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Redskins Upload: Griffin Straight To The Top

Posted May 7, 2012

After his first weekend in a Redskins uniform, Robert Griffin III has already been given the keys to the offense. Surprised? You shouldn't be.

When former Redskins great Joe Theismann graced the sidelines during the first practice session at the team’s rookie mini-camp on Friday, I couldn’t help but appreciate his presence. But after watching Robert Griffin III run through drills for 30 minutes, Theismann’s awe-inspiring presence gradually diminished.

Yes, Theismann was the top-rated passer in the NFC in 1982 and guided that Redskins team to a Super Bowl XVII victory. He is also a two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro (1982, 1983). In fact, most football experts consider Joseph Robert Theismann to be the last truly distinguished quarterback the Redskins have had, even though he hasn’t thrown a pass since his career ended abruptly 27 years ago.

Sure, Mark Rypien won his own ring during his seven years in Washington, and Doug Williams turned in an MVP performance in Super Bowl XXII. But when you speak of each of their bodies of work as a Redskins quarterback, Rypien’s and Williams’ are not as decorated as Theismann’s.

So, naturally, Theismann’s attendance at the first day of rookie mini-camp brought attention unto itself. But it didn’t take long to see that the real quarterback story in Washington was developing on the field, in the form of a 22-year-old rookie.

Theismann, himself, spoke very highly of Griffin on Friday. “When you spend time and talk to Robert, you don’t find a more humble guy,” Theismann said. “He understands that he is here to become a part of the Washington Redskins. And he understands the importance that he has to play for this franchise to move forward. I think that’s very important that guys know where they stand, and know what they need to do.”

Griffin III knows exactly what he needs to do, and has performed ably so far. He exudes confidence and his presence demands your attention, even in his first opening moments with the franchise.

From the time he walked on the field, wearing a shiny new burgundy helmet and customary bright gold quarterback jersey, and donning radiant matching shoes and socks, I could see that Griffin III’s presence was as alluring as his brilliant practice attire. He looks the part. He looks like a player deserving of the moniker, RG3.

As the practice proceeded, it became obvious why head coach Mike Shanahan and his staff, swapped Washington’s first-round draft pick this year with St. Louis to grab the second overall pick, and handed the Rams the Redskins’ second-round pick this season and the team’s first-round picks in 2013 and 2014. Even for an organization as calculated as the Redskins, it was obvious why Griffin III was worth the risk of failure.

One of the things that I really wanted to see on Day 1 of mini-camp was how quickly Griffin III adjusted to the skill sets of the other drafted rookies, college free agents and eligible first-year players. Unlike his pro day workout, he was surrounded by a lot of unfamiliar faces.

Griffin III didn’t have the luxury of handing the ball off to Terrance Ganaway, who rushed for over 1,500 yards last season at Baylor. Nor did he have his favorite target from a season ago, Kendall Wright, who led the Bears in receptions with 108. Perhaps most importantly, the Heisman Trophy winner didn’t have his big center, Philip Blake, who was selected first-team all-Big 12 last year.

Instead, he handed the the ball to Tristan Davis, a first-year player last season who never cracked the active 53-man Redskins roster. His targets included unheralded receivers like Willie Carter, an undrafted wideout from Howard. Under center, he received snaps from Redskins’ third-round draft pick Josh LeRibeus, who played guard his entire collegiate career at Southern Methodist.

Even under these foreign conditions, Griffin III flourished in Day 1. He had no muffed snaps. No poor passes. No botched handoffs. His timing was on point.

He seemed comfortable right out of the gate. Even thunder and lightning, which forced the first practice session into the team’s new indoor practice facility, couldn’t shake his focus. He passed the eye test as a franchise quarterback, someone who could lead this Redskins for the next decade.

Former Redskins tight end Rick “Doc” Walker was also on hand during the first practice, and said, “What I love about this young man, is that he enjoys working–that he enjoys getting better…This is the process, this is what it’s all about: when they start working on the game. He’s so athletic, but he’s got the discipline that it takes to get the little things accomplished.”

On Day 2 of the three-day camp, I wanted to get a feel of just how much of the playbook Griffin III had absorbed over the previous week. With all of the outside influences that have monopolized his time in recent weeks, how deep could he have delved into the complex Shanahan playbook?

His progress impressed the originator of that playbook, in his head coach Mike Shanahan. 

“He is ahead of schedule. Like I said, very few people can take as much verbiage. It is like learning a new language,” he explained.  “Some people are able to pick it up very quickly and other people can’t do it as quickly. Robert was able to pick it up very quickly and it showed on the field.”

Griffin III has grasped the plays in the Redskins’ playbook just as effortlessly as he has the starting quarterback position in Washington, as was confirmed by Shanahan. “Obviously, anytime you pick a player the second pick of the draft and you give up two No. 1’s and a No. 2 [pick] to move up four spots, you’ve got a game plan in mind,” Shanahan said. “We are going to adjust our system to what he feels comfortable with and we will watch him grow and we will do what we feel like he can do and he does the best.”

Shanahan emphasized to the media, though, that the developmental process has only just begun for Griffin III, and “as we all know, it is a long process and it shouldn’t happen overnight.” He also forewarned reporters that there are going to be some good days and some bad days, and he understands that.

On the third day of rookie mini-camp, 50 credentialed media outlets packed the sidelines at Redskins Park for the opportunity to witness Griffin III in action.  Despite the lack of top-tier wide receivers, he left little doubt that he was franchise caliber.

Griffin III took instructions from offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and ran the plays effectively. His footwork was flawless and his speed and agility undeniable. His passes spiraled tightly, were accurate and thrown with sharp velocity.

When asked how he felt about his overall performance at rookie mini-camp, Griffin III replied, “It was good. You know, getting out here and getting the chance to work with the guys, work through the offense, it was a lot of fun so I look forward to coming back in a week and doing it with the rest of the guys.

“It felt good. This is what we do. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to do football things. We’ve been doing combines and beauty pageants on pro days so it’s time to get to football. So it felt good to get out here, you know, really get a chance to do things that you study on paper and go out on the field and perform it. So it was a lot of fun.”

Coach Shanahan was extremely impressed with his new starting quarterback’s performance and unreservedly expressed it. With a huge smile on his face, the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach said, “He is great. You can see what an incredible athlete he is. I was impressed we didn’t have one bust with a formation or a play call and I don’t think I have ever had that in any minicamps I have been involved with.”

Griffin III’s success moving forward will be defined by his ability to lead his teammates, something that he got a head-start on with his quarterback group.  Of importance to Redskins fans is his relationship with fourth-round selection Kirk Cousins.

When Cousins hit his receiver in stride on an out-pattern during 7-on-7 drills, Griffin III gave encouragement, saying, “Good ball, baby.” When he addressed the media after practice, he confessed that he and Cousins watched tape at the team hotel while eating burritos.

Referring to his growing relationship with Cousins, Griffin III said, “We’re good. You know there are no issues there. It’s just we’re both out here trying to get better. We’re cool.”

By in large, Griffin III’s rookie mini-camp performance far exceeded anything that I had initially imagined. He knew the playbook. He made all the throws. He ran the offense efficiently. And Griffin III successfully launched his journey as the starting quarterback of the Redskins, the new face of the storied franchise, and the next leader of the burgundy and gold.

Derrick King has been a familiar face around Redskins Park in recent seasons, and will contribute a weekly column for Redskins.com. He will also be appearing on 'Redskins Nation' with Larry Michael on a weekly basis. He brings 15 years of editorial experience to 'Redskins Upload'.