Chris Cooley, London Fletcher and Santana Moss got their share of love from the Skins’ faithful at Redskins Park, but the boisterous crowds directed their loudest cheers – and the most autograph requests – for “RG3.” RG3, of course, is Robert Griffin III, the team’s first-round draft pick, starting quarterback and best hope to make the Redskins a playoff contender again.
The Redskins picked Griffin – the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner – second overall in the NFL draft and Coach Mike Shanahan is unrelentingly enthusiastic about his new star. And why wouldn’t he be? Griffin threw for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns in his final season at Baylor University. And he didn’t just deliver by air; flaunting world-class speed, Griffin also scrambled for 699 yards and 10 touchdowns on his way to being named the best player in college football. Griffin isn’t just a great athlete. He was also a Baylor honors student in political science who reportedly devoured the Redskins playbook in the off-season.
At the end of training camp, the rookie quarterback told reporters he felt ready for prime time in the NFL, despite at least one rocky showing in pre-season against Chicago, when he was sacked three times and lost a fumble. The Redskins open their season September 9 on the road against New Orleans. The team’s first home game is September 23 against Cincinnati.
“I thought it [training camp] was a huge success,” Griffin said. “You get to spend a lot of time with the guys, get to know each other and find out a lot about your team. I think 10 or 15 years from now I will still remember my first NFL training camp.
“If you trust your preparation you will feel confident when you go out on the field,” Griffin added.
Griffin told On Tap that while he is excited to be a Redskin and living in the nation’s capital, at heart he’s just a small-town guy who doesn’t plan on letting the bright lights of the big city distract him.
“I haven’t experienced the city too much,” Griffin said, smiling at a question about adjusting to Washington after four years in Waco, TX. “I am not really a big city guy. I can sit at home and have fun and be content. But hopefully once DC starts poppin’ because this team is doing extremely well, we will all be able to enjoy it.”
Redskins owner Dan Snyder – eager to get the Redskins back to the Super Bowl – is banking on it. Snyder paid a heavy price to land Griffin, offering him a guaranteed $22 million over four years. In addition, Snyder traded first-round draft picks in 2012, 2013, and 2014 as well as the Skins’ second-round pick this year to the St. Louis Rams to make the deal happen.
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan seems to think the investment was worth it. Coming off a disappointing 6-10 season last year, Shanahan is hoping the exciting player from Texas can help turn his team’s fortunes around.
“I’ve seen him grow every day,” Shanahan told reporters the day after the Redskins won their first pre-season game against Buffalo. “Every repetition you grow. The more repetition you can have in different situations, the better off you will be.”
Shanahan, who has coached Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young and John Elway, remained optimistic about his fleet-footed young quarterback after the Redskins’ loss to the Bears in the second pre-season game.
“I really liked the way he handled himself,” Shanahan said of Griffin. “He was very poised. He was cool, calm, and collected. He gets the guys going. He never seems to lose his composure. That’s the sign of a good quarterback.”
Santana Moss, the Redskins’ veteran, clutch wide receiver, told reporters at training camp that having a quarterback of Griffin’s caliber should help his own game.
“When you have that kind of threat in the backfield it gives you looser coverage,” Moss explained. “Now we’re not going to have these safeties playing so deep because they know he [Griffin] can pull that ball down and run. It keeps them honest and it opens up some lanes for us.”
The Redskins enter the 2012 season with high expectations tempered by a half-decade of football futility. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006, but starting center Will Montgomery, a four-year veteran who grew up in Centreville and attended Virginia Tech, said he’s optimistic about the season. “I definitely feel good about it,” Montgomery said in an On Tap interview at Redskins Park. “As disappointing as last year was, we had about seven games that [we lost] by a touchdown or less. If we can get a few key pieces in place, that will help get us over the hump”.
Montgomery, who will be snapping the ball to Griffin on most downs this season, praised the rookie quarterback’s maturity.
“I think he’s doing a great job – he’s full of energy, he takes command of the huddle and he’s very poised back there,” Montgomery said. “It’s just fun to play with him. He’s definitely not shy. Some [new] guys might be a little timid or whatever. He just goes in there and takes charge, calls the huddle and gets the job done.”
Josh Morgan, a fifth-year pro and a graduate of H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, whom the Redskins acquired from San Francisco in the off-season, said he was deeply impressed with Griffin’s progression during training camp.
“I love him to death and can’t say enough great things about him,” Morgan told On Tap. “He’s not only a great person on the field but he’s a great man off the field, too. He really goes about his business the right way.”
“That’s what’s rare for so many young guys with all that potential and hype and everything,” Morgan added. “He could have let it go to his head but he came in so humble and so focused you don’t have any choice but to just rock with him.”
Morgan also said he likes what he sees in Griffin’s work habits.
“He’s a real gym rat,” Morgan said. “He works real hard. Every time you see him he’s in his playbook and that’s what you expect from a number one guy. They [Redskins management] gave up a lot to get him. When you see him on the field you see why they did.”
Finally, Morgan offered up a prediction for Griffin that Redskins fans will find tantalizing.
“He’s as fast as Michael Vick but he can make all the throws that Peyton Manning can make and he can make all the reads Tom Brady can make”, Morgan said. “He’s got the whole package.”
See the Redskins take on the Cincinnati Bengals September 23 at FedEx Field: 1600 Fedex Way Landover, MD; 301-276-6000; www.redskins.com.