- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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We will be featuring a different Washington Redskins player each day on this list, staying away from rookies or some second-year players still finding their way. This will focus primarily on veterans at or near a career crossroads. Today: quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Why he has something to prove: All you have to do is read Mike Sando's excellent, and in-depth piece on where quarterbacks rank in the eyes of executives and coaches to understand. Griffin was considered a Tier 3 quarterback, tied with Andy Dalton at 19th overall. Some of it was based on Griffin’s subpar season due to his knee and other issues. Had he not been hurt, Griffin likely would have been a Tier 2 quarterback -- not bad for his age. But it did happen so now he's not. And some of it is based on his personality. Other NFL quarterbacks and players, Sando wrote, crushed Griffin because of his personality. They feel he's made things too much about himself and does not take blame. That opinion is shared by some in the locker room; one player said at the end of last season that, while he liked Griffin, he did think he needed to take more blame. But, remember, two years ago he was hailed as a savior and praised for his maturity. Coaches and executives fall in and out of love rather fast in this game. Certainly, some of the stories that were, uh, leaked at the end of last season did not help Griffin’s reputation. Success and wins can alter that perception.
For Griffin, this season is as much about getting his reputation back as well as his game. They’re obviously tied together. If he plays well, things that rubbed people the wrong way will be viewed differently. Some will still dislike him, but results are what matter most. We all know some of the reasons why he struggled in 2013, especially the knee and the lack of an offseason. But he also has to show he can become a consistent quality pocket passer. Even if he had never been hurt, Griffin needed to evolve in this area: It’s how you survive long-term in the NFL and he knows that well. Extending plays will always be part of his game and that’s what should still scare teams. Also, if he can’t succeed by running anything worse than a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, then he never should have been drafted second overall. It was his all-around skills that impressed people, not just his speed.
What he must do: Make big plays again and grow as a leader. Griffin understands leadership, which is why he was actively a part of free-agent recruiting and helped woo DeSean Jackson, among others. Griffin knew that he needed to understand Jackson and his motivation. Not sure anyone will outwork Griffin, either. But Griffin is only 24 and will learn more about leadership as he continues in the NFL. He’ll learn that it's OK to say something was his fault without going into great detail; my guess is you’ll see that more this season. And he'll also learn it's OK if everyone doesn't love you, as coach Jay Gruden pointed out, though I think Griffin is getting this as well.
Griffin is a hard-working player determined to have success. Yes, he has limitations as a quarterback -- all of them do. He, and the coaches, must find ways to work around those issues. But this offense, and Gruden's style, could be good for him as a developing passer. They have more receivers who can win one-on-one battles, which will enable him to work through progressions faster and check to better plays. Audibles alone won't help him succeed; the previous offense had automatic checks that many on offense said could get them out of bad situations (sort of like a pre-determined audible). Growing as a pocket passer -- which means not just throwing from here but also his presence -- will matter much more. The Redskins would be wise not to overload Griffin. He’s still a young quarterback now learning his second passing offense. They have the ability to keep it (relatively) simple this season and then build/add to any success. If the Redskins use more drop-back passes and no play-action, then the line must do its part and Griffin must help them with more decisive throws. The talent and style of the offense could make that possible.
Projection: Griffin obviously is the starter and, I believe, will play better than in 2013. But, the question is, how much better? The Redskins need more help from the defense; we've all seen the boost young quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have received from their defenses. Otherwise, Griffin's mistakes always will be magnified. Griffin looked and sounded like a more confident player this spring, which is a start. He’s had a strong offseason and has a coach with whom he’s not butting heads. Griffin will work once more with quarterback guru Terry Shea this summer (starting July 14). Gruden is inheriting a different quarterback than the one Washington had the past two seasons, one better positioned for success. Griffin now just needs to make it happen. And the franchise needs him to make it happen as well.