The same Griffin who was ridiculed, benched and booed and was all but run out of D.C. on a rail last season. Well, that same Griffin has already been declared the team’s No. 1 quarterback for next season.
Around three months ago, it appeared Griffin was destined to be somewhere, anywhere, other than with the team that selected him with its No. 1 draft pick, second overall, just three years ago. Surely those years seem significantly longer to Griffin.
Yes, Griffin brought some of the drama on himself. He was arrogant and he at times held the ball too long in the pocket, was unwilling to accept responsibility and played injured.
But he was still the best quarterback the Redskins had. And for reasons that did not and still do not add up, Gruden was an adversary and not an ally.
After his team was ill-prepared to beat the one-win Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at home, Gruden lashed out at Griffin after the game—when so much more was wrong with the team, including Gruden.
“Robert needs to worry about Robert,” Gruden began. He went on for several minutes criticizing the franchise player, a move that left long-time NFL observers stunned. A coach had never berated a player in front of the media in such a fashion, a breaking of code that was disingenuous because it diverted the attention to Griffin and away from the team, which Gruden did not prepare well enough to win against an inferior opponent after a bye week at home.
Worse, it did not stop there. Gruden benched Griffin, the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year two years earlier. He tried his hardest to give the job to Great White Hypes Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy. Cousins, a stale and average quarterback, showed just how average he was with his chance.
Gruden dusted the cobwebs off McCoy and thrust him into the starter position. McCoy was outstanding in leading Washington to an upset win at Dallas. But the real McCoy showed up in following games, and he wasn’t pretty.
Finally, McCoy suffered a neck injury and because Cousins was so bad, even Gruden could not force him back on the Redskin faithful. Re-enter Griffin, who surely had been thinking he had played his last game with the team. Reports, in fact, were rampant about potential landing spots for the QB out of Baylor.
In the season’s final games, Griffin was good enough, not great, to remind observers that there remains a special quality about him. And maybe even Gruden noticed.
“We’ll go into the season with Robert as our No. 1 guy,” Gruden said the other day. “It’s up to Robert to continue to grow and mature as a quarterback and as a person. Moving forward we want to see improvement. It’s up to us as a staff to get more out of him.”
This is a reversal from what Gruden said after the 4-12 season. Then, he said, “Until that position is earned, you have to have a competition.”
Now, Griffin has been reinstalled as the No. 1, mostly because Cousins and McCoy were unable to convince anyone they could do the job.
So, by default, Griffin, once the city’s darling, is back, with a chance to earn again the fans’ admiration. It all starts with being healthy, and Griffin has indicated in the last months that he has not been completely healthy since the end of his rookie season.
The offseason is plenty of time for him to get right. Griffin has no more excuses left, although hardly anyone could flourish with the horrific protection he got from a poor pass-blocking offensive line. That area has to be addressed in a substantive way or Griffin will be back on the sideline with an injury, making all his efforts moot.
“Robert is a hard worker,” Gruden said. “He works hard on his body and his strength, but we will have things drawn up for him, specific things that he can do to get better from the quarterback position mechanics-wise, throwing-wise, drop-wise. He has a good idea of what we did in OTAs [organized team activities] and during the season with footwork and fundamentals that he’ll continue to build on.”
He’d better, and not just for his own future. Here’s the best part about all this: Gruden’s job is tied to Griffin. If the quarterback fails, the coach does, too. And after all that has happened, that’s how it should be.