MINNEAPOLIS — Terry Shea doesn’t know where to start. The nine weeks he spent mentoring and training Robert Griffin III earlier this year proved so rewarding that it’s hard to focus on one defining moment or alluring characteristic. So Shea begins a tour of his RG3 experience.
He’ll remind you of the slogan Griffin uttered repeatedly during their time together at the Athletes’ Performance Institute in Arizona: “Big we, little me.”
“That’s the way he plays football,” Shea said.
Shea also recounts the endless time the 22-year-old quarterback spent dissecting game film.
Crazy as it sounds, something about Griffin’s quick and measured speech illuminated his intelligence.
“That had me convinced,” Shea said. “You can turn on the film, and he has this unique ability to keep his speech pattern in sync with what’s being shown on the screen. It sounds small. But that’s a good indication of having a really quick mind. And when you’re playing quarterback in the NFL, playing with a quick mind is essential.”
Most of all, Shea remembers the omen.
He and Griffin were out to dinner in March, in the middle of the uncertain grind that comes between the NFL combine and the draft.
Shea knew Griffin was a tad anxious about his future NFL destination. So he brought a small stack of football cards to dinner, held them face down and told Griffin to pick one.
Just for fun.
Out came a Redskin.
“There it is,” Shea said with a smile. “Washington.”
At the time, the Redskins owned the No. 6 pick and Griffin was certain to be off the board at No. 2. Yet only a few days later, the news broke.
Washington dug into its pockets, sending its No. 6 and No. 39 picks to St. Louis along with first-round selections in 2013 and 2014 to jump the line and scoop up their coveted franchise quarterback.
It was the kind of blockbuster deal that had the potential to overinflate expectations — in Washington and everywhere else.
Yet Shea, a former NFL coordinator and quarterbacks coach for eight seasons, knew Griffin would gracefully handle the burdens of expectation.
“That trade settled Robert down,” Shea said. “He realized all the Redskins had given up to select him and he was excited about it. He used that as confidence.
“He has a rare ability to convert pressure into drive.”
Real deal, reel deal
Sunday at FedEx Field in Maryland, Griffin will show his talents against a sturdy but attentive Vikings defense.
The slippery quarterback leads the league in accuracy, completing 69.1 percent of his passes. He has thrown for 1,161 yards and run for 241 more.
He has thrown deep touchdowns and run for shorter ones. And he has given Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan a chance to install several creative option packages that have made Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams queasy this week.
“Always a headache,” Williams said of the preparation.
Yep, “The RG3 Experience” has become a fascinating show-and-tell project with an ever-growing highlight queue.
It doesn’t matter where you start. Pick a clip. It’s bound to provide a glimpse into what’s made Griffin the most buzzworthy quarterback of 2012.
Maybe start in Week 1, in the first quarter in New Orleans with Griffin’s seventh NFL pass.
From under center, he ran a play fake to running back Alfred Morris. But with a safety blitz coming from his blind side, he had no time to settle in the pocket.
Still, Griffin planted, took a shot from Malcolm Jenkins and fired a bullet to Pierre Garcon on an “in” route.
Eighty-eight yards. Touchdown.
Just like that, Griffin had started his NFL career 7-for-7 for 132 yards.
There’s also the second-quarter score from Week 2 against the Rams. Again, it came on play action with pressure coming. But Griffin kept his eyes downfield and launched a bomb to Leonard Hankerson on a stutter-go route.
Sixty-one yards through the air, perfect strike, 68-yard touchdown.
Yes, Griffin’s arm strength and accuracy were fully evident. But so, too, was his ability to dart back from under center with explosion and control.
So much for those pre-draft worries that his days as a shotgun spread quarterback at Baylor would make him a project as a drop-back passer.
Said Shea: “When we started working on that (last winter), it was like riding a bicycle for him. He was very special in terms of how quickly he separated from center. His footwork and his drop-back mechanics were, I thought, letter perfect.”
‘You can tell he is really smart’
No wonder the Vikings defense finds itself on high alert. Even as a rookie, Griffin is using his athleticism wisely, exhibiting a knack for keeping his eyes down the field.
“You can tell he is really smart,” Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. “As dangerous as he is with his feet, a lot of times he uses his feet to get outside to then use his arm. It’s kind of like Aaron Rodgers. Only no offense to Aaron, as athletic as he is, he’s seemingly nowhere near as quick and athletic as RG3.”
As much as the Vikings have planned to contain Griffin, they also understand it’ll be hard to account for the confidence he exudes.
Yes, there’s the innate charisma you so often hear about when Griffin delivers his toothy grin or jokes with reporters or shows off whatever colorful socks he’s wearing — from Superman to SpongeBob to the adidas “Catch Your Dream” socks he markets.
Griffin’s charm helped him quickly gain acceptance in the Redskins locker room. But his relentless work ethic allowed him to be both well-liked and respected.
“He’s shown he’s a focused kid,” Redskins receiver Santana Moss said. “Most rookies, they come in and some of this stuff is so new to them, they’re almost shell-shocked. (Robert) was ready to go. He already had a plan and was running our offense and calling the plays in the huddle like he had been here already.”
Added quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur: “You never know how certain guys are going to handle the glitz and glamour. But it was evident from Day One that he came here with a want to be great. That’s contagious. It’s fun for guys to work around a good human being who works his butt off to improve.”
Moss is in his 12th season riding a quarterback merry-go-round. Griffin is the 11th starter with whom he’s played.
Yet in five games, the rookie’s poise has set him apart.
That was fully evident in Week 4. The Redskins trailed Tampa Bay 22-21 and got the ball back at their own 20 with 1:42 left.
Adding to the chaos: The headset in Griffin’s helmet malfunctioned.
Still, the rookie delivered an Elway-esque march. He completed his first three passes — 15 yards to Moss underneath, 20 yards to Fred Davis under blitz pressure, 4 yards to Evan Royster.
Then came a nifty 15-yard scramble and a clock-killing spike.
Finally, after a false start, Griffin hit Moss for 7 yards with 7 seconds left. From there, Billy Cundiff won the game with a 41-yard field goal.
“You want the ball in your hands,” Griffin said afterward. “When something has to happen, you make it happen.”
Concussion serves as warning
Naturally, the love affair between D.C. and RG3 has heated up quickly.
It’s not just Griffin’s effervescence and athleticism. The Redskins haven’t played in a Super Bowl since 1991 and haven’t had an All-Pro quarterback since Joe Theismann in ‘83.
Yet with all the growing hype, there’s also a huge RG3 warning label. That’s where last week’s scary scramble comes in.
On a seemingly routine sequence, Griffin sprinted right to keep a third-down play alive. But in his quest to pick up the first down, he didn’t slide or get out of bounds fast enough.
A shot from Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon produced a concussion.
Just like that, Washington’s shiny new Aston Martin was headed for the body shop.
“That was not just RG3 laying on the field,” NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said. “That’s next year’s No. 1 draft choice and the No. 1 draft choice in 2014 laying there, too. That’s how much they’ve invested in this kid and how important it is to keep him healthy.”
So now it’s in the hands of the Redskins coaches, to continue tweaking their offense so that it allows Griffin to showcase his skills without subjecting himself to too much danger.
Some of that will come back to the rookie’s own mental grasp of which risks are worth taking.
“He’s always been a smart kid who makes good decisions,” Mariucci said. “Now he has to show that on some of these runs. He’s not playing against college guys anymore. These aren’t math majors who are going to be school teachers next fall. He’s going against trained assassins who are going to knock him around like he’s never been knocked around before.”
That’s all part of “The RG3 Experience.”