes someone’s not open and it’s nice to have a quarterback where the plays not just over when that happens. It happens a lot in games and the quarterback has to throw it away or take a sack. Robert still has an option to do something with it.”

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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