You can tell which fans at Washington Redskins training camp are seeing Robert Griffin III for the first time because they let out little “oohs” and “aahs” when the rookie quarterback escapes the pocket with his elite speed. Thousands have come to the first four practices to see Griffin for themselves, and his talents make an instant impression.
They also give the Redskins‘ offense a certain look and style, which is beginning to come into focus early in training camp. Whether Griffin is running the option or throwing on the run, coach Mike Shanahan is going to live up to his vow to use Griffin’s combination of speed and throwing ability to challenge defenses in a variety of ways.
Griffin has had some rookie moments during his first four practices, but he’s confident he has started on the course to leading a successful offense.
“Whether it’s working on picking up blitz pressures and knowing where to go with the ball or what to do in certain situations, I’m working on all those things,” Griffin said Monday at his weekly media session. “Feet, drops, hitching up in the pocket. Just getting completions and staying on the field.
“I think if you constantly put yourself down and say, ‘I really need to work on that,’ then you’re going to think you’re bad at it. I try not to think that way.”
One particular throw, however, has given him trouble. He has misfired on several passes while rolling out to his left.
During Saturday’s practice, against no defense, one such throw sailed over the receiver. He tried it again two plays later, and the throw was behind receiver Pierre Garcon.
The mechanics required to throw across one’s body are awkward, but that throw is a critical part of Shanahan’s offense.
“It’s just throw when you’re ready,” Griffin said. “If you have to rush your throw, a lot of times it will dive on you. Early in a couple of first practices, we all struggled with that.
“It’s just about practicing. If I make a bad throw one time, it’s a very slim chance to none that I’m going to go back and make that same bad throw.”
Redskins coaches this summer are having quarterbacks practice that particular throw more frequently than they did in Shanahan’s previous two seasons. The mechanics require precision and patience, which come with repetition.
“The key to throwing on the run is turning your left shoulder to your target,” quarterback Rex Grossman said. “It’s obviously a lot easier to the right because naturally your shoulder is to your target. When you’re rolling to your left, it takes effort to do that. You’re always throwing off your left foot, so you just have to rotate on the run.”
Practicing it in team drills hasn’t been easy. Redskins defenders are accustomed to playing against their offense, and they’re familiar with how Shanahan wants to use Griffin. A defender often has been waiting for Griffin when he peels out of a run fake.
“The problem is when you have [linebacker] Brian Orakpo running right after you and you can’t get your shoulders around,” Griffin said. “We worked on when you can get it all the way around and get downhill and make the throw, and then if you’ve got a guy like [linebacker Ryan] Kerrigan or Rak running after you and you have to turn sideways, just how to position your body to make that throw, as well.”
Shanahan, Griffin and other players sense Griffin’s gradual improvement as the plays and practices mount. Meanwhile, Griffin’s headliner status hasn’t exempted him from the normal rookie experience during training camp.
During Monday’s practice, Griffin informed veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall that he breaks arm tackles. Hall responded by making the Griffin carry his shoulder pads back to the locker room.
“He said, ‘Here’s these pads. This will help you on breaking those arm tackles,’” Griffin recalled with a smile.
And Redskins veterans soon will see Griffin The Showman in his element. Rookie shows are scheduled to begin Tuesday night. The rookies have one task: entertain the veterans.
Griffin, who wrote a song for his fiancée as part of his marriage proposal, has his act planned out.
“I think I’m going to go with some Temptations, some ‘My Girl,’ hopefully get the whole room singing, and then we’ll move on from there,” he said.
“Hopefully I don’t get booed off the stage.”