Analysis

Robert Griffin III eagerly preparing for vital season with Redskins

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Robert Griffin III stands at a crossroads in his day, briefly scanning the menu at a Pei Wei Asian Diner in a suburban South Florida shopping center Friday evening, right now just a man in search of a simple, hot dinner.

He is wearing a T-shirt featuring three loudly printed words that have become a sort of personal mantra: Know Your Why. A nice young woman working behind the counter asks Griffin, who is still scanning the menu, "So, what's your 'Why?' "

His answer comes fast. "Faith, family and football," he smiles, before repeating the question back to her. She attempts her own response but is suddenly nervous and giddy as she draws the connection between his answer -- "football" -- and his famous face.

Griffin gives a belly laugh, both sincere and kind, in this raw moment that might've reminded you of that bright-eyed kid who took the stage at the Heisman Trophy presentation three-and-a-half long years ago, sporting Superman socks and tightly twisted braids.

For the most part, during an offseason when you've heard Griffin speak or engage in social media less than ever before in his NFL career, he seems at peace with his "Why" -- especially as it pertains to his faith and his family.

But football. What about football? How will Griffin find a way to make his smoothest move yet? How will he spot that open sideline and dart down it toward the end zone in a maneuver magical enough to resurrect this polarizing career?

"This could be the final year of my contract," said Griffin, who was in South Florida for the week as part of an annual offseason team-building trip he organized with 10 teammates. "But I can't let that stress me out. We've hurt ourselves these past few years, between coaching changes and other situations, so now it's just about stripping it down. Having fun. Enjoying each other.

"There is no question: We all want to win."

Life changes

When his food arrives, Griffin closes his eyes, crosses his hands and bows his head over a plate of broccoli, steak strips and white rice. He speaks a prayer, then grabs his fork. And it's back to chatting about the big news in his life: His wife, Rebecca, is due to deliver the couple's first child next month. (They'll wait until birth to find out the gender.)

"That's a life changer right there," Griffin said. "But I'm so excited for it. This is a big, big year."

It is a big, big year, for so many reasons -- not the least of which is a looming decision for the Washington Redskins' front office on the status of Griffin's contract. The team has two weeks to decide whether to pick up a hefty tab on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal or risk him becoming a free agent following this upcoming season.

Given the current crossroads of his career, it seems likely the Redskins will settle for the latter choice, especially since they'd need to otherwise guarantee him nearly $16 million in 2016 even in the case of injury. This possibility -- certainly difficult to fathom when he took the league by storm as the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year -- is where Griffin's growing peace with the football portion of his "Why" begins.

Would he be upset if Washington doesn't pick up the 2016 option by May 3?

"I wouldn't be bummed," Griffin said. "Either way, we're going out there to prove it this upcoming year -- not next year. I just want to win. I want to win games and have fun doing it. The rest will take care of itself. They can pick up the option -- or they can decide not to pick up the option. It'll work out either way. I'm focused on this year."

Thinking logically, this sense of calm could come from several places. One rational conclusion: If the upcoming season doesn't go better than the last, it is reasonable to assume a mutual split could be in the best interest of both sides.

But that isn't Griffin's own assessment.

Griffin instead maintains optimism, essentially betting on himself, in part because of a newfound sense of hope in Washington's biggest offseason addition: new general manager Scot McCloughan. Griffin and McCloughan have spoken several times already, partaking in conversations that have yielded a number of important nuggets.

First, Griffin gets no sense that McCloughan plans to draft a new quarterback with the fifth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft next week. If Jameis Winston slides to five in some wildly unrealistic scenario, perhaps that will change things. But Griffin says McCloughan told him, "I'm going to put the 10 best players around you to maximize your potential." This meshes with what sources have said about Washington's plans leading up to the draft: Marcus Mariota, for instance, is not a likely target at this point.

And if the Redskins do draft a quarterback? "I'll respect the decision since it means they believe it'll make the team better -- and I'll welcome the competition."

Secondly, Griffin respects McCloughan's recognition of the importance to establish an identity with the roster -- something the quarterback believes was missing in 2014.

So what will this identity be? "Tough in the trenches," Griffin relayed.

Although that concept might not fit with the finesse tag so often associated with Griffin, the former No. 2 overall pick believes the idea of having a big, nasty, tough approach in front of him will help cultivate and foster his own skill set.

But there's still one problem with this: Even if McCloughan proves successful in his new role, it could take time. And if McCloughan chooses to let the May 3 deadline pass without picking up Griffin's option, time isn't something Griffin has on his side.

So yes, McCloughan plays a very important role. But the cohesion between a coach and his quarterback, which undoubtedly was lacking in 2014 between Jay Gruden and Griffin, still plays an even bigger one.

The Patriot way

When the Patriots earned their fourth Lombardi Trophy in February's Super Bowl XLIX triumph, Griffin personally wasn't as interested in the four quarters against Seattle that led to New England's title -- but instead the Pats' preparations six months earlier.

In August, Griffin's team held joint practices with the Patriots for three days during training camp. He saw how they did it. He saw what the players did differently -- what Tom Brady did differently. And he believes other Washington players saw it, too.

