Reporting David Elfin
WASHINGTON (CBSDC) - One is the highest-rated passer in NFL history despite spending his first three seasons on the sidelines. The other started from day one and was the top-rated rookie ever. One didn’t start a Division I game until his junior year. The other started his entire freshman year. One was the MVP while leading his team to a Super Bowl victory in Texas. The other is a Texan whose only playoff game ended with a major knee injury.
Despite those differences, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Washington’s Robert Griffin III, who’ll oppose each other for the first time when the Redskins visit the Packers on Sunday, do have one major thing in common besides being the top quarterback commercial pitchmen not named Manning.
Rodgers, who’s less than three months from turning 30, and Griffin, 23, are both mobile quarterbacks who want to be known for their arms, not their legs.
“Robert’s definitely blessed with a considerable amount of athletic ability, more than I am, but it’s about using your abilities … to run when you have to … give your guys enough time to get open,” Rodgers explained. “That’s a fine line that we talk about a lot in our [meeting] room about extending plays or throwing it away, or trying to avoid the unnecessary sacks. Some guys have [that feel] and some guys need to work on it. Robert definitely has it. It’s pretty exciting to turn on his film and watch him play. The way he moves in the pocket … he’s obviously a very gifted runner, but he has the ability to make plays out of the pocket and that makes you a very dangerous quarterback.”
The admiration is certainly mutual.
“You have to look back [at] the guys that [came] before you and appreciate what they’ve done,” Griffin said. “I appreciate the way [Aaron] plays, the swagger he plays with, how he treats his teammates. … We just want to win and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have won a lot of games over the years. He’s just done it over time. Our rookie class, we want to be quarterbacks that play well over time, not just for one season, two seasons, but five, six, seven, 15 seasons.”
Griffin and his fellow members of the NFL draft Class of 2012, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, each started from the get-go and led their teams to the playoffs. That quick success was quite a contrast to the early struggles of such Hall of Fame quarterbacks as John Elway and Troy Aikman, who debuted in the 1980s, and with Rodgers, who sat behind Canton lock Brett Favre for three years despite being chosen in the first round of the 2005 draft.
“It was the best thing that happened to me, the opportunity to learn behind one of the all-time greats, get my body in great shape and get used to football being a full-time job,” said Rodgers, who spent his first two post-high schools years in junior college. “Learning the game, the ins and outs – defense, offense, honing my fundamentals.”
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who mentored Elway, said such a talent as Rodgers will likely never be put on the shelf for three years again. However, Mike McCarthy, who had been San Francisco’s offensive coordinator when No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith floundered as a rookie starter in 2005, was fine keeping Rodgers on the bench behind Favre when he took over as Green Bay’s coach the next year.
“There’s obviously two different ways [of handling young quarterbacks] and both give the quarterback a chance to be successful,” McCarthy said.
Yes, but that’s changing fast. Of the 32 current starting NFL quarterbacks, only nine didn’t see serious action as rookies: Rodgers, Dallas’ Tony Romo, Philadelphia’s Michael Vick (with Atlanta), San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, New Orleans’ Drew Brees (with San Diego), Arizona’s Carson Palmer (with Cincinnati), New England’s Tom Brady, Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor and San Diego’s Philip Rivers.
The bad news for Griffin’s goal of matching Rodgers’ Super Bowl triumph is that those nine quarterbacks won four of the past 10 Super Bowls, leaving just six among the other 23 starting passers.
The good news is that third-year men Kaepernick and Pryor are the only members of the sit-and-watch club who are younger than Rodgers. The rest are all in their 30s. Only four (Denver’s Peyton Manning and brother Eli of the New York Giants, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and Chicago’s Jay Cutler) of the 23 quarterbacks who got early starts are that old, meaning that the position is seriously trending Griffin’s way.
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, a 2008 draft choice who played right away, won the Super Bowl last season. In today’s hurry-up NFL, Griffin, Luck and/or Wilson figure to follow suit sooner rather than later.
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