The Wait Is Over: Robert Griffin III Ready To Debut For Redskins
NEW ORLEANS – It is time.
After years of continuous disappointment and persistent frustration, the Washington Redskins will look to start a new era this afternoon when they begin their season against the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome with Robert Griffin III at quarterback.
“Everybody wants to go out and show, ‘This is what I’ve got to do, what I’ve got,’” Griffin said. “But it’s less about you and more about the team. You know, you can say that, and say it’s cliché, but it is really true.”
Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner last season at Baylor, was selected by the Redskins with the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft in April – a selection the team made after trading away its next two first-round draft choices.
It was a move the Redskins had to make. Unsettled at the position since Mark Rypien led them to Super Bowl XXVI over 20 years ago, Griffin presents a new hope for a team trying to avoid four consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC East.
“He’s worked extremely hard,” head coach Mike Shanahan said. “Now we’ve got to go and execute a game plan. A big challenge for us, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Griffin played only a limited number of downs during the four preseason games, working exclusively with the starters for what amounted to roughly three quarters. The Redskins chose not to open the playbook, instead simplifying it in an attempt to make Griffin feel more comfortable.
Big plays were rare. Few deep balls were thrown. Designed runs were nonexistent.
“I don’t think it will make a huge difference,” Griffin said. “I feel like we got a lot of work in. I threw the ball on third downs, moved the chains, we went and scored some touchdowns and that’s all you can ask for.”
The quarterback completed 20 of 31 attempts for 193 yards during the preseason, including two touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Of the five rookie quarterbacks expected to make their first starts today, the number of passes Griffin threw was by far the fewest.
That could also work to his advantage. Saints coaches and players said Friday that Griffin’s limited exposure has hampered their opportunity to fully prepare for his ability.
“We’re preparing for the Heisman Trophy winner, and you don’t win that by accident,” said interim Saints head coach Aaron Kromer. “He’s an excellent athlete as far as he can throw the football, he’s smart and he can run the football. When you have that combination of those three things, it’s tough to defend him. … If everybody does their job, I hope we can contain him.”
Griffin’s ability to run the football is one dimension the Saints haven’t been able to prepare for. The quarterback, who ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in February and was the Big 12 champion in the 400-meter hurdles as a college freshman, scrambled five times during the preseason for a total of 22 yards.
The Redskins are sure to incorporate that speed into their offense by adding designed runs, but nothing of the sort was called by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan during the preseason. The Saints were so unfamiliar with anything Griffin might do, and so afraid of extrapolating from Griffin’s college days, that they didn’t have Chase Daniel run with the ball in his role as the scout team quarterback.
“It’s a little bit of a guessing game,” Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said.
“But, we have gone back and looked at him and what he did at Baylor. You can see he’s athletic. We had to be a little bit creative with some of the plays we ran this week, but we certainly anticipate that he’s going to run the football a little bit.”
The Redskins’ best hope for Griffin will be found across the field, where Drew Brees has grown into one of the league’s elite quarterbacks during his six seasons in New Orleans. The Saints won their first Super Bowl after the 2009 season, and Brees set league records with 5,476 passing yards and a 71.2 completion percentage last season.
Those are levels of success the Redskins, and Griffin, hope to attain one day. After today, there won’t be much more talk about the future.
The future is now.
“You’re playing with the best guys in the world when it comes to being in the NFL,” Griffin said. “Guys aren’t getting recruited. Guys are here getting paid to do their job. It’s my job to make sure they can go out and showcase their skills as well. I think the guys around me help me be confident and know that I’m ready.”