In Texas, for a situation much graver than stinky quarterback play, Robert Griffin III’s college coach is facing a question that’s often asked when trouble arises: “What did you know and when did you know it?”
Art Briles is being queried about his prior knowledge of Sam Ukuachu before the Boise State transfer arrived and went on to be convicted for sexually assaulting a Baylor student.
In Washington, it seems we’re headed to the point where Griffin’s current coach will make a crucial personnel decision and face a similar inquiry.
If/when Jay Gruden pulls the plug on RG3, we’ll ask what the coach saw that convinced him to give up and when he saw it.
The better question at this moment: What does Gruden see that everyone else is missing? Entering the team’s third preseason game, Griffin has shown few signs and inspired little confidence that he’s worthy of the starting job Gruden gave him in January.
RG3 has yet to lead a touchdown drive this preseason, settling for one field goal in seven possessions. Washington was contained to its own side of the field in the four drives he engineered against Detroit last week. That pitiful outing – eight dropbacks, six hits, three sacks, one fumble and one reported concussion – wasn’t entirely Griffin’s fault.
But he’s not blameless.
The Lions demonstrated that every area of concern about RG3 remains firmly in place, namely pocket presence and fundamentals under pressure, along with the ability to detect blitzes, orchestrate protection and deliver the ball quickly while avoiding unnecessary shots.
A multitude of observers believe they have seen enough and know enough right now, concluding that Griffin is a liability and Washington has a better chance of winning with Kirk Cousins under center.
Gruden hasn’t reached that verdict yet, at least not publicly. He said his reasoning in sticking with Griffin is based on more than exhibition games.
“Robert has done some good things out here at practice,” Gruden told reporters Tuesday. “We’re judging not just the performance on three drives in the preseason game but the performance through OTAs and training camp. That’s why we’re going the way we’re going.”
From here, it looks like they’re going in circles.
A quarterback coach has been brought in. A new offensive line coach is in place. Weapons have been added at halfback and wide receiver. But Washington is in the same place it was after the Tampa Bay game last season, when Gruden offered a brutally honest assessment of Griffin’s shortcomings, saying the performance was “not even close to being good enough for what we expect from that quarterback position.”
We’ve been wondering about that verdict ever since, taking sides in speculating on RG3’s capacity to be a good-if-not-great NFL quarterback. His travails in 2013 and 2014 make the doubters question the believers’ stock in 2012.
We also have to wonder what Gruden is thinking, Has he actually decided, deep down, that RG3 can’t cut it? Or does the coach truly consider him as a credible starter who’ll deliver when the season begins?
Putting more faith in outcomes when guys are in shorts or facing each other at three-quarters speed is a peculiar way to determine depth charts and playing time. RG3 could look like the NFL’s best quarterback in OTAs and training camp, but it doesn’t matter unless he replicates that form against non-teammates.
That hasn’t been the case this preseason, last preseason or during the 2014 regular season. All we can go on is what we’ve seen in live action, the sequences that coaches usually use to base their decisions. Gruden said so himself in Tuesday’s news conference when he spoke about the value of exhibitions.
“I think it’s getting people some quality reps against great opponents,” he said. “Finding out how they play in game situations without a coach in their ear helping them out at practice. … You get to see what they know, how they translate what they know onto the field, how fast they play, what kind of effort they play with and what kind of production they play with.
“It’s pretty evident when you put on the tape who’s ready and who’s not.”
And all of Griffin’s backers said, “Ouch.”
The preseason offense under RG3 didn’t magically transform last year once the games counted. A strong outing on Saturday against Baltimore would help make the argument for RG3 to remain the starter, but it’s still a flimsy case. If he struggles again and doesn’t improve in early in the regular season, Gruden will be forced to make a move that, unfortunately, seems inevitable.
If it comes to that, folks will ask what he saw and when he saw it.
But the most-pressing question will be: “What took so long?”