clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Robert Griffin III is evolving, but into what?

New, comments

Or: If RG3 isn't sure who he is any more, how are we supposed to figure him out?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Just who is Robert Griffin III these days?

Just last January he was reportedly lording over Washington's locker room and breakfast table like a despot. A year before that, he was a wronged paragon set back for 2013 by the decisions of a cold and desperate head coach. Even before that, he was a cult hero turned superstar at Baylor. He has always been something. Not long ago, one could safely assume that at any point someone was wondering about the state of Robert Griffin, as if he were a nation propped up by speculation nearing collapse if he didn't surpass it.

It's possible that Griffin isn't entirely sure what will become of the 2014 season.

That is, until Monday night, when the NFL's premiere petulant quarterback was seemingly invisible. Or if that's too harsh, we can certainly say he was upstaged. The other young, wild, bullheaded Texan quarterback dominated pre-game coverage. Griffin is adapting to a new offensive scheme, and finally going through a full NFL offseason, but there's little buzz behind his redemption campaign.

On the contrary, smart people are leaving him for dead. ESPN's Mike Sando claimed "RGIII's best is already behind him," before piling up a mountain of anonymous criticism from coaches and players ranging from "terrible leader" to "too loud" to "not genuine." Grantland's Bill Barnwell had more subtle criticisms, lumping Griffin with rookie quarterbacks who weren't as good as their preseason numbers suggested while discussing Jacksonvilles' Blake Bortles.

Bortles has played much better than the group's cumulative performance, but even that's not a feat. The highest passer rating in that group during their rookie preseason belonged to Mark Sanchez, who had a 111.0 preseason passer rating as a rookie. Robert Griffin (103.3) was second. Sam Bradford (95.9) was third. Not great.

The two opinions presented -- Griffin is locker room poison and Griffin is a poor player -- were both incomprehensible after his rookie season. The latter is refuted by his stat line: 3,200 yards passing, 815 yards rushing, 65.6 percent completion rate, 27 total touchdowns and seven turnovers. The former isn't quantifiable, but there is no way Santana Moss is bullshitting this:

"Everybody gets in line behind him and says, ‘Take us to the promised land,' " wide receiver Santana Moss, a 12-year veteran, said after last Sunday's win over Philadelphia. "I know it sounds funny saying that, but he shows what it takes every day to get to where he's trying to get by how he prepares. It shows up on the field on Sundays. There's no question you want that guy to be a captain."

That's Moss speaking to the Washington Post in December of Griffin's rookie year, just after Washington capped a seventh straight win to make the playoffs. The piece is filled with more salacious praise for the quarterback from the likes of Chris Cooley, Trent Williams and Niles Paul. If you want to argue that those players were blind from the glow of a remarkable turnaround, consider that Griffin had been given a captain's "C" in mid-November of the 2012 season, just before the team embarked on its win streak. The circumstantial evidence in favor of Griffin's leadership skills was once every bit as substantial as Sando's mound of anonymous sniping.

As to which dichotomous stance is correct -- or rather, more correct -- it's hard to say. Griffin played at both poles Monday night. He followed a horrible back-footed interception with a stunning deep pass to Andre Roberts to set up a goal-line opportunity, for example.


Griffin seemed more conscious of his mortal frame, too, even if it seems he learned his slide technique from a newborn giraffe still unsure what legs are for. He took unnecessary hits on his first two late and awkward slides, but he nailed the third, picking up two yards on a third-and-17 scramble before going to the turf unharmed. Griffin knows he's a work in progress. Via ESPN:

"I slid correctly on the third time," Griffin said. "The second time, I got hit back in bounds and on the first try I slid too late. I don't know what else I can say about that. I'll get better."

There is a hint of uncertainty in that quote that belies the sort of guy that can talk thinly-veiled smack to Donovan McNabb. It's possible that Griffin isn't entirely sure what will become of the 2014 season. How could he be, when so little can be made of his past? The difference between his 2012 and 2013 seasons was vast, and it's not clear how much responsibility he bears for his success and failure -- the first season he was a novel player in what was still a novel system, his second season was marred by bum knee. He seemingly approached both seasons the same way, full of self-assurance that was interpreted as confidence or cockiness at the whim of Washington's fortunes.

On Monday night, we saw a player still trying to figure out whether he is on the correct bearing

If Griffin is a different person now, perhaps someone more humble, he may not be able to tell, much less figure out, how such a change may dictate the next three months. On Monday night, we saw a player still trying to figure out whether he is on the correct bearing. He cannot rely on precedent, not after experiencing the extreme ends of success and popularity, and opening up his future to everything in between.

Griffin has worn enough masks to make a career, and he still just 24 years old. Or, to answer the original question: perhaps Griffin has been wrung through so many different narratives that he can no longer be made a caricature.