Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Given The Option, Robert Griffin III Getting To Work In Comfort Zone
ASHBURN – When Robert Griffin III invited several of his Washington Redskins teammates down to Baylor during the summer, among the things he wanted them to learn about was his level of comfort working in the Bears’ offense.
That primarily meant his familiarity running the zone-read option.
“I tried to show them those things so that they could know, ‘Hey, if we really try to make sure this works, it can work, and it would be big for us,’ and it showed up big for us in the game,” Griffin said Wednesday, three days after the Redskins sprung it on the New Orleans Saints in a 40-32 victory. “Yeah, maybe we didn’t use it every single series or every play, but when we did use it, it was big for us.”
Washington utilized some form of an option play roughly a dozen times on Sunday, with its first use on the second play from scrimmage. Griffin faked the handoff to running back Alfred Morris, and when defensive end Will Smith bit on the fake and ran inside, Griffin bounced to his right, gaining 12 yards before sliding to end the play.
The scheme caught fire in the collegiate ranks in the middle of the last decade, rising to prominence alongside, and occasionally within, the spread offense.
It was something the Redskins did not run at all during the preseason, preferring to keep it until the regular season for competitive reasons, and the Saints found it difficult to stop.
“It’s kind of fun to do some of those things that you haven’t done in a while,” head coach Mike Shanahan said, “and when you have a guy like Robert available who has the ability to really keep a defense off balance with his ability to do a lot of different things, then you’ve got to make decisions on what you think works best with his talents. There’s a lot of different directions we could go, and we’ll experiment as the year goes on.”
Shanahan indicated all offseason that he would tailor the Redskins’ offense around Griffin’s speed, and the team began seriously working on incorporating various principles of the option when training camp began.
To do so, he studied not only what worked for Griffin at Baylor, where he was the Heisman Trophy winner, but also what was being run at other colleges, and he also watched film of Carolina and Denver last season to see how they incorporated option principles into their professional offenses with Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, respectively.
“When we have the option to have our quarterback keepers, it makes the defense play honestly,” center Will Montgomery said. “The tables are a little bit more even now than they usually are.”
Part of the advantage of incorporating the play, Shanahan said, is also the idea that defenses now have to prepare for it. Even if they run it once against St. Louis on Sunday, the Rams will have spent a portion of their week studying another dimension of Griffin’s game.
It was something the Saints, without having the benefit of that film, could not do.
“In Mike’s quest to acquire [Griffin], he felt all along that defenses can’t defend those dynamics,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said. “Basically, he’s right. If you’re lucky defensively, you create a one-on-one situation with the quarterback. With his athletic ability, he usually wins that.”
Keeping the ball or giving it to the running back isn’t the only choice Griffin has. On first-and-10 with 7:29 left in the second quarter, Griffin read the defensive end and kept the ball, but as he spotted safety Roman Harper closing in, he threw it to receiver Joshua Morgan on a slant.
Though Morgan dropped the ball, the throw added yet another dimension that defenses will need to prepare for should Griffin grow more comfortable with the speed of the game.
After reviewing the film, Griffin believed there was only one situation in which he made the wrong read on an option play.
It’s not easier or harder than it was in college, he said – just different.
“That’s a unique offense in itself, and so is this one, so the coaches are coming up with new concepts every day,” Griffin said. “I think their imaginations are running wild, and it would be fun to see what we do and just go out there and execute it.”