RGIII at Texans Crossroad

Doubting Robert Griffin III: Legitimate or just more D.C. bunk directed at Baylor's forever hero?

Doubting Robert Griffin III: Legitimate or just more D.C. bunk?

Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III is looking for a bounce back season. Washington Redskins/Facebook

At the top of his game Robert Griffin III can still command a room, can still exude the disarming charisma and engaging affability that made him as revered off the field at Baylor as his immense physical talents cemented his legacy on it. That much was apparent watching Griffin bathe in the adulation of his statue dedication outside McLane Stadium in Waco last Sunday.

In Waco, Griffin will always remain embraced and exalted.

The same cannot be said of Washington D.C., where fandom is as fickle as political affiliations are static. Griffin had the nation's capital in the palm of his hands following his transcendent rookie season yet presently, just one forgettable, injury-riddled sophomore campaign later, a referendum on Griffin is on the ballot. Now that his surgically-repaired knee is "100 percent" will Griffin boon or is he poised to bust?

That these questions have been pondered repeatedly over the course of the past dozen months speaks to how quickly circumstances can alter perceptions.

 Griffin, to no surprise, is taking all of the tumult in stride. Even with so much controversy swirling about, he remains as enviably composed as ever. 

As the Houston Texans open the Bill O'Brien era on Sunday by playing host to the Washington Redskins at NRG Stadium, Griffin undoubtedly stands at a precipice. It seems unfathomable that his status could withstand another season of suboptimal productivity, even given the transition accompanying a new coach (Jay Gruden) and an offense not specifically designed for its gifted (and tentatively) starting quarterback.

The tide has shifted so resoundingly against Griffin, from fans to columnists to former franchise quarterbacks, that failure is no longer an option.

Griffin, to no surprise, is taking all of the tumult in stride. Even with so much controversy swirling about, he remains as enviably composed as ever.

"It's great when you have the support of the 53 guys on the roster," Griffin says of the unyielding criticism. "Those guys in that locker room support me. I support them. They're my brothers, my brothers in burgundy and gold.

"They give me the confidence to go out and play, and it's my job to give them the confidence to go out and play and be professional. That's not an issue up here. We're just excited to go out and play together."

Despite that uncanny ability to meld positivity into most any discussion, even Griffin cannot discount these two truths: Last season was an unmitigated disaster, and this preseason hasn't provided any just cause for optimism. Professional pride inspired Griffin to foolishly rush his way back onto the field in 2013 following offseason knee surgery, and the Redskins suffered because Griffin would not accept his limitations. His impatience and hubris set the foundation for a cataclysmic collapse from NFC East champions to division fodder, with his reputation as a selfless leader dwindling proportionately with his statistical output.

Quarterbacks are usually lauded and criticized to ridiculous standards, and Griffin wasn't responsible for an erratic defense and the lame-duck coaching of Mike Shanahan. But he did play a critical role in the Redskins' faltering.

RGIII Redux

Griffin is in desperate need of a revival entering just his third season in Washington. The Texans represent his first opportunity to reverse the negative momentum that has engulfed his career. The talking points are familiar to those who closely follow football and are attuned to his exploits.

Hamstrung by injury last season, Griffin abandoned using the same legs that helped him garner the Heisman Trophy at Baylor. Presented with the reality of what his reckless play had previously wrought, Griffin has yet to master the arts of sliding soundly and surrendering to see another snap. And now, with a reputed quarterback guru as his head coach, Griffin has been slow to learn the nuances of an offense that, if the preseason was any indication, might serve as the equivalent of a round peg grinding against a square hole with Griffin hell bent upon becoming a pure pocket passer.

 Griffin remains skilled at saying all the right things, but he clearly doesn't perform like someone in complete command of the offense. 

"Well, you know, it's early," Gruden says. "We haven't played a regular season game yet. I don't know how comfortable he is. He looks comfortable at practice. He has a great knowledge of the game. He works his tail off, all that good stuff that a quarterback has to do. Now we'll see if it translates to success on the field.

"But, you know, like I've tried to tell them and the whole team in general, we've got to make it not just about him. We've got to make it about the Redskins. We have to have people around him do some great things and he can't do it all by himself or feel like he has to do it all by himself. He has to let the other players do some work also."

This preseason afforded Griffin an opportunity to showcase personal growth, to distance himself from rumors of his megalomania. The Redskins added the accomplished DeSean Jackson to a receiving corps that already featured the productive and professional Pierre Garcon. Running back Alfred Morris has been a godsend as a sixth-round pick. Jordan Reed is an emergent tight end whom Griffin adores.

The offensive line has its share of flaws but that unit is functional. Those parts don't add up to Griffin failing to lead the offense to one touchdown in 10 preseason possessions.

Combine that collective ineptitude with the numbers Griffin posted individually (13-for-20 for 141 yards and two interceptions) and it lends credence to the calls for his backup Kirk Cousins, even though Cousins did little to prove his worth as a starter when Griffin was benched late last season. That many are willing to entertain the possibility of Cousins starting over Griffin shows just how much erosion has infected the offense.

The onus falls on Griffin to rediscover the path to exceptionality, to find his way both statistically and in terms of an outward projection of confidence. Griffin remains skilled at saying all the right things, but he clearly doesn't perform like someone in complete command of the offense or someone with the same self-assuredness he portrays when standing at a podium before reporters or firing barbs at the dubious via social media.

"He's just such a competitive guy that he wants every play to work for a touchdown," Gruden says. "He's got to understand that he's got to take his foot off the pedal a little bit every now and then. Punting is OK every now and then, throwing a check down every now and then on third-and-10 and playing the position within yourself is very, very important."

That burning desire to success scorches the core of the very best, and plenty of past greats have needed time to hone that longing into focused and consistently prolific performances. At 24 years old, Griffin should have ample time to right his wayward ship, to regain the footing he lost last season and prove that his talent and feel for the game are sufficient enough assets for him to thrive as the focal point of the Redskins. That so many are pressed to fast forward the clock on Griffin so that his next step is Hall of Fame worthy should not alter his commitment to steady advancement.

But D.C. appears unwilling to wait for Griffin to gradually fulfill his potential, and the media firestorm over his backsliding development is illuminated with torches and the light reflecting off pitchforks. No matter how unfair, Griffin has exhausted his time to grow into the role of leading man. His accomplishments with Baylor and as a rookie set the template for immediate super stardom, and no matter how measured or responsible his words, Griffin has been charged with the task of rebooting his career and taking seismic steps forward. His reservoir of admiration is empty.

"It was a lot of fun going back to Baylor, getting to see some family and enjoy the opening of that new stadium, seeing them get a win," Griffin says. "But obviously . . . this time coming back is a business trip. Coming with my boys, per se. We're coming there to get a victory.

"We know Houston is not going to make it easy. They've got a great defense, they've got a new coach, new regime and they want to start it off the right way. We're in a very similar situation — exactly the same situation and we want to do the same thing.

It's not going to be easy by any means, but we're up to the challenge."