• December 22, 2014

Can RGIII revolutionize the NFL?

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Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2012 6:30 am

Mobile quarterback. Pocket passer. Game manager. Gunslinger.

Those are just some of the ways the NFL has typecast its most important position.

Leading into the draft, there's been a lot of talk about where Heisman-Trophy winner Robert Griffin III fits into that quarterback spectrum. But for his former high school coach, when Griffin is brought up, only one title comes to mind — "revolutionary."

"I think that (he) will revolutionize the game, because everybody's going to say, 'Gosh, we need a quarterback like that,'" said Copperas Cove athletic director Jack Welch. "It'll open the game up and you have evened the offense and the defense."

As he prepares for Thursday's NFL Draft, where he's expected to be the second overall selection of the Washington Redskins, Griffin wants to shatter perceptions and help usher in a new age of quarterback.

A world-class track and field athlete in high school, Griffin has natural straight-line speed and quickness, a rare attribute and highly valued attribute for a the quarterback position. But in three years at Baylor, he's also shown his ability as a passer, mixing in accurate deep balls with short-range strike all over the field. It's the combination of all these attributes that may have many reevaluating the position in a few years.

"When you have great passion, have great energy, have great talent, you have a chance to be great. He's done everything on and off the football field to give him a chance to be different, and that's what he is, a difference-maker," Briles said at Griffin's Pro Day on March 21.

He certainly proved to be one at Baylor, which experienced a renaissance with a 10-3 record this past season, the program's first 10-win season in a quarter of a century.

"I've always said you should never try to say, 'OK, here's the mold, fit into it.'" Griffin said. "Now you can't go too far outside the mold because no one will accept you because change is a drastic thing, and that is what the NFL holds onto. They hold onto that prototype quarterback — (who) throws from the pocket and knows how to win."

Analysts have questioned whether or not Griffin, who ran a mostly spread-based, read-option offense at Baylor, can actually make the transition from the wide-open college game to the far more structured NFL offense.

But as far as Welch is concerned, the NFL better be ready to adjust because RGIII is coming.

"It's not that he'll revolutionize like there will be all brand new stuff, it's just that what he'll be able to do is open up all those variables," Welch said. "But I think the new play that will come in, …what Robert can do is those read-run-pass options."

For years the NFL has preferred the more traditional, "drop-back" quarterback, much like All-Pro field generals Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who generally don't move around too far outside the pocket. But Welch maintains that "pocket passers," while generally effective, tend to limit the offense to just 10 skill players with which to utilize, since the quarterback becomes nothing more than a target for the defense.

Of course, Griffin was pretty effective from inside the pocket, throwing for a career-best 3,998 passing yards and 36 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions as a junior.

"I think the biggest thing last year was that he was so accurate on the deep balls. ... Then he could combine that with throwing the ball sideline to sideline," Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "He put the defense under stress because you don't want to get beat deep, and then if you play over the top you can get beat on the comebacks. So having a quarterback with his abilities can make it a hard day at the office."

When a quarterback can scramble and extend plays with his feet, and has the option to potentially run for positive yardage, it adds another playmaker on offense. According to Welch, that evens the playing field to a true 11-on-11 setup, which inevitably puts the advantage back in the offense's hands.

A perfect example is the same play that solidified his Heisman Trophy victory. With the game tied and time winding down against Oklahoma, Griffin was flushed from the pocket by the Sooner defensive front. Scrambling to his left, the right-handed Griffin threw across his body, lofting a pass into the right corner of the end zone to receiver Terrance Williams for a 34-yard game-winning touchdown with eight seconds remaining for the 45-38 win.

Not only did his play secure Baylor's first-ever victory over the Sooners, it forced NFL personnel to stand up and take notice of a prospect many had written off as a receiver at the professional level.

"If he pulls up to throw the ball — and I would direct you to the Oklahoma film — all he has to do is stand up and flick that wrist and the ball will go across the field 55, 50 yards in the wink of an eye — on a rope and it's accurate," former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian said during a conference call Friday. "So he presents a threat that we really haven't seen before."

When it comes to actually changing the game, such figures have been few and far between. Legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas helped create the focus on passing while New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor changed the way people view the pass rush and helped place a bigger focus on protecting the quarterback. Schematically, Detroit Lions tailback Barry Sanders propagated the one-back system while legendary San Francisco 49ers quarterback-coach combination Joe Montana and Bill Walsh engineered the West Coast offense.

It's that kind of quarterback-coach combination that has many pundits drooling over Griffin's potential under Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and his offensive coordinator son Kyle Shanahan.

"I think it's real exciting for the Redskins because of Mike Shanahan's expertise with mobile quarterbacks," former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said during a teleconference two weeks ago. "Some of the best tape that I've ever studied was Mike Shanahan and John Elway in Denver, back-to-back Super Bowl win teams. They took advantage of Elway's mobility. ... I think when you get Robert Griffin, one of the most explosive quarterbacks to ever play the position, in a Mike Shanahan-type system, the possibilities are very exciting, I think, with Mike Shanahan's imagination."

Just the thought has Welch's imagination running wild with anticipation of seeing what his former quarterback might do next.

"That's why I think he'll be good with Shanahan. ... What they're doing is the bootleg, the naked bootleg, the quick-passing game, being able to get the quarterback out of the pocket and running on the edge — that's what I'm talking about," Welch said. "But when you get a guy of (Robert's) level, you take the horse and let the bridles go, let the reins go. That's why I think it's a match made in heaven — him and Shanahan."

Contact Alex Byington at alexb@kdhnews.com or follow him on Twitter @KDHsports

Mel Kiper, ESPNObviously, the Redskins see RG3 as a long-term answer, and I agree with the assessment that he can be an NFL starter in Week 1. Again, no surprises here.

Todd McShay, ESPNThe Redskins sent three first-round picks to the St. Louis Rams to move into this spot, and Griffin is their target. He's a perfect fit for coach Mike Shanahan's system.

Peter King, Sports IllustratedThis way to the backseat, Stephen Strasburg and Alex Ovechkin and John Wall, there's a new sports phenom in Washington. If the electrifying Griffin is even 85 percent the QB that Cam Newton was as a rookie last year — and he could well be — the Skins will be reborn, and the only person in the nation's capital getting more press will be Barack Obama.

Gil Brandt, NFL.comGriffin has great self-confidence and poise. He completed 67.2 percent of his passes on third down for 558 yards and five touchdowns last season. Against the blitz, he completed 62.5 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of 187.6. He can be a special player.

Scouts Inc.Rare athleticism and speed for the position. Will become one of the most dynamic dual-threat QBs in the NFL once he takes over as a starter. Shows above-average pocket presence. Is comfortable rolling out and throwing to both sides. Foot quickness, elusiveness and burst as a runner are elite.

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