The Talk Radio Host's Guide to RGIII

Part of hunting for talk radio jobs is doing research, meaning listening to talk radio from around the country. That allows me to stay current on what's going on in markets around the country (specifically ones that there are openings in), and it's a nice chance to do some research on the craft. When you're working, you don't get to listen to other stations other places. You've got to be locked in on what's happening in your market. Being able to listen to other stations is beneficial not just to stay in tune with what's happening in other places, it's a chance to study how others do the job.

However, no matter where I turn, or how hosts are presenting their material, there seems to be one thing in common: they're all talking about RGIII! It's unbelievable. I can't escape!

What's more unbelievable than a country full of football obsessed people talking about a formerly effective, high-profile quarterback who is about to be a free agent though, is how consistently wrong they are about basic facts of Griffin's time in Washington.

I pause here, momentarily, to establish that I rather like Robert Griffin III as a human being. I've gotten to talk to him quite a bit, even though he was completely off limits to the media the entire year. None of those conversations were on the record and almost none of them were about the Redskins.

We often talked about college football. When Syracuse hired Dino Babers, who was with Griffin at Baylor, Robert found me and said "man, you just got a great coach!"

I really like Robert. I hope he succeeds, and there's a reason that's the near unanimous chorus amongst media members in Washington. He's an incredibly personable human being who takes a genuine interest in conversation. That's a refreshing change from many star athletes who see any media member's presence as a total nuisance.

On the field, he inarguably provided the most electrifying run in Washington sports since the Redskins last Super Bowl, however what's happened since 2012 seems to have not made it that far outside the beltway.

So with that, we come to "The Talk Show Host's Guide to RGIII," which you can bookmark, reference and cite as often as you'd like!

First and foremost, Robert Griffin III lost his starting job in Washington because of performance, not injury. In fact, whether Griffin was even injured or not is up for debate. His camp says he was never concussed after being blasted by the Lions in week 2 of the preseason. The Redskins and the league obviously disagree, as they put him in the concussion protocol and deemed him concussed. For about two weeks, Jay Gruden didn't know what the hell was going on and I can assure you he never wants to hear the words "independent neuropsychologist" again.

However whether Griffin was concussed or not, he was getting benched.

Gruden said that whether Griffin was available or not, Kirk Cousins was going to get some starter's reps in the 3rd preseason game. Griffin wound up being unavailable, giving all the starters reps to Cousins. When Gruden revealed this in a press conference, I asked him to elaborate on what the split would have been and who would've started. He declined to expand, saying it was in the past and there was no real benefit for him to divulge more. For his sake, that was correct. For ours? Meh.

Given that there was now the green light for an open competition, Cousins was going to win the job. He was miles better than Griffin during the off-season program and in training camp. The Redskins coaching staff touted Griffin's progress because they had to. Going into the season saying "we're screwed" at quarterback doesn't do anything publicly, and they had to convince themselves privately so they didn't go to work every day with a defeatist attitude. It was true that Griffin was getting better, but not by much, and he still couldn't operate basic plays in the offense as late as August.

Despite those worries, Griffin had the job because he wasn't allowed not to have it. Eventually, ownership allowed the football staff to put whoever they wanted in place, and Cousins was awarded the job on merit. Also note that Griffin wasn't just demoted to being the backup, he was demoted to third string. While that may have had something to do with his $16 million injury option, he was also their third best quarterback.

However the misremembering of Griffin's history goes back beyond the 2015 preseason. I've heard praise for how Griffin closed the 2014 season, with a 336 yard performance against the Cowboys.

He threw two interceptions in that game and in which Washington lost 44-17. But hey, he threw for a ton of yards.

Earlier in that season was the low point of Griffin's time in Washington, as the Redskins got beaten badly by Tampa Bay. After the game Griffin commented that everyone had to play better, which rubbed many the wrong way. My former co-worker Chris Cooley, who watches tape weekly and grades players, was unable to grade the offense that week because Griffin operated at such a low level. He said the coaches had to completely abandon the gameplan and return to "Day 1 of training camp offense" to try and get anything going. He was that gun shy. His ability to decipher what to do with the football was that low on that given day.

That, in the end, is the fatal flaw for Griffin in a pro style offense, unless he made a completely remarkable jump while on the bench last year. He hasn't shown the ability to read a defense, because prior to being in the NFL, he didn't have to.