Funny enough, Griffin says despite a nice relationship with Brady over the years, the Patriots quarterback declined to provide his Redskins counterpart with any advice or in-practice tips, politely citing "a competitive landscape" when Griffin would inquire. So Brady didn't directly help Griffin. But indirectly ... Well, that's a whole different story.

"What you do learn from watching (Brady) -- and then watching the Patriots organization -- you get a big-picture look at it," Griffin said. "Man, honestly, they operate like a high school football team. You remember in high school, how the coach calls everybody up, everybody runs up, gets on a knee and looks at the coach like what he is saying is the most important thing in the world? That's how the Patriots are.

"They're attentive. They run on and off the field. They run after practice. They do what they have to do -- and everyone understands, whether they like it or not, this is what it takes to win championships. And they won the championship.

"For us to see that, as the Washington Redskins -- to see exactly where it starts, and then to see the result -- that's big. We can't ignore that. We don't need to mimic them or try to be like them. We need to create our own culture -- but we can learn from some of those things."

So the question for Griffin, of course, is simple: Did he, his teammates and his coaches ever discuss this? Did they collectively embrace how it impacts each of them -- from the attentiveness of the players to the accountability of the coaches? No, he said, in the immediate wake of those practices, they did not.

But it is something, after seeing how it helped lead to football's biggest reward for the Patriots, that could have a greater impact one year later, as Washington begins work for 2015.

"I know the players saw it," Griffin said. "I know the coaches and everyone in the organization saw it, as well. I hope everyone saw it. I know I learned from it. I really did. And I fully plan to implement some of those things."

Putting in the work

On Friday, when Griffin arrived at Pei Wei, he had just wrapped up the final workout of the week-long South Florida venture with his Redskins brethren. Each day, the players met in the morning at the D1 Sports Training facility for a light warm-up before carpooling to a high school field in Jupiter, Florida, for a throwing session.

It's the third year Griffin has organized something like this -- informal workouts in a distant city with the help of his personal quarterback coach, Terry Shea -- before the start of the team's actual conditioning program begins.

Last week's afternoons included hard work. The nights were reserved for relaxing with one another, playing hours of Uno and Heads Up!, at wide receiver Pierre Garcon's spacious Boca Raton residence.

"In college, it's unique because you're around your teammates all the time," Griffin said. "You're going to workouts together, then classes, then lunch, then practice, then dinner. It creates that camaraderie. It makes you always feel accountable to one another. That's a little bit of what we get out of a week like this."

Two elements of last week will surely be vital to Washington's potential success: Chemistry as a team and hard work as individuals. It is clear Griffin and his teammates recognize this, proven by their commitment to taking a week of their down time -- extra voluntary practices -- to work on their craft.

But over the last year, some people -- including Steve Young, former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and, to some degree, Griffin's current coach -- have made it clear they believe Griffin needs to be as committed to work in the classroom (film study) as he is to work on the field (physical preparation).

While not necessarily in response to those criticisms, Griffin says he is indeed putting in the time this offseason.

"In the middle of February, after a little break from the season, I got into my regimen," Griffin said. "I was watching an hour of film per day -- then ramped that up to 90 minutes the next week and two hours per day the next week. It's as much about mental preparation for me right now as it is physical. Physically, I can do it."

Griffin then reverts back once more to his admiration for Brady -- and the lessons he realizes he can learn from studying other great quarterbacks, as well.

"I'll continue to watch tape on him and (Aaron) Rodgers and Peyton (Manning), and see how they go about the game. I'm not going to mimic their game -- I just need to better my own. You can't be somebody else. You need to accept who you are -- and understand your style of play. Not everyone is going to play the game like I do. I've got to do it my way.

"But I can still learn from those players who have a proven track record of success in this league."

All in on 2015

When dinner ended Friday, there would be no dipping into the metal tub of fortune cookies placed to the left of the soda machine inside Pei Wei. At this point, if Griffin seems to understand one thing clearly, it's that his success will not be based on luck or fortune.

It will be based on hard work and faith, he says. It will be based on strategy and design. It will be based on putting results on the field -- not talking so much about them away from it. Griffin says these last few seasons have not been fun. And he believes he knows why.

"No, it hasn't been fun -- but a lot of that is about winning," Griffin said. "The more you win, the more fun you have. We can do a better job not hurting ourselves, but I need to focus on what I can control, bonding with my guys, making it more like college, where having fun and putting in the work were both important parts of it."

For some, this too will be perceived as more talk, precisely what Griffin is trying to avoid. But in these moments, like this quiet and simple meal on a quiet and simple Friday evening, it just doesn't feel or look or sound the same as it does when he stands behind those podiums following losses during the season.

Maybe that's just hyperbole. Or maybe Griffin recognizes the state of his career -- and how he can make things different. As recently as Easter, for instance, Griffin exchanged texts with former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who was fired along with his father in a contentious divorce with the organization. Griffin says there is no bad blood there and speaks of Kyle's brilliance as a football mind.

Griffin has learned to appreciate his past and learn from it. And now, heading toward the most important season of his life, one with monstrous personal and financial significance, he will need to find ways to implement those lessons so he can succeed in the future.

Will it happen?

"The lady asked what my 'Why' is," Griffin said. "My faith, my family, my football. That is my life. And this definitely is a very big year in my life."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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