ASHBURN, Va. -- The changes should result, they hope, in improved mechanics and consistent throws and more success from the pocket. The science involved can explain how one aspect ties to another, helping Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III return to his pre-injury form.
There is also this: Griffin just feels better with the changes. For all the impact the alterations in his mechanics have physically, they are also about fixing the mental game. If Griffin feels better about his base, for example, it will result in a more relaxed passer -- and better throws. Just like a batter in baseball likes the subtleties of his stance. Certain parts must be the same through the ball, but the entire goal is to feel comfortable at the plate. The same is true in the pocket.
And it’s clear: Griffin feels more comfortable throwing the way he is now.
“Just fixing those little things so I can get back to playing the game and the brand of football I know how to play,” he said.
Griffin’s time to prove that he’s back to what he was -- and what everyone thought he would be -- will be this summer and fall. But now is the time to perfect areas he could not last offseason. That is why he spent six days working in Arizona with quarterback coach Terry Shea, with whom he worked before the 2012 draft. They narrowed his base. They altered how he stepped with his front foot.
Though Griffin said his play last season wasn’t as bad as he thought, he also saw the need to improve.
“It showed me what I have to do in my game to play an effective way,” he said. “Base. Quick release. Where I hold the ball. All those things I was able to work on with coach Shea. It was getting back to a lot of things I was doing before, to fix up some of the technique that I was being coached before.”
Here’s what Shea worked on with Griffin:
Start from the waist down
When Griffin was at Baylor, his base was typically more narrow and his weight transfer was stronger. His transfer was fine as a rookie, but this past season it was not. So Shea worked every morning with Griffin for 40 minutes, focusing in part on the lower body.
They worked on the angle of his plant foot. They worked on setting harder on his back foot, allowing him to drive through his throws. For whatever reason in 2013 -- his right knee of course being tops on the list -- Griffin did not do this.
“I didn’t believe he was planting that back foot in a position where he could transfer over the front and use his lower body,” Shea said. “We worked on making sure he was transferring through on his throws.”
Shea said this wasn’t an issue in the games he watched Griffin play as a rookie.
“It seemed like the second year when he missed, a lot of his passes were high and that’s a product of not coming down over the top well enough,” Shea said, “He really addressed that during our six days. He was back on track.”
Griffin wants to feel comfortable with how he plays. Reducing his base to shoulder width helps. For Shea it’s about comfort, yes, but also about accuracy. And when Griffin’s left foot is pointed where he wants to throw, he’s more accurate.
Griffin has a knack for being able to fling a pass in the pocket, useful in situations where he can’t get his feet turned towards the target. But there were too many times when Griffin failed to get his feet around in situations he could have done so, something Shea witnessed as well. They worked on making sure Griffin was aligned to the target, with his front foot and shoulder.
“[Last season] Robert was just not working his base quick enough,” Shea said. “Consequently he got into some back-foot throwing. Sometimes quarterbacks end up throwing all with their arm, and most of the time it’s inaccurate. It has to become second nature, but you have to drill it every day.”
Griffin dismissed the idea that reading defenses was a problem. Or something that caused a slower release at times.
“It wasn’t an issue at all,” he said. “I know from rookie year to last year, ‘He’s not reading defenses. Defenses are doing different things.’ Defenses played us the same way last year. It wasn’t a lack of reading defenses. I read defenses my rookie year, I read defenses last year and I’m going to read defenses this year, too.”
Rather, he said his offseason focus was on where he held the ball. Shea wants him holding the ball at the numbers or letters. When it slips lower, as it would last season, it caused him to take a split second longer to throw -- he’d have to bring it back up, then back as opposed to just bringing it back.
Shea said he would have Griffin throw to stationary targets every morning, only focusing on arm speed and not accuracy. Then he would have Griffin cross over a line with his feet, waiting for Shea to shout, ‘Ball!’ before throwing.
“The game is so fast that arm speed better be there,” Shea said. “It starts with where he loads the ball up.”
Griffin needs more throws like one he made in 2012 against Philadelphia. He faked a bubble screen to Brandon Banks, then quickly flipped his feet around and hit Leonard Hankerson downfield for 21 yards. He couldn’t step into the throw as much because of pocket congestion. But he had a quick release -- the ball was up -- and it was accurate because of his feet.
“Of all the quarterbacks I ever worked with, Robert is one of the top two in terms of arm speed,” Shea said. “The other one was Matthew Stafford. That’s what makes the real special NFL quarterbacks.
“Robert is great to work with because I can give him one thing in an adjustment and it takes him one or two reps to get him corrected. He’s very good with translating the information.”
Griffin still needs to work on perfecting his fundamentals. But if nothing else he’s regained a comfort level he did not feel in 2013. But the tough part comes in the fall: making sure the offseason work translates into in-season success.