Bryce Petty, who played in the same system at Baylor that Griffin did, described the learning curve to The Wall Street Journal:
Petty admits to grappling with tasks such as hearing and calling the play, identifying defensive backs in coverage and identifying which player in the defensive backfield was the “mike” linebacker, the central part of the defense whose location teams base their offensive line protections on. “As crazy as it sounds, at Baylor, we did not point out the ‘mike’ linebacker,” Petty said. 
Petty was unfamiliar with making adjustments to the play or the formation before the snap. 
“Honestly, I wish I’d done a little bit more as far as being proactive to get into a pro style [offense],” he said, singling out the need to decipher fronts or coverages. “It was things I have never seen before.”
Those are basic, elementary tasks in a pro offense. So how did Griffin succeed in 2012? Two things.

First, Mike and Kyle Shanahan created a hybrid offense that had elements of Griffin's old system in it. This was the definition of putting a player in a position to succeed. The results were solid early, as Washington started 3-3. The third win was sealed with this play:

A coach, who was with the team at the time, told me that play changed changed how defenses attacked Griffin, which leads to the second factor of his rookie success.

Teams started playing very basic defenses, not wanting to risk giving up a similar big play. Griffin saw the same few, easily identifiable defenses for the rest of the season and never really had to concern himself with setting up protections and deciphering pre-snap disguises. Like at Baylor, it was line up and play. Washington lost the next 3 games, and then went on a seven game win streak to close the year. Griffin was great, won rookie of the year and then got hurt in the playoff game.

Before the 2013 season, Griffin told the Shanahans he didn't want to run anymore. His dad even said publicly that any quarterback that wants to run more than pass is a loser. Tension was at an all-time high. You probably know about all that.

With Griffin returning from injury and less likely to run, teams started mixing coverages. He struggled, as defenders were doing things he'd never seen before. His interception numbers sky-rocketed. He was sacked constantly. The team went 3-10 with him as a starter. The Shanahans were fired.

We've now almost come full-circle. Jay Gruden was hired after his stellar work with Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. Gruden and Griffin had some public moments they'd both rather have back. Griffin didn't perform well in Gruden's system. Gruden knew he was not giving his team the best chance to win as better options sat on the bench. Griffin got hurt again. Those better options didn't do much as they hadn't gotten much practice time. Griffin came back. He wasn't good. He got benched. The team stunk, but hey he had that 336 yard game to close the year against Dallas! Now we've finished the circle.

Reviews were mixed behind closed doors of how Griffin handled this season. I can attest to the fact that he wanted to stay quiet and lay low, which he did. He absolutely could've spent the season leaking complaints and keeping himself relevant. He intentionally did not as to not be a distraction. He didn't have a whole lot of ground to stand on because of how well Kirk Cousins was playing, but there was some space early in the year before Cousins turned it up. We didn't hear a peep.

I talked to many of his teammates who said Griffin was a great teammate. I also heard rumblings that he wasn't as happy for Cousins' success as Colt McCoy was, even though McCoy had every right to complain as well. He was the only quarterback not to be benched for performance in 2014, then lost the starting job before he even knew it was available.

Side-note: no one knew it was available until it was. Not McCoy, not Cousins, not Griffin and not even the coaches. The old "compete/prepare like you're the starter" adage was never more relevant than this year in Washington. McCoy absolutely did. He just got beat, but you can understand his frustration. He handled it like the pro's pro he is, publicly and privately.

Griffin absolutely did his job as a scout team quarterback too. Jay Gruden told a story the week of the playoff game about Griffin running around, simulating Aaron Rodgers, before chucking a ball 70 yards down field. He brought the same energy to practice he did as a starter. I talked to one teammate who said he was always engaged as well, showing progress in reading and deciphering coverages from the sideline as Cousins was on the field.

Doing it from the sideline and doing it from on the field are completely different stories though, and that's the question for Griffin moving forward. He has supreme physical talent as a straight line runner, and he has a terrific arm. However a quarterback's success is more reliant on his ability to read and react than it is his physical talent.

If I were in a market with a team looking at Griffin, I wouldn't endorse him as a lone option. I'd love him as a backup with potential, so long that I knew he was on board with that idea, dedicated to learning the system and the starter was entrenched so there would be no controversy. If he were to be brought in to compete for a starting job, I'd want another option. I'd want him to have to earn it. I'd want him to know that nothing is guaranteed.

I'd also know that he very well might lose that job to someone who is far less famous. Griffin is still young. He's only 26. He's completely healthy and has been for nearly a year. Saying "I'd take the risk on him" isn't some moronic opinion.

Just realize what the risk is, how we've gotten to this point and why a player who once looked like the future of the NFL is now going to be available after his rookie contract. Which you do. Because you've made it to the end.

The end.