Reporting David Elfin
Robert Griffin III didn’t need to vocalize his feelings about his NFL preseason debut tonight in Buffalo. That’s because the Redskins’ rookie quarterback opted to write them on his black cleats.
“Seize The Day” adorns the left one. “Seize The Moment” is on the right one.
That go for the gusto mentality is what two quarterbacks who have much in common with Griffin advised the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to do tonight when Washington visits Buffalo.
“It’s not just another game,” said Rex Grossman, Chicago’s first-round pick in the 2003 draft who started 16 of Washington’s last 19 games before Griffin’s arrival in April made him the backup. “You’re always going to remember your first preseason game just like you’ll remember your first start, every single play, so enjoy it.”
While Grossman, who played behind veterans Kordell Stewart and Chris Chandler that summer, was plenty nervous for his first pro chance, Heath Shuler, whom the Redskins had selected third overall in 1994, wasn’t, even though he had held out for 13 days and had signed just four days before his debut, which oddly also came at Buffalo.
While Grossman and the Bears enjoyed a 20-18 victory over Indianapolis in his preseason debut, Shuler, the only quarterback besides Griffin whom the Redskins have chosen in the top 10 of any of the past 51 drafts, completed just four of 10 passes with an interception in a 13-11 defeat. The NFL never got much easier for Shuler, but he and Grossman expect better from Griffin.
“Robert will physically be able to do the things that he’s always done, but it needs to become a reaction instead of him thinking, ‘If I don’t get my foot in the exact right place, when they watch film, they’re gonna be all over me,’ “ Shuler said while watching practice on Aug. 3. “Just throw the ball from point A to point B. Stay focused on the game and what your coaches are having you do. Don’t listen to the outside world. Robert’s throwing the ball incredibly well. The key is putting the right team around him, make sure he’s got a great defense, and you gotta be able to run the football. Absolutely, it was the right move to draft a quarterback and Robert would’ve been the guy that I would’ve chosen.”
Grossman, who soared from third-string as a rookie to Super Bowl starter in his fourth season with the Bears, said that Griffin’s way ahead of where he was at a similar moment in his career.
“It’s a different mindset for Robert,” Grossman said. “He’s been through a lot more to this point than I had been. He has a ton of reps. I wasn’t getting many reps. I was in awe of where I was and I was very excited about it. He’s very confident. I think he’s going to have some nerves, but I think he feels pretty good about what’s going to happen.”
There’s no arguing that point.
“I’m not gonna make it too big to where I can’t seize it, so go out, have fun, and do what coach asks me to do,” Griffin said. “I think I’ll be more anxious than nervous. When you’re anxious you can’t wait to go succeed. You just gotta go out and play the game. It’ll be an eye-opening experience and I look forward to it.”
The only time Griffin winced a little during his Monday press conference was when he was told that the Bills sacked John Beck 10 times in shutting out the Redskins last October. After all, Griffin’s line is already minus right tackle Jammal Brown, who’s on the physically unable to perform list with a long-ailing left hip, and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, who had his left knee scoped on July 30. Right guard Chris Chester might not play tomorrow after mildly spraining his left ankle on Monday.
Plugging Tyler Polumbus, Maurice Hurt and fifth-rounder Adam Gettis alongside left tackle Trent Williams and center Will Montgomery will only make this line seem even more Piglets compared to the Hogs who helped the Redskins win three Super Bowls from 1982-91.
Of course, Griffin’s world-class speed and strong arm can help erase many of the sins up front that Grossman and Beck couldn’t. Add Griffin’s intelligence, leadership and poise, and the Redskins were smart to trade three first-round picks and a second-rounder to move up four spots to draft him second overall in April.
Owner Dan Snyder, general manager Bruce Allen and coach Mike Shanahan quickly installed the 22-year-old as the face of the franchise because they believe that he’ll end the revolving door which has included 21 starting quarterback over the past 19 seasons while producing just three playoff berths. And the burgundy and gold faithful believe that Griffin is the man who’ll return the Redskins to glory.
“I don’t ever shy away from expectations or people trying to put pressure on me to be great,” Griffin said without sounding cocky.
Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls in Denver with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway and another as San Francisco’s offensive coordinator with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, is not exactly dismayed by his rookie’s confidence.
“You want people to believe in themselves,” Shanahan said. “You want them to have that air of arrogance that they are the best at what they do. Usually the great ones do have that confidence level.”
Griffin was certainly a great one at Copperas Cove (Tex.) High School and at Baylor. He hasn’t disappointed during minicamps, OTAs and in training camp. The next step towards his expected NFL greatness comes tonight against the team the Redskins defeated to win their last Super Bowl 21 years ago.
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