ASHBURN, Va. – Any thought Mike Shanahan would be too stubborn, too inflexible, too Mike Shanahan to handle a quarterback like Robert Griffin III was squashed in the minutes after the Washington Redskins ended their first rookie minicamp Sunday morning.
Shanahan stood outside Redskins Park and began to talk about the nurturing of the young quarterback to whom he has dedicated large parts of three drafts to obtain. And it was a moment unlike many that Shanahan has had in his Washington tenure. He talked about commitment. He talked about running the option. But he also talked about making Griffin comfortable, which might have been the biggest concession of all.
Shanahan never has been known for pliability when it comes to his players. His way usually has been his way. This was the top reason given when Donovan McNabb failed after less than a year as Redskins quarterback. The quarterback who was too old to learn new tricks had run into a coach who refused to adapt.
McNabb finally said as much in March when he tore apart Shanahan on national television and said that with Shanahan there Griffin would not fit into the system.
"Here's a guy [Griffin] coming out who's very talented, mobile, strong arm," McNabb said then. "We've already heard he's intelligent, a football mind. Are you going to cater the offense around his talent and what he's able to do, or are you going to bring the Houston offense with Matt Schaub over to him and have him embedded in that?"
Given the way things ended for McNabb in Washington and others like Jake Plummer and Brian Griese in Denver, the point seemed valid. How is Griffin, who almost seems to thrive on improvisation, going to coexist with the rigid Shanahan?
But Sunday, as Shanahan talked about his new quarterback and how he would mix more complex concepts on the base system, he also said he was going to ask Griffin what he was comfortable running and adjust to that.
"We want to give him a system that works for him," Shanahan said. "He does something you can't teach. He can make plays when things break down."
The coach appears to have a genuine affection for RG III that he didn't have for McNabb or Griese or Plummer. He sees things in Griffin he never has found in other players. He talked about Griffin's ability to throw mixed with "Olympic speed." Usually, the coach said, a fast, running quarterback will lack the arm and accuracy to make a difference. Griffin, he said, has everything.
And for a player with such potential, Shanahan seems willing to be flexible.
And unlike McNabb, Griffin seems able to meet Shanahan somewhere in the middle. He came to the minicamp knowing the Redskins base offense – something McNabb was rumored to have struggled with – and ran it beautifully, the coach said.
There is a lot of pressure on Shanahan for RG III to succeed. After two failed seasons in Washington, where the culprit was the coach's inability to develop a great quarterback, he was forced into a position where he had to trade the next two seasons' No. 1 picks to get Griffin. His Redskins legacy, and perhaps any hope of getting to the Hall of Fame, rests on how RG III does in the coming two autumns.
Why be unyielding when you have a quarterback who can do things no one else can do?
"He is the starter, period," Shanahan said, ending any suggestion that Rex Grossman or fourth-round draft pick Kirk Cousins would compete for the job in training camp.
Shanahan said that before the draft he studied every quarterback taken in the first round for the past 35 years in an attempt to see what worked and what didn't. He studied those teams' defenses and running games – with the assumption that both are the Redskins' strengths going into the season. He said he took the past 15 years of those results and showed them to Griffin so the quarterback could understand the growth process.
"The thing I'm trying to put out is: Hey, it doesn't happen overnight," Shanahan said.
Yet he seems determined to make it happen in a place that neither he nor McNabb ever reached here. It's a place Shanahan hasn't always reached with a lot of players. But time is ticking on his legacy. He now has a quarterback who can do amazing things. If he's going to win here it will have to be soon and it will have to be with Griffin.
"You can see what an incredible talent he is," Shanahan said.
Unlike with McNabb, Shanahan will give Griffin every chance to work.
Somehow it seems they will get along just fine.
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