By Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –
ST. LOUIS — It didn’t take Robert Griffin III long to get a sense for the passion that exists for Washington Redskins football in the nation’s capital.
“I’ve gotten a huge sense of that since the day I was drafted and I showed up at FedEx (Field) and we had the pep rally there,” Griffin said. “They introduced me as their quarterback. It was pretty crazy since that. So, I definitely get it.”
The player known as RGIII did his best to fan those flames in his NFL debut last Sunday in New Orleans. Griffin threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 42 yards, and engineered a 40-32 upset over the Saints.
He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300-plus yards, with two or more TD passes and no interceptions in his debut game. It was only fitting, then, that he became the first rookie quarterback named NFC offensive player of the week in Week 1 since the award began in 1984.
The Redskins hadn’t scored 40 or more points since 2005, and in the two previous seasons under coach Mike Shanahan had averaged only 18.5 points a game. So if you think Redskins fans were crazy about him before the season started — well, RGIII-mania is now through the roof.
“I just try to not really pay too much attention to it,” Griffin said during a conference call with St. Louis reporters. “Everywhere you go, you’re going to feel it. You go to the grocery store, people are going to want to talk to you, sign autographs, and take pictures and all that stuff.
“But the way that I look at it is you can’t be ungrateful for things like that ‘cause it could sure be the other way around, where nobody wants to talk to you, or take your picture, or get an autograph. So I don’t feed into it, but I don’t shy away from it.
“I just make sure if I’m out and about and people want to be around me, have a piece of me, then I give them what I can, and then I go about my way.”
So Griffin gets it on that level as well. But there are limits. Once in a while, he’ll go out relatively incognito.
“For a professional athlete to go to a mall or anything like that, it’s pretty chaotic,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of people in one area. So maybe if I go to a mall or something, I’ll try to wear some shades or a hat or tie my hair back.
“But other than that, I kind of just go out and about, and just be myself. People want to see you around and about. They don’t want you to be a ghost.”
If things get too crazy, Griffin has a safe house in the D.C. area, because he asked his parents to move to Washington after he was drafted No. 2 overall by the Redskins, with a pick acquired in a pre-draft trade from the Rams.
“We always said that wherever I went if I made it to the professional level that I would want them to come with me,” Griffin said. “I’m the baby in the family, so they don’t have any kids to sit back and look after anymore.
“Sometimes it’s time for change. They wanted a little bit of change in their life, a change of scenery. So they came up here and my dad got a really good, well-paying job. That’s the great thing. They’re still getting to live their lives while also being able to support me.”
Shanahan hasn’t worried much about keeping RGIII grounded because of the simple fact that he has a grounded personality.
“He’s a very down-to-earth guy, and he understands that work comes first,” Shanahan said. “So really, it’s been pretty easy because he knows he’s got to do it on the field, and he’s got to prepare, and that’s his top priority. It comes pretty easy to him.”
On Sunday, it’s the Rams’ task to make sure that nothing comes easy for RGIII. They want to make sure he has no safe house, no sanctuary, no place to hide in the Edward Jones Dome.
Last week in Ford Field, the Rams’ harassed and schemed Matthew Stafford into three first-half interceptions, to the point where he looked confused at times. That’s the goal again this week, although the Redskins present an entirely different challenge because of their offensive scheme, their commitment to the running game, and of course, RGIII’s unique skill set.
Shanahan’s offenses have always employed bootlegs and rollouts, favoring quarterbacks who could move around. Griffin takes it to another level, because he can run with the best of them. He’s capable of throwing a great deep ball and throws well on the run. Shanahan has incorporated some elements of RGIII’s college offense at Baylor to help maximum his skills and ease the transition into the NFL.
To wit, Griffin frequently lined up in the “pistol,” a shorter version of the shotgun, with a tailback behind. The Redskins designed keepers and option plays for him to run the football. Eight of Griffin’s 10 carries against New Orleans were called running plays.
“He did them very well, for obvious reasons,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s good at it.”
The Redskins helped get him into a passing rhythm early against New Orleans with several short, high-percentage passes — to the point where RGIII’s first six passes were caught behind the line of scrimmage by Washington receivers.
The Rams have studied Baylor film. They’ve looked at Griffin in the preseason, and of course against New Orleans. Even so, there remains a degree of uncertainty about what to expect.
“The Redskins were smart about what they did during the preseason,” Fisher said “They featured one personnel group in each game and kept things very simple. Mike (Shanahan)’s one of those guys, he’s really hard to coach against. He’s going to change things up week to week. … You just know that he’s going to be creative, and you’re going to be forced to adjust.”
No matter what the Redskins have planned for RGIII this Sunday, the Rams already know one thing: He will do it with poise.
“You can tell whether a guy is just out there making plays luckily, or whether he’s doing it by design,” said Rams assistant head coach Dave McGinnis. “This guy is composed. He looked like and he operated (against New Orleans) just like what he is. He’s the real deal.”