RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC) – ESPN NFL analyst Jon Gruden watched Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in person last month during organized team activities and again on the second day of training camp on Friday.
His conclusion? It’s way too early to make any conclusions about Griffin, who is 24 now and entering his third year in the NFL, but also learning a new offense under Gruden’s brother, Jay.
“Let’s be honest. It’s just started,” Jon Gruden told reporters after speaking with high school football coaches at an event put on by the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation at the nearby Richmond Science Center. “I mean, how can you tell? They haven’t even put a pad on yet. This could be a period of a couple years where [Griffin] transforms his game to a different level, hopefully. But I think he’s coming along quickly.”
Indeed, Griffin looked far more comfortable on Friday than he did during an erratic first day of camp. It didn’t help that the first half of Thursday’s practice was held during a rainstorm. Griffin looked far more efficient after an admittedly sloppy effort the day before. He hit new wide receiver Andre Roberts several times on intermediate routes that went for long gains. It was encouraging. It was progress. It was a start.
“We got our bike taken away from us yesterday by the defense [Thursday],” Griffin said. “So I told them we got to go get our bike back.”
They did that. But the process of adapting to Jay Gruden’s offense will take more than one morning practice that amounted to little more than a minicamp session with players not donning pads yet.
“I didn’t mean to make it sound like it’s gonna be 100 years,” Jon Gruden said of Griffin’s development. “But ‘Yeah, I got the offense down?’ How the hell do you know if you have the offense? We haven’t even seen [Griffin] play against a padded defender yet. I’ve got a lot of respect for this style of football, a lot of respect for this system. You just don’t wave a magic wand and say ‘Hey, we’ve got a new offense.’”
Jon Gruden knows from experience. He was an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers when that coaching staff was attempting to mold future Hall-of-Famer Steve Young into a hybrid quarterback who could use his mobility as a weapon without abandoning their iconic version of the West Coast offense. Gruden later coached Randall Cunningham for one year in Philadelphia as an assistant. Griffin is not the first mobile quarterback he’s seen.
Yes, Griffin has to develop a rhythm for Jay Gruden’s offense, a second sense of when a receiver is about to break free. When the defense takes away a primary option, move to the secondary receiver and if he’s covered then hit the outlet option. That’s easier said than done.
But with weapons in the passing game like Roberts, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon – plus pass-catching tight end Jordan Reed – the options are there for Griffin. Still, playmakers only take a quarterback so far. And his legs provide an added dimension. They don’t have to be the primary source of his success. And probably shouldn’t be, according to Gruden.
“But you know what? If the protection isn’t very good and you’ve got to scramble, it’s nice to have the speed he has,” Jon Gruden said. “So what we’re trying to do is put timing and rhythm into everything that we do and let him put his own expression on the offense. I think his spin on the quarterback position could really be exciting when it all is settled.”
This is still the modern NFL, however. In the age of social media and the 24/7 scrutiny that athletes face, does Griffin have the time necessary to reach that potential? The grumbles will grow, from fans and media, yes, but also inside his own organization, if Griffin doesn’t adjust quickly. Promising quarterbacks have crumbled under the weight of such expectations before.
“That’s not for me to decide. That’s for the culture of this organization to decide,” Jon Gruden said. “He’s gonna have to change a little bit. He’s gonna have to learn some new things. I think he’ll love it. I think it’ll help him sustain himself for a longer period of time. But who am I? I’m not Jay Gruden. Jay Gruden is out there. He can answer all these questions.”
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