Commentary

Robert Griffin III passes eye test

Rookie QB looks like real deal, but Skins could have tough time building a winner

Originally Published: August 1, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and coach Mike Shanahan staked everything on acquiring Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. They gave the St. Louis Rams their first two picks in this year's draft and first-rounders in 2013 and 2014. From the looks of things on the field in training camp, RG3 is all that the Redskins expected. His skills are exceptional.

The biggest question over the next three years is whether the Redskins have enough resources to acquire championship talent to surround him. The missing first-round pieces from the next two drafts are one problem, forcing the Redskins to look to free agency for answers.

The salary cap is another problem. The NFL imposed a $36 million penalty over the next two years against the Redskins for what the league considered to be a manipulation of the cap in the 2010 uncapped year. Washington lost $18 million this year and another $18 million for next year.

Although rebuilding will be tough, the Redskins appear to have the right player to build around in RG3.

Here are five observations from Redskins camp:

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin
Geoff Burke/US Presswire Throwing an accurate deep ball appears to be one of Robert Griffin III's biggest strengths.

1. RG3 could be RGDEEP: Somewhere between the skills and bodies of Michael Vick and Cam Newton is Griffin III. He moves around the pocket like Vick. His throws -- particularly the deep ones -- are as pretty as Vick's and Newton's. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll took time out of his offseason to study tape of Newton's deep throws and concluded he never has seen a rookie quarterback make as many big plays. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Newton's 30 completions of 21 or more yards in air were second to only Eli Manning of the New York Giants. Griffin could challenge those numbers. Like Ben Roethlisberger, Griffin does some of his best work outside the pocket, buying time to make plays. His deep balls explode out of his hand and are catchable.

But TE Chris Cooley may have summed up why Griffin will be a star. He's more mature than his age. Cooley said Griffin walked into the Redskins' locker room and immediately established credibility and leadership. Young players idolize him. Veterans respect him. The question is how long it will take for the Redskins to win with Griffin. Although Griffin has the potential of a 4,000-plus-yard passing season similar to Newton's, it won't be as easy in the NFC East. The Eagles, Giants and Cowboys have great man-to-man coverage skills. A tough schedule may make it even tougher for RG3 to win more than six games as a rookie, but if the Redskins finish strong, they could start thinking playoffs next year.

2. Offensive line a major concern: Already, the news is bad along the offensive line. Right tackle Jammal Brown has hip problems. At the moment, Brown isn't going to need surgery and might miss a couple of weeks, but the injury is concerning. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger needed a scope on a rebuilt knee and might not play in the preseason. That leaves the Redskins with Maurice Hurt at left guard and journeyman backup Tyler Polumbus at right tackle. Polumbus has been getting good reviews in camp. Another injury, though, could be devastating because the depth may not be there along the line. The good news is left tackle Trent Williams is having a great camp. Teammates talk about how much more professional he is studying tapes and working. His conditioning also is good. Williams has the talent to be one of the best left tackles in the NFC. RG3 can make the line look good by scrambling away from sacks, but the line needs to come together with consistent run-blocking for the offense to be successful.

3. Safety in numbers? A sleeper position for the Redskins might be safety. Shanahan overhauled the position by bringing in Brandon Meriweather, Tanard Jackson and Madieu Williams. They could end up being steals. Meriweather is the most interesting acquisition. He was immature at times in New England and was a nonfactor last season for the Chicago Bears. Still, Meriweather is a former first-round talent who really loves playing the game. He's a good blitzer and a big hitter. Jackson had numerous off-the-field issues in Tampa Bay, but he's talented free safety who can make plays. At one point, Williams was one of the highest-paid safeties in football. Even though it didn't work out for him in Minnesota, he could help a decent Redskins defense as a backup. He has good coverage skills.

4. Running on empty? In Denver, Shanahan was a master of getting the most out of unknown running backs. Roy Helu, Tim Hightower, Evan Royster and rookie Alfred Morris might form the least known backfield in the NFL, but Shanahan believes that he can make something work on the ground. Face it, there is no 1,200-yard, every-down runner among this group, but each back offers specific skills that could make the ground game passable. Hightower is the likely starter, but he's coming off knee surgery. Helu is a zone-blocking runner, but he has to make sure he doesn't fumble. The intriguing players to watch are Royster, a sixth-round pick from last year, and Morris, this year's sixth-round pick. Both offer a little explosion if they can get through the first wave of tacklers.

5. Receiving corps should create excitement: Last year, the Redskins were trying to get by with unknowns Anthony Armstrong, Brandon Banks and Terrence Austin working the outside routes. Despite losing $18 million of cap room, the Redskins were able to add Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. The best part about this group is it has deep-ball potential, which helps RG3. His best option, though, will be Santana Moss, who has lost more than 15 pounds and is working exclusively out of the slot. Moss caught only 46 passes in 12 games last season, but he should be back at the 60- or 70-catch level this year if he stays healthy.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer