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Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: September 16, 5:37 PM ET
RG3 commands the stage

By Greg Garber

ASHBURN, Va. -- He's walking up a small hill, chatting amiably with a colleague, when the jostling begins. Ten television cameras and about 40 reporters, producers and technicians fight for position around the podium where he will soon speak. The ensuing sound bytes will be devoured immediately, parsed for meaning, and disbursed across the county.

The nation's capital is in the thrall of the presidential election season, but another force threatens to upstage Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. In the NFL's compelling slate of Week 1 games, no one made a bigger impression than Robert Griffin III.

The Washington Redskins' rookie quarterback led his team to a surprising victory in New Orleans last Sunday, playing a very nearly flawless game in his debut. Griffin completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Those 320 yards were the fourth-highest total ever for a first-time passer in a league in its 93rd season. Oh, and he ran 10 times for 42 yards.

The questions in his Wednesday post-practice news conference come swiftly. Most are invitations to riff on his personal greatness. Griffin may only be 22, but already he has developed impressive political skills. His very first sentence:

"It's more than just myself," he says, making eye contact with his questioner.

Griffin goes on to praise the offense and the defense and the coaches and the fans.

"I feel good about the excitement about this team, and the team feels good about itself with the way we performed last week," he adds. "We've got to continue to carry that on."

Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III is a sensation with Washington fans, and he hasn't even played a home game yet.

Since the Redskins selected him second overall in the draft, Griffin has made a habit of doing the right thing.

The veterans were among the first to notice. Hours before his news conference, three of them sat down for a "Sunday NFL Countdown" feature to discuss his leadership qualities. Linebacker London Fletcher, wide receiver Santana Moss and cornerback DeAngelo Hall have a combined 36 years in the league.

"Watch him do an interview," said Hall, who is in his ninth season. "He's like a poised veteran.

"From the first day he stepped in the building he's been a consummate team player, always doing things the hard way. If it's 10 sprints to run, he wants to run all 10 and come in first place."

Fletcher, in his 15th season, is the unquestioned leader of the Redskins. His tackle in the throes of a desperate Saints comeback kept Darren Sproles out of the end zone and helped preserve the Redskins' victory. That's probably why they put Griffin's locker next to his.

"I don't think it's a coincidence," Fletcher said, laughing. "I think it's good for both of us. If you're going to be a great leader you don't necessarily have to talk, you just have to walk the walk.

"If you're a leader, they'll watch you to see how you conduct yourself day in and day out. He's here early in the morning, first guy in the building, working out, in the playbook, last guy leaving."

In late June, the Heisman Trophy winner invited Redskins wide receivers Moss, Pierre Garcon, Anthony Armstrong, Brandon Banks and tight end Fred Davis to work out for six days at his alma mater, Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

"I wanted those guys to get a feel for who I was," Griffin explained at the time. "It's best to just show them sometimes."

This is Moss' 12th season in the NFL and, amid the heat of those two-a-day sessions, he felt excited.

"I was in awe," Moss said. "He brought us into the film room and we watched some of the ideas he had, and I'm sitting there saying to myself, 'Man, it took me this long to be a part of something like this. This is my 12th year, and I've had about 12 quarterbacks. He's a young guy telling me some of the things he wants to do and what he wants to see.'

"I'm like, 'Dang, I finally get to be a part of a guy like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.' This guy wants to be great, and that's what you want to play behind."

The first-game numbers were spectacular, but there was a lot of Baylor in the Redskins' offensive scheme. Head coach Mike Shanahan and his son Kyle, the offensive coordinator, took pains to keep things familiar for Griffin. He often lined up in the formation they call "pistol," a spread formation in which he stands closer to center than the more familiar shotgun, backed up by a running back. Griffin ran a variety of zone reads and pitches and -- when all else failed -- carried the ball himself.

It was largely a safety-first offense; Griffin's first six passes were all thrown behind the line of scrimmage. The seventh, a modest little slant to Garcon with the Saints' defense pinched in, went 88 yards for a touchdown.

The St. Louis Rams, who will go to school on that videotape from the Superdome, may not be as charitable to the Redskins' quasi-college game plan. Still, it may not matter.

Even with all the offseason evidence that Griffin was doing his best to prepare for the Saints, Hall acknowledged he was surprised by the purity of his performance.

"I think we all were," Hall said, laughing. "It gets crazy down there, so we expected the same kind of atmosphere after the little scandal they had; we know those guys had a lot to play for.

"Any time you come in and you're such a high draft pick, you come in with a lot of credentials following you around, you're doing all these commercials, a lot of people assume you're a certain way. I think everybody assumed he's a diva. He's the total opposite. To go down there and show that type of poise and leadership, determination to be great, it was huge. He definitely opened a lot of our eyes."