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Confident In NFL Ability, Robert Griffin III Ready For Next Step

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – Of all the modicums of wisdom Robert Griffin III has entertained during his five-month tenure as the Washington Redskins’ starting quarterback, perhaps the most profound came a week ago in New Orleans.

Griffin

Griffin, making his first official appearance for the Redskins in the season opener against the Saints, threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns in an eight-point Washington victory. Afterward, his teammates offered their congratulations in the locker room – but nothing was as lasting as a brief pep talk from former starter Rex Grossman.

“[He] told me after the game I set the bar high and I’ve got to continue to go up,” Griffin said. “It just solidifies what I’ve always thought – that I can play in the NFL at a high level.”

The rookie earned a variety of player of the week awards after a record-setting performance. One game is still one game, and for as difficult as it was for Griffin to play against a perennial Super Bowl contender in one of the tougher venues in the league, challenges will continue to present themselves.

Griffin, this afternoon, will face St. Louis – a team that has won 15 games over the previous five seasons and, in doing so, has cycled through nearly as many head coaches.

It’s not so much the opponent as what the second week of the season represents. An opposing defense will, for the first time, understand the full nature of the quarterback’s talents, forcing both Griffin and the coaching staff to step into the next stage of development – adaptation.

“Each week gets harder throughout the NFL,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “Each year gets harder. You’ve always got to adjust on offense. You’ve always got to adjust on defense, and the thing you’re excited about, when you’ve got players and you’ve got a quarterback that are capable of doing everything – you want to go into games with a plan, but you always have a chance to adjust depending on what people are doing.”

New Orleans was ill-prepared for Griffin as both a thrower and a runner, owing to the Redskins’ decision to limit his playbook and playing time during the preseason.

When Washington began its first drive with Griffin working nearly exclusively out of the shotgun, throwing screen passes and running the zone-read option play, the Saints were lost. They tried to adjust through each ensuing drive, but the offense remained one step ahead. Additional elements of the passing game were incorporated into the play-calling rotation, and when things broke down, Griffin conjured up his own blend of quickness and intelligence to make something happen.

“That’s the thing that I like about him the most,” receiver Santana Moss said. “People take what we did last week and he might take it and run with it, but we know every week is going to become something different. As long as we prepare, we have a chance to prepare like that.”

Jeff Fisher, in his first season as the Rams’ head coach, coached Steve McNair in Tennessee, and he noticed a multitude of similarities between the way he handled his quarterback and the things head coach Mike Shanahan and the Redskins have asked of Griffin.

“In Mike’s quest to acquire [Griffin], he felt all along that defenses can’t defend those dynamics,” Fisher said. “Basically, he’s right. If you’re lucky defensively, you create a one-on-one situation with the quarterbacks. With his athletic ability, he usually wins that.”

Whereas New Orleans had that idea, Fisher has seen it. The Rams will enter their game against the Redskins with a tangible appreciation for what Griffin can do, which in turn will lead to a more comprehensive game plan.

Thus, the adaptation. Griffin’s numbers against St. Louis may not be as gaudy as they were against New Orleans, but statistics have never accurately evaluated his skill.

A better measurement will be if Griffin can demonstrate progress in his second game – and if he walks away from the Edward Jones Dome with a similar feeling as the one he had a week ago.

“There’s certain plays that I’ll be gifted to make just with the talent God has blessed me with, but if I’m trying and I’m looking for those plays all the time, it will never work,” Griffin said. “As long as everybody’s on what they’re supposed to be doing and in the right areas, things like that will happen.”

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