At this point a year ago, Robert Griffin was coming off a phenomenal rookie season. The Washington Redskins were defending NFC East champs. And yet, Griffin's ACL tear in the 2012 playoffs cast a dark pall across the team.
This year, the script is flipped. Griffin suffered through a miserable sophomore season, a year so bad that Griffin watched the last three games from the bench.
Three games is also how many victories the Redskins had a year ago, and yet this summer at Washington's OTAs the air is filled with hope and optimism.
The main source of that hope and optimism? None other than the aforementioned Robert Griffin.
Griffin has been one of the biggest storylines to come from OTAs, and the news has been overwhelmingly positive.
In fact, Jim Corbett of USA Today was positively glowing in regards to Griffin's performance in workouts:
For his part, Griffin told Mike Jones of The Washington Post that the difference between now and one year ago is night and day:
As everyone knows, last year I was rehabbing and getting ready for the season, and now, I get to go out there and be with the guys. That’s the most important part: to be with your teammates. That’s what I’ve had a chance to do. I thoroughly enjoy it, and hopefully they have, too.
With that said, it isn't just that Griffin is participating in workouts, or that the knee brace that hung like an anchor around Griffin's neck (at no point did Griffin appear comfortable wearing it) in 2013 is gone.
No, there's more to it than that.
New head coach Jay Gruden made it an offseason priority to work with Griffin on his mechanics. Griffin also spent time with quarterbacks coach Terry Shea, who worked with Griffin leading up to the 2012 NFL draft.
According to John Keim of ESPN, the results of that work stood out in OTAs:
Griffin worked on being more consistent with his mechanics in the offseason and there was a difference. The past two years his base was wider as the Redskins wanted to shorten the stride. He also got into a habit of holding the ball lower, leading to a longer windup when he threw.
But in practice, Griffin held the ball higher – at the top of the numbers. He also threw with a more narrow base. He likes doing this because he feels more free, giving him the ability to bounce the pocket a little better. Not every quarterback throws with the same base, much like not every hitter uses the same stance at the plate.
Griffin also was throwing more over the top; less windup. So the ball came out a little quicker. He was not always accurate, but he was not off as much as he was, say, last summer when coming back in training camp. And keep in mind that even as a rookie in practice Griffin would have off days throwing the ball.
Regardless, Griffin’s fundamentals were more consistent than they were during the season. The key will be transferring it to the season when it gets chaotic in the pocket.
Mark Bullock of The Washington Post echoed Keim's observations regarding Griffin's mechanics, while lauding what they might mean for the upcoming campaign:
Those mechanical fixes should help Griffin greatly as the season comes around. But he will need as many repetitions as he can get with those mechanics in place to help form muscle memory and stop him from slipping into the bad habits he had last year.
As Bullock pointed out, it's still early, but this news is a veritable symphony of music to the ears of Redskins fans.
During last year's faceplant, Griffin's wider base (which Bullock speculates was "an attempt to speed up Griffin’s release") adversely affected his ability to step into throws. It also (combined with Griffin holding the ball low) actually had the opposite of the desired effect.
The ball actually came out later in many cases. Griffin's accuracy was way off on far too many others.
It showed in his stats, and in his on-field performance.
Sure, some of that can be attributed to the brace, but things snowballed. The brace affected Griffin's mechanics. The mechanics affected Griffin's accuracy. Inaccuracy affected his confidence.
Add it all together and you have a dejected young signal-caller watching the end of a miserable year from the sidelines.
Now, however, Griffin seems to be taking very well to the changes in his throwing motion, and wide receiver Santana Moss told Corbett the difference in Griffin's confidence is palpable:
Robert is able to be comfortable. When you're not comfortable, you can't go out there and be yourself. I don't know whether it's the knee brace or him just being able to practice with us more. ... If you can't play this game comfortable, it's impossible for you to have confidence that you can do the job. You can see a more confident guy, especially in his legs.
Mind you, even if Griffin is in top form, he still can't win the NFC East by himself. However, offensively at least, the weapons would appear to be there.
The additions of Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson make a Washington wideout corps that looked thin last year as deep and talented as any in the division. Throw in an athletic tight end in Jordan Reed and a punishing young runner in Alfred Morris, and the argument can be made that the Redskins have the best offensive skill players in the division.
And it's a wide-open division. The reigning division champions (the Philadelphia Eagles) had the NFL's worst pass defense in 2013. The Dallas Cowboys, who had the NFL's most porous defense last year, lost defensive end DeMarcus Ware to free agency and linebacker Sean Lee to an ACL tear.
Never mind New York, where Eli Manning has apparently forgotten that interceptions are bad.
Every year for over a decade, there's been a team in the NFL win their division after finishing in last place the year before. In each of the past two seasons, one such team has come from the NFC East.
With a resurgent Robert Griffin under center in 2014, don't be surprised if the Washington Redskins make it three in a row.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.
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