ASHBURN, Va. — As practice wrapped up on the next-to-last day of training camp, the chants of “R-G-3!” began. Several thousand fans screaming, begging, imploring Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to walk their way and offer a smile and autograph.
With the din impossible to ignore, quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur spoke to Griffin as both stood on the field.
“I was joking with him,” LaFleur said, “about, ‘That’s a big weight on your shoulders, you’ve got a lot of people looking up to you, so you’ve got to handle yourself the right way.'”
“He said: ‘It’s only a burden if you make it a burden,'” LaFleur said.
Griffin is as upbeat as they come, buoyed by his faith and his natural disposition, but he concedes it has been “very trying” to stay positive as the Redskins have slumped to 3-6 headed into Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. There have been times, based on his words and his body language, that he has looked like someone struggling with the burden, whether from trying to meet the expectations that followed his spectacular rookie year or from just trying to figure out what kind of quarterback he wants to be.
“You take life as it comes,” he said Wednesday. “Life’s going to throw you curveballs sometimes. You’ve just got to figure out which ones to try to hit. Right now, it’s not a burden. You’ve got to believe. It only takes one person to believe so you can have success.
“I understand what comes with being a quarterback for the Washington Redskins. I understand what comes with being a quarterback in the NFL. Yeah, it might be a little bit harder here because of certain aspects of what goes on around this team. I understand that. I’ve got tough skin. My parents brought me up the right way.”
He said those “certain aspects” include the “big city, bright lights” and media glare of the Redskins, not to mention a fan base that he says “demands success,” especially on the heels of last year’s NFC East title when Griffin was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
“When you’re expected to be great, you’re always going to have disappointments,” receiver Pierre Garcon said when asked about Griffin. “You’re always going to have tough times that you deal with. You just have to make it through those times to be successful.”
Griffin had the moxie to publicly disagree with coach Mike Shanahan over practice schedules during training camp, but during the season RG3’s comments have turned inward.
Remember the offseason talk, some of it spurred by Griffin’s father, that Griffin might become more of a traditional drop-back quarterback to stay healthy after major knee surgery? Well, at 0-2, RG3 said it was time to start running again: “It’s not that I want to run more, I just feel like that’s what we need.”
Then, at 1-3: “I’m just really focusing on being the playmaker that I know I can be and not letting anybody else tell me how to play this game.”
Reflecting on those comments Wednesday, Griffin said: “That was me being frustrated.” Nevertheless, as the season has progressed, he has indeed returned to the style of play that worked so well last year, using the zone-read and play-action to create a threat with his legs and open up passing options downfield. On plays when he’s a standard drop-back passer, he looks far from polished. He already has 44 “poor throws” this season, according to STATS, compared to 51 for all of last year.
Griffin had his best statistical game of the season in last week’s loss to Minnesota. Shanahan said the quarterback is now “more comfortable physically” and is thus playing better, and Griffin said there never was a design to change his style.
“We came into the season planning to do the same stuff we did last year,” Griffin said. “We got behind real early in those first two games and had to throw the ball more, so it’s not like we came into those games wanting to drop-back pass.”
Griffin limits his time with reporters and sometimes comes across as more package than person. He’s had fewer laugh-out-loud lines at his news conferences this season, although it’s worth noting he had his best one of the year Wednesday, when he was asked by a reporter about taking a hit on a play near the goal line.
“It’s tough man,” Griffin said. “You know, you’re a competitor, I’m a competitor. You know, you want to return kicks …”
The room full of reporters, none of whom could ever return an NFL kickoff, erupted in laughter. Griffin laughed so hard he needed 25 seconds to compose himself.
Maybe he’s really back to his old self.
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