by David Elfin

The breaking news at Redskins Park today was coach Mike Shanahan going down hard on a blindside and being unable to talk to the media afterwards.

The biggest curiosity was why three-time Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall wasn’t on hand for the first day of organized team activities.

But the big story, assuming that Shanahan is fine soon and that Hall re-surfaces almost as quickly, was that today’s practice was first-round draft choice Robert Griffin III’s first as the quarterback of Washington’s entire squad, not just his fellow rookies.

And as has been the case with Heisman Trophy and All-American team voters, scouts, coaches and the media, the 22-year-old from Copperas Cove, Tex. has vowed his veteran teammates, too.

“It’s so evident that he’s a tremendous athlete,” said two-time Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley. “No one will ever question that. … (But) his ability to be great for us, and to be great early, will be to understand what we’re doing offensively and (be) able to build a trust with the guys. … He stays after (conditioning sessions) for an hour and throws to guys. To watch the way he calls the plays in the huddle … learning the playbook in a month is very impressive.”

Three-time Pro Bowl linebacker London Fletcher said that Washington’s bold move on March 9 to give up three first-round draft choices and a second-rounder to St. Louis for the right to draft Griffin second overall helped him decide to re-sign with the Redskins last month.

“That was huge for me,” Fletcher said. ”I’m in my 15th season. To go into another year not having a (quality) quarterback was not very appealing to me. When they were able to make the trade … it made the situation a lot better as far as coming back here.”

Fletcher, who rose from undrafted rookie to starting middle linebacker of the Super Bowl champion Rams a year later, is just as pleased with Griffin the person as he is with the athlete.

“He’s very humble, very respectful, not coming in feeling like he’s entitled to anything,” said Fletcher, who debuted in the NFL when Griffin was eight but now dresses next to him in the locker room.

Given the Redskins’ three straight seasons with at least 10 defeats, Griffin is already the face of the franchise, but he was certainly respectful of his elders on their first day of 11-on-11 drills.

“To be out there with those guys, some of these vets, that was pretty special, so I appreciate everything that they’re doing to help me,” said Griffin, who joked that he’s truly now in the NFL since he completed passes to Cooley and to longtime No. 1 receiver Santana Moss, a former University of Miami standout.

“It’s an honor to play with these guys,” Griffin said. “Chris has been very helpful. Santana was a guy that influenced me to play football. I was a fan of the U growing up. I wanted to go to the U. Just the way he way he played the game and how he played the game … the excitement.”

Griffin said he felt more pressure to perform with the veterans on hand than he had during his first weekend in a Washington uniform during the May 4-6 rookie minicamp.

“With rookie minicamp, it’s more of you’re trying to show coach, ‘You drafted me. I’m as (good as) advertised,’ “ Griffin explained. “But when you’re with the vets, it’s more of, ‘I can help this team win, show them why coach has so much confidence in (me),’ so it’s a little bit more pressure.”

But whether it was teasing actor Hugh Laurie about his tie on “The Tonight Show” last week, declining a just-for-show pre-draft visit to Indianapolis because he knew the Colts were taking Andrew Luck first overall or the mega-quick feet and strong, accurate arm that he displayed again today against Fletcher and Co., Griffin hasn’t shown any signs of feeling any pressure.

“He has an aura about himself that people want to gravitate to and just get to know him,” Fletcher said.

Training camp is still more than nine weeks away, the preseason opener’s not for three months and the season starts four weeks after that, but so far, Griffin has easily passed every test on and off the field.

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.


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