London Fletcher and DeAngelo Hall aren’t looking forward to chasing Robert Griffin III in the sweltering heat of Ashburn over the next three weeks of training camp. However, the Redskins’ pair of three-time Pro Bowl defenders are looking forward to smiling while watching opposing defenses deal with the dual-threat headache that is Washington’s rookie quarterback.
“His speed, you hear about it, but until you go against it, you don’t know exactly what you’re faced (with),” said captain Fletcher, who compared Griffin to Philadelphia’s Michael Vick, the longtime king of the run-pass quarterbacks. “The speed will definitely shock you. He has a rocket of an arm. He has the right mentality in terms of his preparation. When you have a quarterback who can make plays when it doesn’t go exactly as it’s designed to go, who can buy time and is a threat to run the football and make plays outside the pocket, defensively you’re kind of always on your heels.”
Hall, a former teammate of Vick’s in Atlanta, couldn’t disagree with the comparison.
“You feel like, ‘We got him,’ and the play’s still going on,’ “ Hall said about Griffin. “He brings that dynamic to the game and we hate that as defensive players.”
Hall grudgingly noted the centrality of the quarterback position to a football’s team success and added, “We finally got one that we feel like can hold his own against some of these other guys in the league. We got a chance to compete.”
That’s something the Redskins haven’t really done since 2007 when they last made the playoffs. Fletcher, defensive reserves Lorenzo Alexander, Kedric Golston and Reed Doughty, receiver Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley are the only players left from that team. And Moss and Cooley are the last men standing from the last Redskins squad to win a postseason game, back in 2005. Washington is just 38-58 since, including that four-game closing tear in 2007.
“No one treats (Robert) like a rookie,” Cooley said. “You can’t. He’s the starter for us. You have to treat him like a starting quarterback. There’s nothing that he does that says, ‘we should haze you.’ He’s been a real professional since the day he walked through the door. I’m amazed every day by the way he handles it, his ability to run this offense. He’s done a fantastic job. I can’t imagine being suited more for the position he’s in.”
As Cooley said, as excited as the veteran Redskins are about Griffin the player, they’re equally enthused about the 22-year-old as a person and leader of the team.
“He has a lot of notoriety and deservedly so because of what he accomplished at Baylor, (but) he doesn’t carry himself like I’m a Heisman winner, they traded all these picks for me, I’m better than you guys,” Fletcher said. “So it’s easy for guys to gravitate towards him. He’s already emerged as one of the leaders on the football team and not because of the position that he plays. His personality, his aura is one of great leadership. Being around this game for number of years, you can tell when you meet guys who have ‘it.’ “
Running back Tim Hightower hasn’t been in Washington for quite a year yet, but as an Alexandria native he’s well aware that the franchise’s last Super Bowl triumph was in January 1992 when he was just 5. Hightower, who played in the title game for Arizona four seasons ago, doesn’t want Griffin III to think he has right the Redskins by himself.
“He has a lot of expectations on him,” Hightower said. “As teammates, it’s our responsibility to rise to the occasion, help his transition, take some of that focus, some of that pressure off him.”
But then Hightower injected a note of reality for a team that has started 21 quarterbacks – only two of whom were chosen for the Pro Bowl — since it last raised the Lombardi Trophy.
“We’re going to go as he goes,” Hightower said.
Griffin, a world-class hurdler, can certainly go. The question is how fast can he, and the Redskins get going?
“We know it’s gonna be a process,” Fletcher said. “We’re not gonna expect (Robert) to be a top five quarterback (right away).”
In fact, Hall said that Griffin is the worst quarterback in an NFC East that boasts Vick, two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning of the New York Giants and Tony Romo of Dallas, who’s second in the career passer ratings. But after two years of past his prime Donovan McNabb, turnover machine Rex Grossman and never-was John Beck at quarterback, the Redskins are excited to be back in the conversation at the game’s most important position.
“There’s definitely a different feeling about this team,” Fletcher said.
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. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin