Redskins future hinges on RG3

Robert Griffin III throws during the 4th quarter. Philadelphia Eagles win 33-27 over the Washington Redskins at FedExField on September 9, 2013. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )
Robert Griffin III throws during the 4th quarter. Philadelphia Eagles win 33-27 over the Washington Redskins at FedExField on September 9, 2013. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )
Posted: November 18, 2013

ASHBURN, Va. - The planets aligned just right for the Washington Redskins on that March day in 2012. In need of a franchise quarterback, they had engaged the St. Louis Rams in trade talks for the second overall pick in that year's draft.

The Rams, with Sam Bradford, did not think they needed a quarterback upgrade and happily agreed to a deal that gave them Washington's sixth overall selection, plus two extra first-round picks and a second-round pick. A little more than a month later, the Redskins smiled broadly when they selected Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.

Those smiles grew bigger still when the kid with the fast feet, sculpted body, strong arm, and the coolest of nicknames - RG3 - led Washington to its first NFC East title since 1999.

Everything was going as planned. Washington had finally found the right man to play the most difficult position in sports. In fact, if you made a list of all the things you were looking for in a franchise quarterback, RG3 would have a check mark next to each one.

A track and football star at Baylor University, he was not just a superior athlete. He was also bright, needing just 31/2 years to graduate seventh in his class at Copperas Cove High School in Texas, where he was class president.

Disciplined? Griffin gets two check marks on that one. His parents were both Army sergeants who made sure their children were raised to work hard and live right.

They call that the total package, but the box does not arrive with a guarantee. In fact, it says "fragile" on the side because the NFL is violent and unforgiving. One moment you can be a franchise quarterback with elite speed, and the next minute you can be lying on an operating table having your right knee surgically repaired in two places.

This is relevant to the Eagles because their unpredictable season has been dominated by quarterback controversy and debate. Even as Nick Foles has posted 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions while leading the Eagles to wins in four of the five games in which he played the most snaps, the conversations have continued.

Michael Vick may be in everyone's rearview mirror, but there are still plenty of people who wonder if Foles belongs in the driver's seat beyond this season. Plenty of Eagles fans still yearn for that franchise quarterback who may or may not be available in next year's draft.

That desire is understandable and universal among NFL fans and executives. The Redskins still believe they have their guy in RG3.

"He's one of the most competitive people I've ever been around," Redskins reserve quarterback Rex Grossman said Wednesday as Washington prepared for Sunday's game against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

A former first-round pick and Heisman Trophy runner-up, Grossman helped the Chicago Bears reach the Super Bowl seven seasons ago, but he never stuck as a franchise quarterback. He sees greatness in Griffin's future.

"I think he has only scratched the surface of what he's capable of doing, and I think everybody sees that," Grossman said. "There are some things that he is just a little bit raw with at times, but every second-year quarterback is. It's going to be exciting to see him in the future and see him establish an identity for himself and how he wants to be remembered in this league. It's going to be dangerous once he puts everything together because it's dangerous now. It's going to be awesome to watch."

That is what the Redskins hope, of course, but this season the growing pains and the limitations caused by his knee injury have been just as noticeable as RG3's immense skill and intelligence.

In fact, some questions familiar to Eagles observers have surfaced in the nation's capital: Does Griffin take too many hits? Does he run too much? Is he not running enough this season?

The numbers say he is running considerably less this season. After nine games a year ago, Griffin had rushed 81 times for 529 yards and six touchdowns. This season, he has run 56 times for 301 yards, and he does not have a touchdown.

Still, like Vick, he has taken plenty of hits, a by-product of how both men play the position. Despite being sacked just 18 times, which is the sixth lowest total in the league, Griffin has been hit 54 times. That is the ninth highest total in the league, according to NFL.com.

Some of the hits in recent weeks, including two that RG3 thought he could have avoided in a Week 10 loss at Minnesota, have caused concern.

"We don't want that to happen . . . and we just have to do a better job of making sure that doesn't happen," Griffin said after practice Wednesday. "I have to take it upon myself to get down earlier. I got two good shots in that game that I can avoid. It takes all of us. So, yeah, I've been hit a bunch in the past two games, and everyone knows it, but we just have to move on and make each game a new game."

For the second straight year, Griffin and the Redskins have started the season 3-6 and, oddly, they are closer to first place this year than they were a year ago, when their rookie quarterback led them to seven straight wins and a division title.

More of the blame for this year's problems has fallen on Washington's aging defense than their second-year quarterback and the offense. The Redskins, in fact, enter Sunday's game against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field with the league's fifth-ranked offense.

"I think he played a great game against the Vikings even though we didn't win the game," said Kirk Cousins, the Redskins' second-string quarterback who is also a second-year player. "It might have been his best game of the year."

Griffin is certainly moving better now than he did on opening night against the Eagles, when he was still recovering from his offseason knee surgery. And he's still learning what it takes to be a franchise quarterback. The lessons can be hard and mean, as Grossman discovered with the Bears.

"There is really no golden advice," Grossman said. "I haven't figured it out. What I have realized after being in the league for 11 years is how much football is a team sport. There are very few [quarterbacks] who can do it and be successful on all 32 teams.

"It takes the entire team - the defense, the offense, the running game, the line, the coordinator creating good plays . . . it takes everybody. You can be the greatest player of all time, but if you don't have a great supporting cast . . . it's not going to work."

That's all true, and it makes the Redskins' trade with the Rams for RG3 all the more interesting. St. Louis has used its three picks acquired from Washington on defensive players, all of whom are starters. They'll get one more first-round pick from the Redskins next year.

Maybe a dominating defense will be the Rams' recipe for resurrection. It better be, because Bradford, their franchise quarterback, was lost for the season in Week 7 with the same injury RG3 suffered in last season's playoff loss to Seattle.

It's a brutal business, and no position is more fragile than the most important one.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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