(ABC)–It didn’t take long for Jay Gruden to figure out Robert Griffin III.
“He’s a perfectionist. He doesn’t like negative publicity. He doesn’t like negative plays to happen. He wants everything to be right,” Gruden said. “He wants everybody to love Robert, and that’s not going to be the case at the quarterback position.”
“He wants everyone to love Robert” shows that the rookie head coach of the Washington Redskins knows exactly how he needs to tread as he develops the most important relationship on his team.
Gruden is the new guy in charge, but make no mistake, the Redskins revolve around Griffin. RG3 has the talent to lead the franchise to championships, the No. 1 reason why he’s still here and Mike Shanahan isn’t.
Whether he comes off as entitled, empowered, passive-aggressive or just fun and eager to please, Griffin found his mismatch in Shanahan. The coach was all about control, not love. The tension caused an implosion and a 3-13 season, the Redskins’ worst since 1994. Shanahan shut down Griffin for the final three games and struggled to give a credible explanation for it. The season-ending eight-game slide was Washington’s longest since the early 1960s.
Shanahan was fired, Gruden was hired, and Griffin looks like a liberated man. The trust he felt was lacking from Shanahan he has found – at least so far – in the former Arena Football League quarterback who spent the last three years running Cincinnati’s offense.
How the two get along will go a long way toward determining whether the Redskins can avoid a sixth last-place finish in seven years.
Here are some things to know as the players report for training camp Wednesday in Richmond, Virginia:
SHOULD ROBERT RUN? Griffin became the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year by using his world-class speed to run the read-option. It also made him vulnerable to injury, and he required major knee surgery after his first season. He’s made it known he wants to be more of a dropback QB. Gruden is seeking a happy mixture, saying there will be “sprinkles” of read-option while Griffin matures as a passer.
THERE SHOULD BE YARDAGE: The offense isn’t short on skill players. In addition to Griffin, there’s running back Alfred Morris (2,888 yards in two seasons), receiver Pierre Garcon (NFL-high 113 catches in 2013), tight end Jordan Reed (45 catches in nine games) and the major new addition: three-time Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson, whose contract includes $16 million guaranteed.
“There’s a lot of playmakers on this team,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be tough on defenses.”
NOW, ABOUT THE DEFENSE: The line has three players in their 30s coming off surgeries: Jason Hatcher (left knee), Stephen Bowen (right knee) and Barry Cofield (hernia). Iron man linebacker London Fletcher retired, leaving a leadership void. Safety Ryan Clark is an obvious candidate to succeed Fletcher as captain, but he must prove he’s still got game after the Steelers let him go at age 34. Still, if all goes according to plan, the Redskins should have a fierce pass rush featuring Hatcher, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and draft pick Trent Murphy.
(YET ANOTHER) CULTURE CHANGE: No one changes gears like Dan Snyder, who has employed eight head coaches as he begins his 16th season as an NFL owner. He’s flipped yet again from a general-in-charge who demanded authority to a players’ coach with no front office duties. The last two hires similar to Gruden, Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn, didn’t work out well. Then again, not doing well is par for the course for a franchise that is 106-140 since Snyder bought the team in 1999.
NAME THAT TEAM: OK, so it might seem a stretch to suggest the ongoing debate whether the Redskins should change their name could have an effect on win-loss record. But off-field distractions have been known to wear down a team during tough times. The issue has been boiling nonstop for some 18 months. Players are tired of hearing about it, and they’re in a no-win situation should they want to express an opinion.
“I will say this and only this,” guard Chris Chester said with a sigh when the topic was broached during the June minicamp, “I can appreciate both sides of the argument.”