By Chris Murray
For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report
A couple of hours after the Washington Redskins made Robert Griffin III their No.1 pick in the NFL Draft last April, a Redskins fans stood outside of Radio City Music Hall in New York City with a large burgundy and gold illustration of Griffin with the word, “Hope,” underneath the picture.
It was similar to the illustration of President Barack Obama from 2008 Presidential campaign that had the same word under his picture.
Nine games in to his rookie season, Griffin is undergoing the ups and downs of being a rookie quarterback in the NFL. While he has shown plenty of flashes of brilliance throughout the season, it’s doubtful that he’s going to be that savior to instantly turn the Redskins fortunes around in a single season.
Nevertheless, Griffin is having a solid year for a rookie quarterback and is a candidate for the Rookie-of-the-Year award.
“I see myself as a quarterback that these players, this coaching staff and the fans have been wanting for a long time,” Griffin said in a conference call with the Philadelphia media on Wednesday. “I don’t put myself up as a savior or anything like that because I don’t think anybody should look at themselves in that way. I look myself as a quarterback for this team that they need and I’ll make sure I’ m there for them.”
RGIII will be leading a 3-6 Redskins squad against the Philadelphia Eagles (3-6) who will be invading Fed Ex Field in Landover, Md. Sunday in a game that both teams need to somehow jumpstart their seasons and make the second half of the mean something for at least one more week.
So far this season, Griffin is ninth in the league in quarterback rating at 93.9, the highest among rookies (over 200 passing attempts) and eighth in completion percentage. Only Cleveland’s Brandon Weedon and Indianapolis Colts rookie signal caller Andrew Luck have passed for more yardage among rookies than Griffin.
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan said he has been pleased with Griffin’s progress in the first nine games of the season despite the team’s won-loss record.
“I think Robert has done a great job where he’s getting a great feel for our system and we’re getting a great feel for him,” Shanahan said. “I like his production in how’s handled himself and how he works. He’s got all the intangibles that you look for in a quarterback. As he experiences defenses in the NFL, he’ll get better and better.”
If the Eagles had been higher up on the draft board, Griffin might be wearing midnight green. Head coach Andy Reid said he was impressed by the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner.
“I love talking to quarterbacks and he was one of them,” Reid said. “We weren’t in position where we were going to pick him, but I wanted to see what he was all about and I liked what I saw, yeah.”
It is often said that playing quarterback in Washington is the second hardest job next to being the President of the United States. Griffin said he can handle the pressure of playing in D.C. but also realizes that he can’t do everything by himself.
“I know everybody looks to me, good or bad, to make things happen, so it’s responsibility that I know is going to be on the shoulders of the quarterback,” Griffin said. “Whether it’s the coaches or the players, everyone is looking to me to make things happen.
“What I echo to the players, it’s not just me out there …We’re all in this together.”
Griffin has completed 65 percent of his passes, thrown eight touchdown passes and just three interceptions. The fact that he’s a mobile quarterback that runs out of the Redskins college style spread option makes him difficult to figure out.
“It’s the speed and the athleticism,” said Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. “When he gets you in that run and gun with the option, you’ve got to be sound because you can’t take him for granted. A lot of quarterbacks you’re not scared of their legs and their mobility. With him you fear that mobility, you have to respect it and makes sure you contain it.”
Because Griffin can run with the football, especially in the Redskins version of the spread offense, he has gained 529 yards rushing on 81 carries. He’s tied for 20th in the NFL in rushing yards and leads all quarterbacks in yards gained on the ground.
Griffin’s style of running the football has come with a price. He was knocked out of a game against the Atlanta Falcons and was diagnosed with a mild concussion.
After seeing players like Michael Vick and Jay Cutler go down to injury because of concussions, Griffin is starting to realize that he has to do such things as sliding and do his best to avoid those type of hard hits.
“I told my teammates that I would play safer and make sure I was out there with them every time,” Griffin said. “Consciously I’ll make an effort to play smarter, get out of bounds, slide and things like that. But it’s something I’ll drill myself on in practice so that when gameday comes around I’m not having to think about it, I just go out there and react.”
As one of several African-American quarterbacks in the league, Griffin said he got some valuable advice about dealing with the stereotypes of Black quarterback from former players like Doug Williams that has guided throughout his rookie season.
“The one thing many of them told me was that you can’t fight that battle as an African-American quarterback by yourself,” Griffin said. “You have to go out and let your play do the talking from there.”