Elfin: A New Era Begins In D.C. With The Humble RGIII
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The Redskins have only won two playoff games in 19 years. The Caps have won just two postseason series since 1998, the Wizards just one since 1982. And the Nats have never even finished .500.
But when it comes to top-shelf young talent, Washington is in the midst of an era as golden as the jersey that Robert Griffin III wore yesterday as the media got its first look at him on the field in a Redskins helmet.
The 2004-05 NHL lockout delayed No. 1 overall pick Alex Ovechkin’s debut for the Caps for a year. Stephen Strasburg made 22 minor league starts and Bryce Harper played in 129 games before joining the Nats as the top selections in the 2009 and 2010 drafts, respectively. Even John Wall didn’t get going with the Wizards for two weeks after they chose him No. 1 overall in 2010.
However, Griffin was on the field barely a week after the Redskins drafted him. And from the golden cleats with the quasi-burgundy laces, to the tight spirals and superb mobility, and to the engaging smile and friendly demeanor, RGIII didn’t disappoint.
“It was a lot of fun,” Griffin said. “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. It’s time to get (back) to football, to really get a chance to do the things that you study on paper and go out on the field and perform (them).”
The rookies didn’t even do any 11-on-11 drills yesterday, and, of course, there was no contact. But Griffin certainly looked a heck of a lot better than Heath Shuler, the last quarterback upon whom Washington had spent a top five pick, did in his debut 18 years earlier.
But whether Griffin had stunk like Shuler or wowed from the start like Champ Bailey, the cornerback whom Washington picked seventh overall in 1999, he was still going to be the guy.
Coach Mike Shanahan said the 22-year-old Texan became “the starter, period,” as soon as the Redskins gave the Rams their first selections this year, next year and in 2014 as well as this year’s second-rounder in order to move up four spots and pick him second overall.
“The reason we gave up what we gave up is (Robert) can do some things that I believe no one has done,” Shanahan said.
That’s not a high standard in these parts since only three of the 20 quarterbacks who’ve started for the Redskins in the two decades since their last Super Bowl even managed to lead them to the playoffs.
But of course Shanahan was talking about Griffin’s rare combination of arm strength, smarts, poise and world-class speed, not Washington’s seemingly ever-revolving door at quarterback.
“It’s hard to find that guy who can throw the football (so well) and has Olympic-type speed,” said Shanahan, who coached Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway and Steve Young during 14 of his previous 27 NFL seasons. “(Robert) does something that you can’t teach. He can make plays when everything breaks down. The great quarterbacks that I’ve been around, the great quarterbacks that have won Super Bowls (can do that). I really believe he can make any throw. … And with his speed, he can get on the edge and do things that most quarterbacks can’t do. We’re going to adjust our system to what he feels comfortable with. We’ll watch him grow.”
Griffin is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but he knows that he has plenty of growing to do to be that special in the NFL. And he expects to get treated like any of the 22 other rookies who survived minicamp and have been invited back to begin working with the veterans a week from today.
“You go from being top dog at your college to bottom of the barrel in the pros even if you are supposed to be the starting quarterback,” Griffin said. “You got to prove yourself. You can’t come in flamboyantly. And I don’t plan to. (Gotta) come in and earn the guys’ respect. Even if they say you’ve got it, you’ve still got to go out and earn it. … That’s your job as a quarterback, not only to go out and play well but be able to manage different personalities.”
In RGIII, the Redskins might just have found the personality and performance at the game’s most important position that they’ve been missing all these years.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March.