Washington Redskins  

 

Robert Griffin III faces unparalleled pressure as Redskins' savior

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LANDOVER, Md. -- Shortly before selecting Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen couldn't help but smile as he breezed through the attributes of his 22-year-old franchise quarterback-to-be. Physically, Griffin's tools (the big arm, the electric legs) are well documented. Mentally, he's a leader and a competitor -- a military kid who learns fast because he's disciplined and grew up learning it's best not to be told to do things twice, Allen said. He's mature beyond his years.

Nothing seems too big for him.

We'll see.

None of the young quarterbacks who have been drafted in the first round of the past five drafts -- Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden or even Andrew Luck -- are under as much pressure to succeed out of the gate like RG3.

None have been viewed to be so flawless, so mature, so charming. None came to teams that supposedly were "a quarterback away." None stepped into a franchise with such a respected head coach whose longevity hinges on a rookie quarterback's immediate success. None had their organizations give up two future first-round picks and a second-rounder to get in position to draft them.

None selected another quarterback in the middle rounds of the same draft, like Washington did in taking Kirk Cousins in the fourth round.

It's a perfect storm of pressure for Griffin. Everyone seems to think that this kid -- who's almost too well-rounded to be true -- can handle it.

He better.

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder told Griffin that he's "relying" on him. Children rely on parents to clothe and feed them. Taxpayers rely on funding for schools and better roads. Our nation relies on servicemen and women to protect us.

Football coaches and GMs tend to say each individual player is there to help the process along.

Griffin wants to be relied upon and maturely summed up this sentiment by saying he wants his teammates to rely on him to make them understand that they're all in this together. Nice point.

The way things go in the NFL, though, teammates and coaches will make him understand that. He's the face of the franchise -- coach Mike Shanahan made reference to that more than once -- and the guy everyone in this success-starved region wants to lean on. He can't run from it, but if he runs to it, jealousy will surface and then there will be problems.

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Griffin doesn't seem like a "me" guy, but perceptions inside a locker room where egos can't be measured have to be carefully massaged.

Shanahan said that the coaching staff will help bring Griffin along at his own pace and will align the offensive scheme with RG3's skill set and strengths. Griffin said he's been told he will have input on the offense, in terms of what he likes and doesn't. Fusion is the goal for now.

There won't be any excuses by the time the season opens. Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski worked with Newton in a contracted time frame last summer to figure out what he liked and didn't like, quickly building an offense that was added to each week -- an offense that fit what Newton and those around him did best.

Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his dad have to use the same premise to make sure they keep Griffin in his comfort zone as he transitions to the NFL game. If they don't, then Donovan McNabb might have been correct in his prediction that the Shanahans won't maximize Griffin's abilities. Mike Shanahan has no wiggle room. Griffin has to work out. Otherwise, regardless of his résumé, he'll be gone. He's won 11 games in two seasons and one more campaign like that -- maybe two -- and his tenure with Griffin could be a short one. That's how this works. Steve Spagnuolo and Raheem Morris didn't get to see things through with Bradford in St. Louis and Freeman in Tampa Bay, respectively.

The Redskins also have provided Griffin with more than a fighting chance. The defense that has been procured in the past three drafts is pretty darn good. Offensively, Washington picked up wideouts Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan in free agency -- nice additions, though neither is a sure thing -- and bolstered the depth-deficient offensive line through the draft.

With Shanahan's history, that defense and the new additions, Washington is expected to win now that Griffin's there. That "learning process" stuff won't matter if the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants keep the Redskins in the NFC East cellar.

Luck, the first overall draft pick, doesn't have that cross to bear. He's just expected to help the Colts get better, even though quality players like Robert Mathis, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Antoine Bethea are still on the team. Tannehill, selected eighth by the Miami Dolphins, is viewed as a project. Weeden, chosen No. 22 by the Cleveland Browns, isn't expected to do more than win the job from Colt McCoy.

While fans are excited everywhere about their team's chances after the draft, the tenor is different in Redskins Nation. There's a feeling they just found The Golden Ticket.

Griffin got a dose of that reality Saturday, around 2:30 p.m. ET, once he got away from the draft stage in New York, news conferences and meetings with coaches. He was introduced during a fan festival at FedEx Field in suburban D.C. Thousands of fans -- close to 20,000 by the team's estimate, many of whom might not ever have the chance to get into the stadium on football Sundays -- screamed his name and tripped over themselves to try and get a picture.

The reaction was almost presidential.

Griffin stepped on stage, said a few words, tried, karaoke-style, to get through the team's fight song and then disappeared into the bowels of the stadium to finally catch his breath. That didn't last long, though, because he was shepherded to more appearances before heading home to Texas for a few days before a rookie mini-camp next weekend.

Griffin said he'd get into his playbook on the flight home, so he'll be ready when he steps under center for the five non-contact workouts at Redskins Park and points thereon. There won't be any time for him to relax.

Not with him being constantly relied upon.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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