By Dan Pompei
Now that Jay Gruden has been introduced to Robert Griffin III, he plans on introducing him to a pocket. Not one on his jeans, or on his billiards table -- the one that is formed by a wall of offensive linemen in the backfield and between the tackles.
That is the place Gruden wants RGIII to feel most comfortable. It is the place Gruden wants his quarterback to define himself. It is the place Gruden wants his quarterback to win from.
This does not mean the new Redskins head coach expects RGIII's legs to become as useful as his appendix, however. It's just that in Gruden's vision, the quarterback will be using his legs mostly when he cannot use his arm.
"My goal in training camp is to see how much he can develop as a drop-back passer," Gruden said. "Obviously he can do the rollouts and the naked bootlegs and all that. But let's see what he can do from the pocket, and if he can run from there, that's when he'll really get a lot of yards."
During the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, Gruden was intrigued watching Colin Kaepernick give the Seahawks problems on the ground. He estimated Kaepernick had 91 rushing yards on scrambles, as opposed to planned runs. Gruden liked what he saw.
It's OK to run when passing options dry up. Gruden thinks the Redskins have formidable receiving weapons in wideouts Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and Santana Moss and tight ends Logan Paulsen and Fred Davis. He wants to use them. He knows no quarterback can consistently put his team in position to win unless he can deliver from the pocket.
"There comes a point in a season, in a game, when you have to do some dropback passing," he said. "You are going to have third-and-12 where you can run read option or a bubble screen. If you are down two touchdowns late in the third quarter, you have to be able to be a dropback passing team. You have to have that part established. So we really want to focus on that, teach him some concepts we like and have at it."
Quarterbacks who can run usually have to fight the urge to do so. The best ones, like John Elway, Steve Young and Michael Vick, became grown up quarterbacks when they learned to love the pocket. Others, like Vince Young and Kordell Stewart, never really left the juvenile stage of quarterbacking. It can be a slow transition. But it is an imperative transition, not only because it maximizes offensive effectiveness, but also because it preserves the player.
Some in the new generation of quarterbacks are being encouraged to run in ways their predecessors were not. The read option has changed the dynamic for players like RGIII.
Even though RGIII missed four games, he ran more times than every quarterback in the league over the last two years except Cam Newton. The Redskins can't thrive and RGIII won't survive if he keeps taking off like an untrained pup who gets off leash at the park.
"It's a long season," Gruden said. "It's a 16-game grind. You don't want him getting hit 15, 20 times a game on read options. You have to keep your stars healthy. You don't want to put him at risk too much. But that's who he is. It's what he is as a quarterback. He's very effective in that regard."
Gruden plans on expanding the read-option package he had in Cincinnati because of RGIII's capabilities. He will use it from more formations and with more motions and include it in every game plan. But he will treat it like a chef treats a strong spice, and use it sparingly.
"I don't anticipate running a lot of read option," he said. "I think if you use it three or four times a game, you'll have more success than if you try to feature your whole offense around it. It's not just tough on the quarterback taking hits, it's tough on the tackles with their aiming points, where are they going. It's something you have to practice a lot to get very good at."
RGIII's movement skills can lure in an offensive game planner just like they can lure in a safety. But what makes him unique, and what inspired the Redskins to give up three first-round picks and a second in order to be able to select him with the second overall pick in the 2012 draft, is his arm talent is equally impressive.
"From a talent standpoint as far as throwing the ball I don't see a lot of weaknesses," Gruden said. "It's just that he hasn't been asked to do a lot of different things as far as the drop-back passing game is concerned. I don't know if he is going to have any limitations. He might not have any. We'll wait and see."
Gruden never has had a quarterback like RGIII. You might say no one in the NFL has, except Mike Shanahan. Most of the quarterbacks Gruden has worked with were about as mobile as potted trees. Among them were Andy Dalton, Brad Johnson and Jeff Garcia well into their 30s, Brian Griese and Bruce Gradkowski.
Dalton's backup last year in Cincinnati was Josh Johnson, an athletic quarterback with questionable passing skills. Gruden had a separate package of plays for Johnson because his abilities were so different from Dalton's. Likewise, he won't ask RGIII to do what he asked Dalton to do. Gruden believes the starting quarterback is the cornerstone the offense should be built around.
One of the reasons Gruden chose Sean McVay to be his coordinator is McVay was on the previous staff, and Gruden wanted to have some carryover with the concepts RGIII was comfortable with. But he also will put his own stamp on the offense. The verbiage will be changed a little, he said. So will the volume of packaged plays -- assuming RGIII does well with them. Gruden used them extensively in Cincinnati with Dalton in an attempt to get the best play against the look the defense was presenting.
"From what I can tell, he's a very, very intelligent young man," Gruden said. "He's already done some of that here. We'll probably ask him to do more. I've seen a lot of guys be able to do it, I've seen some guys not like doing it at all. We'll see how it develops in OTAs and training camp."
The hope is to take RGIII somewhere he's never been. And that journey will begin by encouraging him to stay in one spot.
* * *
Dan Pompei has covered more than 500 NFL games, including 26 Super Bowls. He is one of 44 members on Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors board and one of nine members on the seniors committee. He was given the 2013 Dick McCann Award by the Pro Football Writers of America for long and distinguished reporting in the field of pro football. Follow him on Twitter @danpompei.