Monday night, as embattled Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is fine-tuning his game during what will likely be limited preseason action against the Cleveland Browns, he might at some point look toward the opposing sideline and experience some strange memories.
That's because Griffin will undoubtedly spot new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who teamed up with his dad, Mike, in order to draft and groom the largest investment in Redskins history.
Running into Shanahan will surely conjure some conflicting memories for Griffin, because the 24-year-old experienced some extremely tall highs and some extremely deep lows during his two seasons working in the Shanahan regime.
The majority of the lows came during Year 2, stemming primarily from the moment Griffin tore the ACL and LCL in his right knee at a point in which many thought Mike Shanahan should have already sat him down.
|RGIII's Sophomore Slump|
|Metric||2012 (rank)||2013 (rank)|
|Comp. %||65.6 (5th)||60.1 (25th)|
|TD %||5.1 (8th)||3.5 (27th)|
|INT %||1.3 (1st)||2.6 (18th)|
|YPA||8.1 (1st)||7.0 (18th)|
|Rating||102.1 (3rd)||82.2 (22nd)|
|QBR||71.41 (5th)||40.12 (28th)|
|Rush YPA||6.8 (1st)||5.7 (4th)|
|Rush YPG||54.3 (1st)||37.6 (3rd)|
|Rush TD||7 (2nd)||0 (T-27th)|
|Pro Football Reference|
Now, 19 rocky months later, Griffin appears to be as healthy as possible and he's receiving full support on and off the field during a fresh start with new head coach Jay Gruden. But Griffin is as aware as anyone that honeymoons don't last forever, especially based on the hasty, extremely unwarranted buzz backup Kirk Cousins could be plotting a coup one week into the preseason.
Not only does RGIII have to watch his back, but the onus is now on the former Offensive Rookie of the Year to prove he can become a consistently productive superstar at this level. That's what's expected of anyone whom you spend four top-end draft picks on.
How does Griffin once again get back on the track he was on less than two short years ago? A few steps...
1. Win 10 games again
I cringed when I wrote that, because quarterbacks don't win games, teams do. But the reality is that the quarterback plays such a major role nowadays that it's almost impossible to be a superstar quarterback on a bad team. And in fact, it's extremely rare to see a good team without a superstar under center.
With that correlation in mind, Griffin has to find a way to take a three-win team from 2013 and lead it back to the playoffs with another division title. In the NFC East, that likely requires only 10 victories.
He doesn't necessarily have to win playoff games right now. Peyton Manning didn't accomplish that feat until his sixth season and Matt Ryan didn't do so until his fifth. But Griffin can't get back on that path to superstardom without playing big games in December and January. That's just how it goes.
2. Start at least 14 games
Of course, in order to win that many games, Griffin will have to play an entire season, or at least something close to that. He was smashed around for the majority of his second season, which is why he was sidelined for the final three weeks of the 2013 campaign.
If he misses another chunk of games this year, without the knee serving as an excuse, Griffin will begin to develop a reputation for being injury prone, a la Michael Vick from a decade ago. It's extremely hard to remain prominent in this league if you're spending a significant amount of time on the sideline.
3. Become a pocket passer who scrambles only when necessary
It'll be hard for Griffin to stay healthy if he continues to take beatings at the same rate he did during his first two seasons in this league. And even if the specific plays on which he's been hurt haven't necessarily been read-option-oriented, the fact is the fewer hits he takes overall, the lower the risk he'll go down with an injury.
It's become clear the 'Skins will run more of a pro-style offense under Gruden, and that means Griffin has a chance to cut down on those hits by throwing the ball away more frequently.
Griffin has to be less of a Vick or Terrelle Pryor and more of a Fran Tarkenton or Randall Cunningham. His legs can make him a lot more dangerous, just as they helped those guys as well as John Elway and Steve Young, but his arm is what has to make him an elite quarterback.
4. Don't think about the knee
Frankly, there's too much else to think about, and playing scared is never good. Griffin will be dealing with pressure to improve the speed at which he goes through progressions while also having to consider audibles for the first time (that's something the Shanahans didn't let him do). As a result, there's no room for distractions.
That might seem like a stretch, but experts we spoke to during Griffin's tough start last fall all tended to agree a large hurdle post-knee surgery has to do with where a player's head is at.
Dr. Robert Marx, who is a professor of orthopedic surgery at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York, told us "confidence is the last thing to return."
"And if the athlete is tentative," added Marx, "they may not perform as well as normal."
"They have to feel confident," added Dr. David McAllister, an orthopedic surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center with special expertise in knee ligament injuries. "They have to feel like that knee is not a question mark when they go to plant, pivot or change direction."
"The other thing apart from just not having the strength is trust and in your head," said Toronto-based orthopedic surgeon Tim Dwyer. "Studies have shown that people are worried about their knee, which makes sense. So he may just be being a little bit more careful as well."
Griffin's best chance at getting past that crushing knee injury will come if/when he pretends it never happened.
5. Perfect that technique
Griffin wants this, badly. He wants to reach the highest plateau. He referenced that last week when talking about the responsibilities that come with learning a new system, per ESPN.com's John Keim:
I don’t think anything they’re asking us to do is too much or too heavy for us. I like to think I can hold a lot of weight on my shoulders, as a quarterback, as a leader of the team. That’s the way it goes. That’s what the greats do and I want to be the greatest.
Grasping the new system will be part of that, but in order to fully take advantage of what a quarterback guru and offensive mastermind like Gruden has to offer, he'll simply have to become better at a lot of the fundamentals he has sometimes been able to ignore due to his sheer physical ability.
Yeah, that's the boring stuff, but when you're trying to stay healthy while running a pro-style offense, it's critical that you have refined footwork, for example.
That's a key example, though, because as Grantland pointed out late last year, poor footwork is actually what really did RGIII in during his sophomore campaign.
Griffin’s footwork not only hurt his reads, it hurt his accuracy. “Body position is absolutely critical,” Redskins quarterback coach Matt LaFleur recently told ESPN’s John Keim. “If you don’t have good body position, your balance is off and your accuracy will be off. It’s absolutely critical you get your body in correct position to make the correct throw.” LaFleur added that, for Griffin, this season has “been a constant work in progress.”
And it's not just an injury thing, because Hogs Haven points out poor footwork hurt Griffin during that magical 2012 season, too.
One tendency Griffin has in his game is that he can get a little lazy with his footwork. He has incredible arm strength that allows him to power the ball downfield and into tight throwing windows, but it also enables him to get away with little footwork. In certain situations, that can be a very good thing. When a pass rusher is chasing him down, being able to get velocity on his throws while not being able to set himself to throw is a very big aspect of Griffin's game. But when he's stood in the pocket, he needs to make sure he's planting and driving off that back foot when he can.
If Griffin wants to become one of the greatest, joining technical masters like Manning and Tom Brady, he'll have to take major steps forward in terms of how he handles those elementary aspects of quarterback play.
The thing is, Griffin truly does have everything going for him. All of the key ingredients are in place, especially after the 'Skins added receivers DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts to a roster that was already quite well stacked.
Now, in order to continue to evolve on and off the field, it's up to him to tweak his game, his mentality and his playing style. Whether he does that could determine whether Griffin is eventually known as either a success story or a bust.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.
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