Learning To Slide Difficult For Robert Griffin III
A player who’s been the fastest player on the field since he was young, the quarterback is now saddled with the task of trying to protect himself – and the football.
BY ZAC BOYER
ASHBURN – There were three occasions in training camp where Robert Griffin III, taking part in a 7-on-7 passing drill, would find his receivers covered and take off scrambling.
He would gain a few yards, nothing significant, and, seeing a linebacker or defensive back bearing down on him, would fall extravagantly to the grass to end the play. The spectacle drew cheers and laughter from the crowd of thousands, a good number of whom understood the importance of the quarterback protecting himself, and Griffin would stand, smile and get ready to run the next play.
Those slides, if they could be called that, demonstrated a shred of truth – that Griffin, despite his athleticism, can’t properly do it. His stood up at the end of his attempt against the Packers and pulled chunks of grass out of the hinges in his knee brace; against the Lions, he goofily flopped down butt-first in the third quarter to try to avoid a hit.
“The problem is I’m not a great slider,” Griffin said. “I know how to slide, but I don’t know how to baseball slide, and I think that’s what they’re talking about.”
The silliness, yet safety, of those two attempts were overshadowed on Sunday by Griffin’s head-first dive at the end of a 21-yard scramble early in the fourth quarter. Had he held onto the football, it would have been a remarkable play – one where he was able to avoid a pass rush that could have cost the Redskins several yards and instead set the offense up at the Lions’ 29-yard line.
But he didn’t, leading to a fumble recovered by Lions strong safety Glover Quin that led to a go-ahead field goal six plays later.
“He didn’t slide very much in college,” Mike Shanahan said. “He’s gotten better at it in practice. He’ll continue to get better as he does it.”
Part of Griffin’s difficulty with sliding is because of his instinct. The quarterback was used to being the fastest player on the field during parts of four seasons at Baylor, and his legs helped him escape from pursuing or charging defenders. When the play was over, he’d take a hit, stand up and run the next play.
That’s different in the NFL, where Griffin, even before surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee, wasn’t always the fastest player. If defenders couldn’t catch up to him, they could take better angles to the ball – and hit him harder.
The knee injury stirred up discussions of playing the game smartly, which meant sacrificing a few yards in the name of staying safe. Griffin’s original knee injury against the Ravens last season, when he cut back to the middle of the field while scrambling and was hit by nose tackle Haloti Ngata, underscored the importance of passing up a modest gain in order to play another down.
For Griffin, it’s difficult to practice sliding, especially considering the Redskins practice in shorts during the week. Sliding on bare legs isn’t easy, and it can be painful.
“The slickness of the [game] pants helps you slide,” Griffin said. “When you have shorts on and stuff like that, it’s a little less conducive to sliding on the practice field.”
For now, that will likely mean the quarterback will embark upon a few more awkward-looking slides. Or, there’s always the alternate – getting out of bounds.
“But you can’t really be out there thinking about that kind of stuff,” Griffin said after the game on Sunday. “You’ve just got to do what happens when you react, and I’ve just got to hold onto the ball.”