There are two different sides to this argument. On one side, you have the people that believe Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III needs to see more preseason playing time—particularly he needs to toss more than 14 passes through two games. And on the other side, you have those that believe Robert Griffin III should be kept in an iron box on the sidelines, protecting him from any and all outside influence.
Personally, I take the easy way out. Wanting to see Griffin play during the preseason is just as much about my own personal excitement as it is about the rookie signal-caller getting some meaningful snaps against opposing teams. At the same time, I understand the importance of Griffin’s health and I am fully aware of what the team mortgaged last spring to land their future face of the franchise.
If Griffin were to suffer any injury during the preseason, Redskins fans would take to the streets in search of Mike Shanahan’s head. “Why on Earth would you play him at all during the preseason?!”
Through two games this season, Griffin has attempted just 14 passes in very limited action. And while this Saturday against the Colts he’s expected to see the most playing time in one game that he’s seen all preseason, Griffin is still on pace for only 34 pass attempts before the regular season begins.
Compare Griffin’s preseason experience to other rookies this summer. Andrew Luck—the first-overall pick—has already thrown 41 passes for Indianapolis, completing 63 percent of them and pushing a quarterback rating just shy of 88.
Ryan Tannehill—the Dolphins’ first-round selection and considered future—has thrown 44 passes through two games, completing 57 percent with an 82 passer rating. Like Griffin, both Luck and Tannehill are high draft picks and declared starters for their respective teams.
Although they are often compared with little substance, take Cam Newton and his rookie season last year. During the preseason, the 2011 No. 1 draft pick and (absolute) future of the Carolina Panthers franchise threw 57 passes—a number that Griffin won’t even sniff.
One argument, however, in the case of Newton’s rookie preseason is the NFL lockout and lack of training camp. Because Newton received very little preseason practice, the Panthers wanted him to see as much of the preseason as he could while still treating him as the team’s starter.
And even beyond the lockout season, take a look back on the rookies of 2008. Third-overall pick Matt Ryan attempted 59 passes for the Atlanta Falcons during his rookie preseason and he has been a starter ever since. In that same preseason, the Baltimore Ravens’ first-round choice Joe Flacco was the assumed starter and attempted 67 passes.
I’m not implying that there’s a wrong and a right way to groom a first-round quarterback.
I understand that no two players are the same and that coaches differ in how they prefer to develop their top draft picks. But after thinking about Mike Shanahan’s cryptic persona and observing a very reserved Redskins offense through two preseason games, I’ve come up with a simple dummy theory as to why we’ve seen so little of RG3.
Remember that saying, "They don’t want to give anything away during the preseason?" Well, I think that’s just it. The Redskins offense has been so delicate and aimless in their last two games that I can’t imagine anything less than Mike Shanahan and his master plan.
He’s so excited about Griffin that he’s basically just sending the first-string unit out on the field and telling them to limit their mistakes and keep it vanilla. No strong calls from the playbook, no player specific assignments, just backyard football. And most of all, no revealing.
There’s also one small addition to that ridiculous assumption and it has to do with the offensive line. While I believe Shanahan enjoys and plans on keeping things pretty bland during the preseason to avoid showing his hand, I also think that it’s particularly easy for him in 2012 because his offensive line is more like a sponge than it is a trench.
With both guards out and a gaping hole at right tackle, the Redskins’ current first-string offensive line is hardly a match for opposing defenses. When the second-string unit comes in and goes against second-string opposition, things improve. But when Griffin faces top-tier pass-rushers behind a patchwork group of blockers, it’s only natural that coaches grow stingy and cautious.
Finally, perhaps Shanahan is just so gosh darn confident in Griffin and his grasp on the offense that he doesn’t feel the need to even risk it. Why risk an injury to your star quarterback when you’re absolutely confident that the kid gets it? That he can come out Week 1 in arguably the loudest stadium in the NFL and take on a bunch of angry football players that are foaming at the mouth and ready to smack the stuffing out of somebody after being labeled dirty, cheap and malicious (see: the New Orleans Saints).
I expect to see an increase in Griffin’s passes come Saturday against the Colts, but I wouldn’t burn a couch if it didn’t happen. In situations like these, we’re suppose to trust the coaches and believe in what they’re doing to develop the future of the franchise. At the end of the day, it’s their jobs that are on the line and their legacy that’s at stake.
If Shanahan and the coaching staff think the best way to groom Robert Griffin III is by giving him the simplest of gameplans during the preseason and boosting his confidence, then so be it. Until the Redskins lose four straight during the regular season and Griffin can’t seem to hit the Atlantic Ocean with a pass from a boat, we should all just remain calm and assume the best.
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