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STEVE DESHAZO: Redskins are all in on their new quarterback

Unlike another young star in D.C., Robert Griffin III isn’t going to be shut down early by his team, the Washington Redskins. Given the time, money and draft picks they’ve invested in their Anointed One, they’d like to ride him as far as he can go.

Griffin’s chances of throwing a ball in a playoff game this season, though, are only fractionally better than Stephen Strasburg’s. Come January, Griffin will be pitching Gatorade and sandwiches, not pitching to his running backs.

Most Redskins fans know this, even if they can’t bring themselves to admit it. Though they’re programmed for September giddiness, two decades of mediocrity have made them realists.

Yes, there’s reason for optimism. There hasn’t been this much buzz over a quarterback’s arrival in D.C. since a 1964 trade with the Eagles netted Sonny Jurgensen. And the only draft pick in that span that similarly moved the needle was LaVar Arrington in 2000.

Neither of those men played in a Super Bowl, though. Don’t expect to see Griffin in one, either, until the Redskins can surround him with better infrastructure.

And since they gave up their next two first-round draft picks to get him—and face another $18 million salary-cap penalty next season—that may take a while.

Many quilts have better patchwork than Griffin’s offensive line—and its one quality cog, tackle Trent Williams, is one puff away from a yearlong suspension. Griffin’s world-class speed will come in handy this fall.

The trio of running backs is largely unproven. The receivers are adjusting to a new uniform and/or new roles, and the steadiest influence (tight end Chris Cooley) was released last week.

The defensive front seven is solid, but the Achilles’ heel (the secondary) is suspect. That doesn’t bode well in a league that saw virtually every passing record broken in 2011.

The good news is that Griffin represents hope. He’s supremely talented, relatively humble and—unlike many of the Redskins’ acquisitions of the Daniel Snyder era—young. He’s a foundation to build around, not a stopgap for a team with delusions of grandeur.

Remember, the Nationals were virtually unwatchable before drafting Strasburg and Bryce Harper No. 1 overall in consecutive summers. Both of those phenoms have lived up to the hype, but they’re not the only reasons why the Nats will make their first playoff appearance next month. They’re winning because Mike Rizzo replaced an unqualified general manager and made several shrewd personnel decisions, bankrolled by his billionaire owner.

The Redskins made a similar front-office change two years ago, hiring Bruce Allen to replace the clueless Vinny Cerrato. Since then, the team has drafted more prudently and signed free agents who fit needs better than they inspired jersey sales.

Still, there’s a long way to go. The Redskins mortgaged their future on Griffin. They need him to become Peyton (or Eli) Manning, not Ryan Leaf or Akili Smith.

If he fails, it could set the team back for years—even more than whiffing on Heath Shuler did nearly two decades ago. It could further tarnish coach Mike Shanahan, whose reputation as a quarterback guru already took substantial hits with the struggles of Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman.

The prize rookie must have a better NFL career than the only other Heisman-winning Griffin—Archie, who ran for a modest 2,808 yards in seven seasons with the Bengals.

He must produce more for the Redskins than Cornelius Griffin, a solid defensive tackle who won one playoff game in six seasons.

And he can’t possibly do worse than Family Guy’s Peter Griffin, whom the Patriots traded to the London Silly Nannies after his choreographed three-minute touchdown celebration.

That last (fictitious) example was meant to draw a smile, since they may be few and far between this fall. Fortunately for Griffin, the Nationals’ playoff run should steal the spotlight from any early struggles he and his team endure.

Nationals fans learned that even the worst of teams can be improved with cash and solid decisions. The Redskins hope to follow that template, and getting Griffin may be a good start.

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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