Year 1 of the Robert Griffin III-Jay Gruden Era is upon us. And like most newlywed couples, they look wonderful together.
Griffin is fully recovered from the knee injury that severely hampered his performance last season. He seems happier and more relaxed, partially due to the absence of a knee brace and partially due to the absence of coach Mike Shanahan.
Gruden is eager, energetic and enthusiastic, raring to start his first training camp as an NFL head coach. Son of a football lifer, brother of a Super Bowl-winning coach, Gruden is anxious to make his own mark under the family name.
Griffin and Gruden seem perfect for each other at this stage of their respective careers. They’re prime candidates to grow old and gray together – which is about 10 years for such duos – poised to join the ranks of Tom Brady-Bill Belichick, Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin, Drew Brees-Sean Payton and Ben Roethlisberger-Mike Tomlin.
Many thought Griffin and Shanahan were in it for the long haul, too, thought they could re-create the synergy that existed in Denver when the coach and John Elway won back-to-back Super Bowls together. Shanny was the old-school pro who would develop the budding star in RG3.
But Shanahan didn’t shape and mold the young QB.
He bent and nearly broke him instead. Shanahan might as well have been another defender delivering crushing blows as Griffin failed to slide.
We’ll never know what might’ve happened if RG3 wasn’t injured in the disheartening postseason loss against Seattle. That led him to rush back and led Shanahan to OK it, suspect moves at the time that are clearly boneheaded in hindsight.
The feel-good from an unexpected NFC East title in 2012 drained steadily during another 3-6 start last year, which this time wasn’t followed by a miraculous run to the playoffs. Griffin’s and Shanahan’s reputations deservedly took hits, each man appearing to blame the other for individual and collective shortcomings.
But unlike recent years when seasons crumbled, dysfunction ran amok and name plates changed on the coach’s office, the team believes it has a franchise quarterback. That’s what separates Gruden and Shanahan from predecessors Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs and Jim Zorn.
The team sold us on Griffin-Shanahan and it was marvelous for a moment, before all the cracks and flaws surfaced. Now the Griffin-Gruden pairing is supposed to restore our faith that Washington can be more than a controversial NFL laughingstock under owner Dan Snyder.
Snyder has been consistent if nothing else, alternating between proven entities (Shanny, Schotty and Gibbs) and unknown commodities (Spurrier, Zorn and Gruden).
Perhaps he can coax Mike Ditka out of retirement if this doesn’t work.
But Gruden has plenty of weapons to stave off unemployment, none more important than RG3’s faith and confidence, though Alfred Morris, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon aren’t bad, either. Hired for his fine work as the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator, Gruden is charged with keeping Griffin happy, healthy and productive.
“The quarterback has to be the biggest threat at all times,” Gruden said earlier this month. “But the biggest thing is we have multiple threats. The key is to distribute the ball evenly and make sure everybody feels part of the offense.
“It’s just a matter of getting people involved. We’re excited about the game plan, knowing that on every play there’s somebody different who can hurt you.”
The risk-reward factor dictates that RG3 be less of a threat with his legs. As exciting as it was when he took off on read-options, the prospect of him being carted off was all too real. The more he stays put and scrambles only as a last resort, the quicker he can develop as a pocket passer and take full advantage of his outside receivers and emerging tight end Jordan Reed.
That’s not to say Griffin will resemble Andy Dalton, Gruden’s QB in Cincinnati. Dalton, who has started and played every game, has 455 rushing yards in his three-year career.
RG3 had 468 rushing yards after his first seven NFL games.
Gruden said “sprinkles” of read-option will remain in the team’s playbook, which apparently hasn’t changed dramatically outside of some terminology.
“Some of the things we’ve done with (Griffin) the past two years are similar,” first-year offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. “Some are also different. … He’s recognizing some of the looks and audible situations. We’ve given him the option to call things at the line of scrimmage and he’s shown himself fully capable of doing that.”
We saw what RG3 was fully capable of doing two years ago. That was before his knee buckled and his relationship with Shanahan collapsed.
Those ugly memories will be cast aside if this new union blossoms.
If not, here’s hoping the honeymoon lasts longer than one season this time.