RG III offseason key to Redskins rise

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
2:05
PM ET
He took off down the field against the Minnesota Vikings and the team's broadcaster used one word to describe the moment: electrifying. That's what Robert Griffin III provided for the Washington Redskins' offense as a rookie, those 76-yard sprints for touchdowns. He extended plays, fooled defenders with fakes and turned the Redskins into a dynamic offense.

Last season, he did not. Last season the focus wasn't on his electrifying play. Rather, it was on his surgically-repaired right knee. It was on his relationship with Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan. It was on catchy slogans. It was on whether he should be playing.

And it all started around this time a year ago, when Griffin was recovering from knee surgery.

[+] EnlargeGriffin III
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsWith a fully healed knee, Robert Griffin III can now focus on improving his game this offseason.
But do you hear the sound around Griffin these days? It's all quiet -- and that's a good thing. Griffin is back to worrying about football and football only.

It's not as if those worries prevented him from becoming better last offseason. But they contributed to the mess the team became in 2013. Griffin was a weekly topic in the media throughout the season, not just for his play, either.

But his knee led to his sluggish start because he was unable to adequately prepare for the season.

"I thought we would have seen a great jump from Year 1 to Year 2 if he wasn't rehabbing the whole time," said former Redskins quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur. "You can't work on your craft when you're rehabbing."

Griffin already has started to attack the offseason, throwing passes to some of his receivers away from Redskins Park. He and some of his receivers, tight ends and running backs will meet in Arizona in March to work out together, some bonding time that never really developed last offseason.

Griffin also will work out again with Terry Shea, the former NFL quarterbacks coach who trained him (and others) before the NFL draft. There's a desire to improve his footwork and to speed up his release, to work on areas that will help him in an NFL pocket.

By the way, what he's doing isn't because of 2013, it's what he also did before his rookie season: he worked with Shea; he got together with his receivers before training camp. It's just that he couldn't do any of this last offseason.

He also has a new staff to work with in Washington, with whom thus far there is nothing but good vibes.

It's a fresh start that someone only two years into his career probably needed.

Another bonus for him: Most likely, he'll also be without the knee brace that protected his knee, but didn't help his mobility.

"Everybody will see a big jump in his game and he'll look more like he did in Year 1 than in Year 2," LaFleur said.

There's no guarantee, of course, that Griffin will have that sort of jump. He has a lot to prove. And every player must own up to his mistakes. But it's a better bet it will happen after an offseason of work than one spent strengthening a knee. Griffin needs to study defenses and how they played him, then go onto the field and translate what he's learned. He couldn't do that in 2013.

Now he can focus on seeing how defenses play him and anticipate coverages. At times this past season it took too long for that to happen and plays ended with him sacked or in trouble.

"He'll be able to recognize and play the position faster," said LaFleur, now the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame.

Griffin needed an offseason like this. Two years ago it was a heady whirlwind before the draft, going from Heisman Trophy winner to working out to savior in Washington in but a few months. Last season it was about rehabbing and documentaries and hidden meanings in quotes. There wasn't much time to take a breath. Now he's the player who some wonder what he'll eventually become, providing extra motivation to a guy who is always motivated.

When Griffin was The Guy as a rookie, he provided hope for Redskins fans as well as teammates. Defensive players used that word, knowing they were still in games even if they messed up. A broken offensive play -- or covered receivers -- could still result in heroics.

"When you've got a quarterback capable of taking it the distance at any point in time, it definitely strikes fear in the defense because you can't defend that," LaFleur said. "They might have you perfectly defended across the board but if a guy can take off and outrun the defense, there's nothing you can do."

With an inconsistent Griffin in 2013, other parts of the team needed to help him, but failed.

Griffin needs to get more of his 2012 game, but while improving in other areas so he can be a longtime starter. He's a smart player who has never had his work ethic questioned. Combined with talent, those attributes give him a chance to get back there. He'll also have to buy into what Jay Gruden is selling offensively.

The Redskins, done with their salary-cap penalties, will spend in the offseason. They'll add more young guys in the draft. All of that is important. But more than anything they need to see Griffin's game elevated. That will provide hope for not only this season, but for many to come.

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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