Buccaneers preparing for arrival of RGIII
TAMPA — It’s been ages since the Washington, D.C. area has had a quarterback hero to place on a lofty pedestal in the land of marble monuments – like Norm Snead, Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Theismann, Doug Williams or Mark Rypien.
So the town that hails the Redskins with a passion has been understandably thrilled with the arrival of the first genuine star quarterback in some 20 years.
He’s certainly generating a whole lot more enthusiasm than the ill-fated triumvirate last year of Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck during the first two seasons under head coach Mike Shanahan. And judging from his Heisman heights at Baylor and what he’s achieved in only three games with the Skins, the sky’s the limit for Robert Griffin III.
Of course, instant success – such as turning your offense into the No. 1 point-scoring machine in the NFL – comes with a small price in the nation’s capital and the surrounding ‘burbs of Maryland and Virginia.
“For me, I can’t really go to much of anywhere without being spotted,” he said this week on a conference call hook-up from Redskins Park to One Buc Place. “Even if I tie my hair up, I eventually get spotted. For some people, that’d be tough. But for me, you’d rather have people wanting to have a piece of you than talking bad about you behind your back. … I don’t mind signing autographs or taking a picture here or there, every day or whenever I do go out – just to show the fans that we do care.”
Griffin has been a unifying force in an area famous for political bickering and now dominated by a heated presidential campaign. He’s the water-cooler topic anyone can enjoy on a Monday morning – even if the Redskins have lost their last two games after Griffin’s stunning debut in upsetting the Saints in the season-opener at New Orleans. And he’ll no doubt be the hot topic, win or lose, following the 4:25 p.m. contest Sunday against the Bucs and first-year head coach Greg Schiano.
What’s not to like about an enormously talented 22-year-old with a world of NFL potential – a player the Redskins eagerly packaged three No. 1 draft picks and a No. 2 for good measure to swap with the St. Louis Rams to grab Griffin this April with the No. 2 overall pick?
“Obviously, everybody can see his ability,” said Shanahan, also speaking to the media via conference call. “But I think intangibles are really what separates the great ones – they love to work, they love football. And that’s what I’ve seen out of him since he’s been with us. He’s the first in, last person out. Very smart. He handles things extremely well. He’s a natural leader. You just see a guy like that getting better and better as time goes on – as he gets the experience in game situations and gets more familiar with the pro offense.”
The Bucs have been busy all week long preparing for ways to stop – or at least slow down – the player with the catchy three-syllable moniker, RGIII.
He boasts a decidedly non-rookie quarterback rating of 103.5 with four touchdowns, only one pick and 60 completions in 89 attempts for 747 yards – including a long gain of 88. And he’s equally dangerous with his feet running a double and triple option, ranking as the Redskins’ No. 2 rusher with 209 yards on 32 carries (an average of 6.5 yards per tote) and three more scores.
But there’s also another quality that can’t be measured by statistics – a calm under fire more befitting a veteran, and a fearlessness in spite of all the hits he’s absorbed from defenses determined to get some legal shots on him.
For Griffin, it comes down to self-awareness and sticking to what you know.
“You just trust your preparation – over the off-season and over your whole career as a football player you build your foundation,” he said. “So you know who you are, what you are, what you can do and what you’re always going to strive to do – and never say you can’t do something.
“It’s just about having that strong foundation so that when you have two straight losses, and things aren’t going our way, you know, ‘Hey, I’m doing the right things, The team is doing the right things. We’re going to be successful and the wins will come.’ … I don’t have to go out there and take on all the burden myself – but I do know that I’m the catalyst of this offense and I have to show up every game and be ready to play, because those guys are looking to me for leadership.”
There’s some concern – and understandably so, given how much the Skins need depend on him – that Griffin could get hurt and lose playing time with his aggressive approach to the game. Shanahan has spoken to his franchise player about that without trying to hold him back – after all, this is the coach who won two Super Bowls with John Elway putting his body on the line game after game.
“He just tells me to protect myself,” Griffin said. “I’ve done a good job of that the past couple of weeks. And I’ll continue to do that, while also staying aggressive. But every game presents new opportunities and I try to approach every game with a different view on how I’m supposed to do things.”
Griffin is the reason the Redskins have scored 40, 28 and 31 points thus far, but he says they have only scratched the surface as an offense: “We’re leading the league in scoring but there are so many little things we can do so much better. And, of course, that’ll help us put up more points. We’re proud about (being No. 1) but we’re not satisfied with it. We feel like we can get a lot better as an offense and as a team, scoring points and winning games.”
And how does Griffin view the Buc defense he’ll be facing Sunday – currently ranked No. 1 against the run and coming off a four-sack effort of Tony Romo?
“A couple of things come to mind at first glance, when you watch the personnel,” he said. “They’re extremely fast. They’re young and they play hard. Coach Schiano has done a good job getting those guys to buy into his system and they definitely play hard for him. Whenever you’re young, talented and you play hard, you’re going to pose a problem for a lot of teams. We know that going in, so we don’t really look at the numbers – and just know that we have to show up ready to play and that it’s going to be a physical game.”
Beyond Griffin, another member of the Skins highly recognizable to the Bucs – their former head coach, Raheem Morris. Fired after a 4-12 season in January, Morris is now the defensive backs coach in Washington and a coach Griffin respects.
“Raheem’s a great coach and he brings a lot of energy to practice,” he said. “He’s a good presence on the sideline and we love having him here. So if we can go get the win, and just say that it was for him, that would be fun.”
As for his head coach, Griffin can’t say enough.
“Mike is definitely a big-time coach and I was a fan of him when I was growing up,” he remarked. “It’s an honor to play for him and he constantly tells me that he loves the way I play – the amount of heart and dedication that I put into my job. That’s big when you get to hear that from your head coach. It’s been great playing for him and hopefully I can do it for many years to come.”
That would be just fine for a region that’s been waiting all these years for a new star quarterback to come along.