LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins lays on the ground after being hit by Manny Lawson #99 of the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half at FedExField on September 23, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
There are many tough lessons a young NFL quarterback can only learn by experiencing them. Practices can't simulate the speed of the game, nor the complexities of the defenses, and the only way to truly understand that decisiveness in the pocket is a virtue is to take a few hits from 300-pound opponents looking to separate your head from the rest of your body.
It's three weeks into Robert Griffin III's tenure and there hasn't been much to complain about. And that's a nice change from what 'Skins' fans have become accustomed to, but it also comes with the added pressure to keep RGIII healthy. (We've seen what Rex Grossman can do and, really, no one wants to relive that.) Which is why the rookie quarterback needs to take fewer hits, something coach Mike Shanahan has finally acknowledged.
After Sunday's loss to the Bengals, when Griffin was sacked six times, Shanahan admitted that “You don’t want a quarterback taking as many shots as he did… That’s for sure."
On Wednesday, Shanahan expounded: “[There were] probably seven or eight hits a game that he didn’t have to take at all, and he’s gonna get better and better at that,” he said via the Washington Post. “We want to limit the hits. That’s one thing about the option -- that you’ve got a chance, really, not to take a lot of hits."
Shanahan has experience -- and success -- with mobile quarterbacks. John Elway immediately comes to mind but there's also Jake Plummer, who led the Broncos to the AFC Championship game in January 2006.
In 1997 and 1998, Elway's two Super Bowl-winning seasons (and, incidentally, his last two NFL seasons), he was sacked 34 and 18 times, respectively. Plummer went down 22 times in 2005. RGIII is on pace for 48 sacks. That's unsustainable. And Griffin understands this. The biggest problem, however: the option offense is about misdirection, which sets RGIII up as a target even when he doesn't have the ball.
"On some of the option plays, [I should] just make it more clear to the refs -- whatever refs we have -- that I don’t have the ball, because then they can’t hit me,” Griffin said Wednesday according to the Post. “But if I don’t come out with my hands up, then they think I have the ball, and legally they can hit me. So, just make it clear to them that I don’t have the ball, and if I do get one of those shots, then we get 15 yards. ...
“You take some of those shots to the face and you’ll learn real fast,” Griffin continued, laughing. “I thought they were not legal hits, but coach informed me that, technically, they can hit me. … I guess I’ll be running around with my arms up a lot more, letting them know, ‘I don’t have the ball. Please hit me if you want to give us another 15 yards.’ ”
RGIII knows that, ultimately, this is less about the officials and more about him getting the ball out of his hands. But he also understands that the learning curve is steep for rookies and it's a process. The trick is to get the on-the-job training while avoiding the big blows.