Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has given 27 players the night off for Wednesday's preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Other big names that will not play include tight end Fred Davis, receivers Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss, and guards Chris Chester and Kory Lichtensteiger. So, with that many of his targets and protectors on the sideline for what is generally a dress rehearsal at best, it makes sense to keep RG3 off the field.
Griffin did nail a 20-yard field goal in warmups, so there's that.
In a larger sense, however, Shanahan's plan to use Griffin sparingly through the preseason may backfire once the 'Skins go live on Sept. 9 on the road against the New Orleans Saints. Through his first NFL preseason, Griffin will have thrown just 31 passes, while fellow rookies Brandon Weeden, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill,and Russell Wilson – the other four first-year quarterbacks expected to start their regular season – will have each attempted far more. Tannehill leads all quarterbacks through three preseason contests with 71 attempts, Luck has 64, Wilson 52 and Weeden 49.
Kirk Cousins, who the Redskins selected in the fourth round of the 2012 draft and could be third in the depth chart behind Griffin and Rex Grossman to start the season, attempted 46 passes.
When you trade a host of first-round picks to move up and draft a quarterback, and name him the starter as soon as possible as the Redskins did with Griffin, wouldn't it be wise to test him through as many game situations as possible? Griffin is as smart as any quarterback we've seen come down the pike, but there's also the matter of merging the three-digit vertical spread concepts he learned at Baylor with the play-action heavy West Coast offense so familiar to Shanahan.
The coach is unconcerned, as is the quarterback.
"Whether it's goal line, backed up, everything he has put us through has come up in some form or fashion in the [preseason] games," Griffin said of Shanahan on Monday. "I think that he's done a great job of that, just getting us all ready — not just myself but everybody ready for those situations."
"We're trying to put him in second-and-10, third-and-15, the toughest situations you can," Shanahan said. "Because if they can execute in those situations, then the first-and-10 and second-and-1-to-6 is pretty easy. You try to do that to all quarterbacks where it becomes second nature, but it does take some time."
And that's the point. Why not have Griffin do these things against enemy defenses? In Week 3 of the preseason, when those defenses generally play their starters through the first half, Griffin did get his longest time as a starter, playing through the first half in a 30-17 win over Luck's Indianapolis Colts. He impressed in short and intermediate passes, but struggled with the deep balls he made famous in college, finishing his day with 11 completions in 17 attempts for 74 yards and a touchdown. More reps may have sharpened up those long bombs, a fact Griffin recently alluded to.
"Those types of things and situations you have to get used to a guy's game speed," Griffin said after the win over the Colts. "Once we are in the season, and we get more reps at those deep routes, we will hit those like there's no tomorrow."
I have no doubt. If I didn't think Griffin was a potential nonpareil NFL talent, he wouldn't have topped this year's Shutdown 50 series over Luck. But no matter how great you can be, the gap between "could be" and "will be" is often closed with the most important reps – the ones you see in actual games.
When the Saints start rolling out their multiple defenses a week from Sunday, we'll see if Griffin's reps were indeed enough.