|Already a fan favorite, RG3 will be a 'rock star' if he wins with the 'Skins, DeAngelo Hall says. (AP)|
ASHBURN, Va. -- The grassy hills along the outskirts of the Redskins Park training facility were starting to fill with cars by 9 a.m., and a line of people sitting outside the gates in lawn chairs was already forming. The Washington Redskins first training camp practice would not begin for about six hours, with the temperature set to soar above 100 degrees, but those assembled didn't seem to care.
They were here, you see, for the first possible glimpse of Robert Griffin III, RG3, the savior, the Heisman Trophy winner who the team relinquished an unprecedented haul of draft picks to acquire. Griffin is the singular hope that this long-suffering franchise will rise again. He is, they pray, the antidote to all the years of failed coaching regimes and dubious quarterback experiments and the false-promise of past free-agent binges. They want to believe he will be the closest thing to a star quarterback this team has had since Joe Theismann in the early 1980s. And so they flock, fans and media alike, to see it with their own eyes and begin to make their own determination about whether the hype and hope and franchise-lifting expectations will be fulfilled.
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But to his teammates, well, the belief is already there. At least as far as all of the qualities this young man embodies. They believe in Griffin's leadership and determination and football intellect and personality and promise. Everything about him looks the part. What no one knows is how quickly it will translate to his development and production and, most importantly, to the standings. But veterans on both sides of the ball have been nothing but encouraged by the early stages of the RG3 era in Washington.
"He's the [bleeping] leader of this football team," tight end Chris Cooley declared, hoping this year is finally different than the others he's lived through here since 2004. "I can honestly say that. He's so real. There's no B.S. This is who he is. I sit next to him in the team meetings, and there isn't a guy on the team he doesn't have a relationship with. Not one.
"He talks to everyone, he shares part of himself with everyone. He sends texts to everyone. Griff is our leader. People wonder if he's the same guy they see being interviewed or in the commercials. He is. He is the kind of person you want to follow. It's all real. It's not B.S."
This "it" factor, the immediate ability to command a huddle and a meeting room, as Griffin's teammates describe it, and to get men 10 years his senior to entrust their future in him, comes naturally. It's part of the young man's fabric. If he fails at the NFL level, he vows, it won't be for ego or vanity or falling prey to his massively growing public persona.
"You have got to be down to earth," Griffin said during his introductory press conference Tuesday (the Redskins are allowing him to speak only about once a week, cutting off the ability to conduct personal interviews and treating their prized new possession with a level of preciousness that seemingly runs counter to who he is). "You've got to talk to [all teammates], be real with them. I think that's the biggest thing, and I try to be real with all my teammates."
Grizzled members of Coach Mike Shanahan's staff have been impressed with how hard Griffin works, how much time he spends with the linemen, how he conducts himself in meetings and classrooms. They've looked for signs this might be contrived, or phony, and have found none. That million-dollar smile is anything but just a facade. He can take a ribbing. He's just one of the guys (albeit one with national advertising campaigns focused on him). And the business of being RG3 is now behind him with training camp finally here.
"I'm not going to any award shows or doing any commercials during the season," Griffin said. "All that's done. I did my work in the offseason, whether it was with marketing or just football work, making sure I stayed in shape and stayed on top of the playbook. I made sure I did all of that, while at the same time making sure I handled my business."
All of this is a marketing and merchandising dream -- and for all of their faults on the field, few teams have worked the business side better than the Redskins under owner Dan Snyder. But it means little if not backed up by what transpires on Sundays. That's ultimately how Griffin will be judged.
"If we win games, he's going to be a rock star," veteran corner DeAngelo Hall said.
The football part of this story began in earnest today. No more glorified walkthroughs in shorts. Things get real now. Today offered a mixed bag, as expected with a novice quarterback. Griffin threw a few pretty, perfectly weighted deep balls, but then also missed on easy swing passes in drills. He drew oohs and aahs when Josh Morgan went up to snag a high fastball, the ball popping in his hands, but also struggled trying to roll to his left and force things across his body.
Shanahan is looking for improved timing between the quarterback and receivers.
"Hopefully we grow every day," he said.
Still, there where flashes, especially when Griffin was on the move.
"You hear about his speed, but until you go against it, you don't actually know what you're against," said linebacker London Fletcher, the team's vocal leader. "He has a rocket of an arm. He has the right mentality as far as preparation ... When you face him, the speed is what will definitely shock you, and then his talent as well."
How will Griffin's speed and improvisational abilities translate? Can he make the jump from Baylor's rudimentary system to the intricacies of the NFL?
Well, he seems a perfect fit for Shanahan's offense with all of the plays with the quarterback on the move, rolling the pocket, pulling off bootlegs.
"We're tailoring everything around him," Cooley said.
So far, he has grasped the offense quickly and displayed the ability to get teammates aligned.
"He's an extremely intelligent person," Cooley said. "He graduated high school in three years. He graduated college as an undergrad and had almost completed his master's. His mind works fast."
"When it comes to knowing that playbook, no one knows that playbook 100 percent," said Griffin, who gathered teammates to his home in Waco, Texas, before training camp to hone their skills. "It's just about knowing what you have to do and our job is to stay on the field and score points."
Of course, it takes a village to raise any quarterback, and talent alone won't get it done.
"One person doesn't make a football team," Shanahan said.
Establishing the right infrastructure and supporting cast are imperative, and surely the string of quarterbacks to crash and burn in Washington is not due solely to those individuals. A franchise doesn't find itself in the predicament the Redskins were in before the draft, to mortgage it all to move up four spots in the draft, without some systemic issues that go well beyond anything a Mark Brunell, Patrick Ramsey, Donovan McNabb or Jason Campbell could or couldn't do during their stints here.
And there are serious questions about this bunch on offense.
They lack tackles for starters -- left tackle Trent Williams has been unable to stay healthy or consistent and will be suspended a year if he fails another drug test, right tackle Jammal Brown's injury woes are chronic and he was placed on PUP today with a hip injury. The offensive line, across the board, is iffy at best. The Redskins went almost all of the offseason without being able to get running backs Tim Hightower or Roy Helu involved in team drills, and ditto with receivers Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson (all but Hightower participated fully in today's practice).
For a team already lacking in depth, that's a problem.
"You can have a few guys like that, but we have all these 'soft-tissue' guys who we can't get on the field," one member of the organization said. "You have to worry about that. We haven't even started hitting and they're banged up. That's not what you want for a young quarterback."
To that end, the Redskins have had many internal discussions, sources said, about possibly signing either Cedric Benson or Ryan Grant, with both free-agent backs available. They will keep their fingers crossed that Santana Moss and Morgan, who have had their share of missed time, stay available to Griffin. And that tight end Fred Davis can remain clean of drugs, like Williams, and avoid a year's suspension himself.
Furthermore, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the coach's son, remains in the crosshairs of the fans and local media alike, with Washington's offense stagnant the past two years and questions arising about the relative inexperience of some of this staff. Some wonder if Mike Shanahan is still the offensive wizard from earlier in his career as well.
So expecting Griffin to immediately elevate this crew is unfair to him, and others. This grand experiment will take time.
But his mere presence alone -- a year after Shanahan staked his reputation on the doomed duo of Rex Grossman and John Beck under center -- has changed the entire way the franchise is looked at. RG3 is a reason for fans to hope, to feel good about the future. He has brought with him a renewed confidence, a bit of swagger, long lost.
Now, if he can only bring the Ws back and get the Redskins out of the cellar of the NFC East.
"There is a different confidence with him," Cooley said, "but we're always confident in August. It's got be about more than August. That's what we'll all find out."