- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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RICHMOND, Va. -- The play unfolded like many had in the past, with Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III keeping the ball around left end, sprinting down the field with defenders in pursuit -- and losing ground.
The zone read option was back. Except that it really wasn't.
Turns out the play was improvised by Griffin, which means the Redskins still haven't had him run out of the zone read this camp. The Redskins have said it will be de-emphasized, and based off early workouts, it's clear that is the case.
"It's not how I made my name," Griffin said. "I made my name throwing the ball in college, won a Heisman Trophy with Baylor. ... It's something you want to sprinkle in and keep a defense aware of and make them have to practice it. But it's not something you make the focal point of your offense. That's why we have the guys we have and why we're running the offense we've been running and you haven't seen very much of the zone read. But it is there, and it will be utilized when coach deems necessary."
Griffin's ability to run the zone read option helped him become a dangerous player as a rookie. He ran the ball 43 times for 344 yards out of the zone read in 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Information, while finishing with 815 rushing yards overall. A year ago, coming off knee surgery, he ran it 37 times for 202 of his 489 yards.
In both years, he led all quarterbacks in zone read runs.
But coach Jay Gruden said the Redskins likely would only use the zone read "maybe three or four times in two games." He wants to use it, albeit sparingly, in part to make defenses spend time preparing for the play. Not to mention Griffin is skilled at running the zone read -- his major injuries as a rookie all came off scrambles, not designed runs.
"He's obviously very good at the read option," Gruden said. "He's proven he can do it, but he's also had to come off a major injury. He's healthy, but there will be a balance. He's good with it. It's another way to attack the defense. How much we'll do it is on a game-plan basis. It's something that will be talked about. ... You want to take as much pounding off him as you can. But if you do a good job protecting yourself and getting down, it won't be a problem. We won't overuse it."
"Those plays in previous years have been highlighted because of the nature of the play," Griffin said. "But that's whatever coach wants to do. We'll mix in the quick game, screens. We'll take our shots. We'll run the ball. And if a zone read creeps in there every now and then it doesn't bother me.
"It's whatever Coach Gruden or [offensive coordinator Sean McVay] wants to do. There will also be situations where I can use my legs in passing downs, as well. It's not just an emphasis on, 'We're going to run this guy.'"
The Redskins have practiced zone read handoffs during individual work. Griffin also has run the ball at times, but always out of a scramble situation.
On Wednesday, he took off around the end for what would have been a long touchdown run. Griffin said the defense being used would have resulted in a bad play had he handed the ball to Alfred Morris.
"I was like, let it ride and allow the running back to get clobbered or take a risk," Griffin said. "I took the risk. It was high risk, high reward. It was a high reward."
The play was yet another example of a changed Griffin this camp. He's more relaxed and ready to distance himself from 2013, when he had a subpar season on the field and was criticized, often through anonymous sources.
Redskins general manager and vice president Bruce Allen told ESPN950 on Monday that it was "disrespectful to football" that Griffin even played in the 2013 season opener. Griffin's slogan was "All in for Week 1," and he made a documentary on his rehab and goal of playing in the opener.
"I saw what Bruce said and I know where he's coming from," Griffin said. "That was the previous coach's prerogative. I can't do anything about that. All I can do is fly with the punches. Like I said on multiple times, I played the hand I was dealt last year and now we're all ready to move on and move forward with this year, with a new regime. I'm more than glad I'm able to practice all offseason and in camp with no stress and just get better with my guys."
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