Redskins fans and NFL media have been all fired up for more than five months about Robert Griffin III’s right knee, blaming coach Mike Shanahan and his son, coordinator Kyle Shanahan, for running a risky offense that exposes the franchise quarterback to unnecessary hits.
Those of us who cover the Redskins have repeatedly pointed out that the Shanahans tweaked the scheme after Griffin was pounded during the Week 4 loss to Cincinnati. We’ve noted that then-rookie Griffin was also to blame for the concussion he suffered against Atlanta and the knee injury he first incurred against Baltimore by not knowing when to live to fight another play. You can go from trying to be a hero to a zero if being so bold causes you to be sidelined for the rest of the game. Or in Griffin’s case, from not being able to practice throughout OTAs and minicamp and possibly into training camp because your insistence at remaining in the Seattle playoff game while obviously gimpy led to the final knee injury that required surgery three days later.
“The thing’s that frustrating is you know you’re going to eventually play with him and you’d like to work with him and practice with him, but you can’t do that,” Kyle Shanahan said. “It’s part of the injury. You just gotta wait and be patient and get ready [for] when he comes back.”
The elder Shanahan and Griffin had discussed the situation at length over the past three weeks at Redskins Park. This week was Kyle’s turn, his only media session from the end of last season until some time during training camp. And the 33-year-old coordinator basically squelched any thought that the Redskins would make any significant changes after ranking fourth in the NFL in points and going 10-6 in 2012 which was a near-mirror image of their ugly 2010 and 2011 campaigns.
“Everybody in the league runs pretty close to the same plays and it’s just when you call those plays, how do you call those plays versus what coverages,” Kyle Shanahan said. “I don’t plan on having an exact system the rest of my career. The job of a coordinator isn’t to reinvent the wheel. It’s to try to figure out the best way to put these talented players in a situation that they can be successful.”
And for the Griffin-led offense, the zone read will remain a critical component as long as Shanahan is its coordinator.
“The zone read is something I feel in the long run helps a quarterback,” said Shanahan, noting that his prized quarterback’s injuries in 2012 happened on pass plays not on designed runs. “Everyone’s accounted for and there aren’t many free hitters. The whole key to the zone read is just the threat of the zone read. If you’re not honoring it, you’re usually going to get 15 yards before contact. It was the least pass rush I’ve ever seen as a coordinator. [Defenses were] just sitting there just scared to death, just watching and not moving. “
Shanahan, whose previous quarterbacks were drop-back types Matt Schaub (in Houston) and Rex Grossman, the suddenly over-the-hill Donovan McNabb and never-was John Beck, is thrilled to have Griffin’s world-class speed in his arsenal.
“The threat of Robert running was the thing I enjoyed the most throughout the year,” Shanahan said. “About halfway through the year, I realized we’re not getting any of these blitzes that I used to see. The threat of a quarterback running makes [defenses] play 11 on 11 as opposed to 11 on 10 like they’ve been doing my whole career.”
And Shanahan’s not worried that the 23-year-old Griffin, who graduated high school and college a semester early each, won’t be smart enough to absorb the lessons of 2012 in order to absorb less punishments on the field going forward.
“Guys gotta get used to sliding, knowing when to fight for yards, when not to fight for yards,” Shanahan said. “I think it’s harder for guys their rookie years because the speed of the game is a lot different. People get up on you a little [quicker]. You gotta slide early and anticipate things. In college, he would just outrun [defenders]. Most quarterbacks have been throwing the ball away since high school. Robert’s just starting to do it.”
The sooner Griffin masters that aspect of being an NFL quarterback, the longer he’s likely to be a very effective one.
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin