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Ten Questions: Offensive Playcalling

How much Robert Griffin III’s right knee injury will force the Redskins to modify their playbook is the No. 2 question in our countdown to the start of training camp.


With the Redskins set to begin training camp on Thursday, we’ll count down the top 10 questions the team faces heading into the season. Today:

2. How much will Robert Griffin III’s injury force the Redskins to change their playcalling?

The arrival of Robert Griffin III early last season posed a conundrum for some of the Redskins’ offensive coaches. Here was a player who could truly be an elite talent, one who can run the ball and throw the ball equally well, so how exactly could they go about making sure they’d maximize his abilities?

Griffin has long stated that he does not want to be typecast as a run-first quarterback despite his remarkable speed. He does, after all, have the ability to throw the ball nearly 70 yards, which would certainly ensure plenty of versatility in the playbook.

The decision was made to give it the old college try: Griffin would run the option. Though he didn’t use the play extensively during his time at Baylor, it was certainly one of the ways the Redskins could maximize his ability. The coaches began installing option principles during the offseason and had the offense working with it almost from the first day of training camp, though it wasn’t brought out during any of the Redskins’ four preseason games.

Running the option at the professional level has long been looked down upon as being too gimmicky from a technical aspect. Plus, when dealing with the best of the best from the college ranks, defensive players would be too fundamentally sound – and too fast – to be deceived by any of the play’s inherent misgivings.

Griffin, though, had the speed to make the play work. The Redskins started to experiment with ways to deploy it, first using some option principles during the season-opener against the Saints, then devolving to a more standard triple-option attack against the Bengals. By the midpoint of the season, the team had refined the zone-read option well enough that it was useful when it was deployed, but also when it wasn’t.

It wasn’t just the use of the zone read that gave the Redskins a schematic advantage. Faced with Griffin’s lack of experience taking snaps under center, but unwilling to have him line up in the shotgun on every play, the coaches compromised, installing the pistol formation. Here, Griffin would have the best of both worlds, plus the advantage of being able to run the option, or any number of successful play-action fakes, from the formation.

Despite Griffin’s right knee injury, the Redskins are poised to stick with everything they did last season. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan loves the advantages gained by lining up in the pistol and utilizing the zone-read option, and he’s confident that when Griffin returns from injury, he’ll do so without any limitations. Plus, Shanahan noticed that defenses had to play the Redskins honestly because of the scheme’s threat, and he believes that the quarterback is able to do a better job of protecting himself than if he simply dropped back in the pocket.

Washington didn’t appear to change anything during offseason workouts, with Kirk Cousins, Rex Grossman and Pat White filling in for Griffin in the scheme albeit in a slightly different physical form. The biggest adjustment the Redskins will face, then, is in matching up with opposing defenses, who have now had an entire offseason to prepare for the threat of the zone read.