ASHBURN, Va. (CBSDC/AP) — As a veteran of nine NFL training camps, Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley has seen rookies come and go. All have behaved in some way or other like typical newbies — a little tentative, a bit awe-struck, usually deferential to the team’s established way of doing things.
All but two. Sean Taylor and Robert Griffin III.
As Griffin wraps up his first NFL camp this week, the No. 2 overall draft pick from Baylor has shown that he’s talented and has lots to learn. No surprise there. What’s impressed teammates most has been his poise. The Redskins brass has wrapped him tightly inside a media bubble — many athletes at the Olympics were more accessible — but he hardly needs it, not the way he carries himself.
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“It’s is a phenomenon that he’s come in and not been a rookie,” Cooley said Monday. “No one looks at him as a rookie. You don’t see young players come in and say ‘This is my team.’
“I thought I could play, but I came as a rookie with big eyes, and maybe the only guy I’ve seen do that, what he’s kind of done and say, ‘I’m not going to be a rookie on this team’ is Sean Taylor. Maybe the only guy that came here and said, ‘I don’t care where I am, I don’t care who I’m playing against — I’m going to be the best on the field.’ He’s had that confidence as a quarterback.”
Taylor, who was shot and killed at his Florida home in 2007, was an immensely talented safety with a nobody-can-intimidate-me persona, but he also had his share of off-field problems and never had a good relationship with the media. Griffin, by contrast, gets close to a perfect score for style points: He smiles and says the right things, with barely a whiff of controversy.
“I’ve never seen doubt in that kid’s mind,” Cooley said.
That’s a strong statement, and a couple of plays in Griffin’s first preseason game last week at Buffalo show why there’s so much promise and so little doubt.
Forget the raw stats — 4 for 6 for 70 yards and a touchdown — Griffin had two plays that showed his rapid maturation: an audible to get out of a quarterback keeper when he noticed weakside pressure, and a completion in which he went to his fourth read without a thought of pulling the ball down to run. Showing he has the lingo down pat, he said the play worked because: “We high-lowed the backside hook player.”
“You can be confident; you can never be overconfident,” Griffin said. “And I think the experience in the Buffalo game kind of reassured myself, reassured everybody else why they brought me here.”
Attendance at camp swelled this year because of Griffin, and those tracking his plays will have noticed a high percentage of designed runs, both up the middle and around the edges. He bounced up and down in frustration after overthrowing Fred Davis on a rollout Monday, then ran right into Jarvis Jenkins on a left-side keeper on the next play. He wrapped up the sequence with a nice over-the-middle completion to Santana Moss.
He’s still getting a feel for taking snaps from under center rather than in the shotgun, but he makes such challenges sound comfortably surmountable. “Seize the day” is written with a silver marker on his right shoe. “Seize the moment” is on the left one.
“Robert is very mature. He handles himself like a veteran player,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “You can see that by his interviews, how he handles himself.”
Not that there are any interviews to judge. The Redskins have heavily invested in Griffin to end their run of last-place finishes in the NFC East, and they have cocooned their prized possession as best they can. Griffin speaks to reporters just once a week, with no off-the-podium questions allowed. He’s the only player who gets an escort when he walks over to fans after practice to sign autographs. Security even stands guard when he relaxes on the bench behind Redskins Park with his fiance.
It seems a bit much for a player who won the Heisman Trophy and embraces his relationship with the public and the media. Shanahan said players such as Griffin need such an arrangement so they can “concentrate on their job.”
“I love talking to you guys, but that’s coach Mike’s decision,” Griffin said. “The biggest thing is I’m the quarterback, I have to be the face of the team, the face of the franchise, and I think we all understand that. It’s not that one guy’s getting more attention than the other guy. They all know that if I’m getting a lot of attention it means we’re doing an extremely good on the field.”
Notes: NT Chris Neild injured his left knee during practice and was scheduled for an MRI. … LT Trent Williams remains sidelined with a bone bruise in his left foot, while G Chris Chester (sprained left ankle) and G Maurice Hurt (inflamed left knee) remained limited. To have enough offensive linemen for practice, the Redskins signed T Chris Campbell and waived-injured WR Darius Hanks. … A potentially big day in the kicking competition: Neil Rackers went 9 for 9 in the main drill, while incumbent Graham Gano was 5 for 9 and kept punching line drives.
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