Friday, August 17, 2012

The Irrationally Confident Redskins Guy Goes to Camp!


Tuesday, with sunny weather in the forecast and the day off from work, I decided to take the opportunity to watch the last open practice of the Washington Redskins’ 2012 training camp. Redskins Park during preseason is the perfect place to be an ever optimistic fan of the burgundy and gold. Under clear blue skies, hundreds of Redskins fans turned out to see their team’s final open practice.

A picture that captures the attitude of Redskins Park far better than I could in words.

Ther first thing I noticed when approaching the field was the sea of Redskins jerseys worn by people of every walk of life. Dozens of brand new Nike “Griffin III"s , along with many Cooley’s, Orakpo’s, and Sean Taylor’s (RIP 21) swarmed around the complex. But, there were also men in expensive looking suits sweating through, what I am assuming, was their extended power lunches, and women, who seemed to alter their normal attire very little for the conditions, half-limping around the grassy areas in ridiculous high heels. Hordes of small children played pickup games of touch football on a patch of grass parallel to the main practice field, just a few dozen yards away from where their heroes were playing.

It was a very happy place to be. Strangers greeted each other in passing and the oft heard questions around training camp, “Who was that?” and “What number is such and such a player?” were answered by the group of spectators communally without any show of annoyance or snobbery. The atmosphere was buzzing with enthusiasm; and that other thing, too, hope. Hope, that dangerous force that makes us believe every season that this one will be different, permeated all present. Of course, this year, we have good reason to believe that this season will be the beginning of a new era of Redskins football. Or rather, we have A good reason, anyway; Mr. Robert Griffin III.

I belive I'm coming down with a RG3ver

So since you probably clicked on this to find out what I have to say about seeing RGIII in person and how he looked at practice, let’s get right into it:
Well, from my completely biased point of view, I thought he looked great! He showed the same poise and presence in the pocket that he showed in the preseason opener against Buffalo. He showed nice accuracy and timing in delivering the ball to his receivers. He continually targeted Pierre Garcon in the passing game, and the receiver made a number of nice plays bringing in the ball.

Pierre is one of those professional athletes that looks way more impressive in person. I always thought of him as a smalller, speedy type of wide receiver, but Garcon up close looks every bit of his six feet and two hundred ten pounds. The Redskins' defensive backs visibly had problems dealing not just with his speed, but with his physicality as well, which surprised and impressed me. I saw nothing to deter my enthusiasm for the potential of the "G to G Connection." What encouraged me the most, though, were the glimpses into the other side of RGIII that we have yet to see in a Redskins uniform.
Pierre Garcon impresses you in person with his size and strength.
Brandon Banks? Not so much.

In my analysis of RG3’s preseason debut (http://daodesam.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-irrationally-confidence-redskins.html), my final reason to be excited about his first game was that he turned in a good performance despite the fact that the simplified game plan did nothing to utilize his supreme athleticism and running ability. However, I can assure you after watching the first team offense practice, that this bland play calling will not continue when September comes and the games begin to count.
There were several designed runs to get RGIII into open space where his Olympic caliber athletic ability can do the most damage. They lined up in bunch, empty backfield and even pistol formations. They ran a triple option, with Griffin sweeping right, the back behind him for the pitch, and receivers streaking downfield for the possible pass.

RGIII runnng the option, unlike the Rex Grosman option,
 where the only options were to take a sack or throw a really bad pick.

The rookie quarterback looked particularly good running the old Shanahan staple play action, naked bootleg. This simple play is going to give opposing linebackers nightmares all season. First of all, even in practice, RGIII shows a pretty convincing play action fake. He wasn’t just going through the motions of it, but trying to sell it to the defense every time and did so successfully for the most part. His speed coming around the edge on that play is going to force defenders to make a decision between stepping up to try to stop him from running, or staying with their man or zone. If they step up, RG3 usually has the tight end coming across behind the defender for the easy first down. If the linebacker chooses to stay with his man, he risks #10 turning the corner and taking off into the secondary. It’s safe to say that we will see a lot of this play in the season to come.

An unconventional empty back look in the red zone


The first team offense was even more innovative when they practiced red zone situations. Near the end zone, they spread out four or five receivers to stretch the defense across, then allowed RG3 to search for an opening in the line to dart through. On one play, Griffin swept out right as if to run only to dump it off almost like a shovel pass to Santana Moss who was cutting shallowly through the middle across his face. Moss caught the ball and stepped just inside the pylon for the score to complete a neatly executed play.  The touchdown in the first preseason game on the screen pass to Pierre Garcon hinted at their willingness to be more creative in trying to get the full six points out of drives when they get close, and what I saw Tuesday only reinforced this notion.

Griffin finds a crease in the defense caused by the misdirection run action allowing him to squirt into the endzone.
The Skins success in scoring touchdowns when they get close will be key to any improvement in their overall record. Every diehard Redskins fan can tell you anecdotally about their team’s chronic red zone struggles, but the data backs it up as well. Last year, the Redskins finished the season ranked 2nd in the NFL in field goals attempted, but just 26th in overall scoring. This contradictory stat shows that the offense had success moving the ball and generating yards, but lacked the talent, execution or maybe will to make big plays when it mattered most. Since they could move the ball last year with the relative ease they showed at times with Rex Grossman at quarterback, I believe the ceiling for this Redskins’ offense this year is much higher than most people do. But this will only be so if they are able to be more efficient at scoring touchdowns when they get to the red zone. Being a little more creative and finding ways to get RG3 a bit of space in which to operate in seems a good strategy to attack this long suffered weakness.

Father and son discussing the 'Shanaplan'

There was so much talk before the draft about whether Robert Griffin III fits into Mike Shanahan’s system, but I think too much focus is put on this. A coach shows his value in adjusting his plan to get the most out of his key players, and it’s comforting to see that it seems they have a “Shanaplan” on how to use their new quarterback’s unique gifts. I think Ron Rivera of the Panthers and John Fox of the Broncos were among the best head coaches in the league last year due in large part to their ability in adapting to their quarterbacks’ relative strengths and weaknesses. Rivera got record setting production from Cam Newton by putting him in places and situations where the rookie quarterback’s talent could shine through his inexperience, while Fox had to come up with a completely new offense mid-season to cater to Tim Tebow, and winded up on one of the most unlikely playoff runs in recent memory. The Shanahans crafting an offense that similarly suits RGIII is vitally important as to whether his rookie season will be ultimately deemed a success or failure. 

3 comments:

  1. Sam, great article and I am jealous you made it to TC. We will surely get together for a few Skins games this season. I have my eye on the Ravens @ FedEx Dec. 9th. Lets put our heads together and get a sick tailgate going.

    HTTR!

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  2. Great article, Sam. Way to keep us all fired up! Did u coin the term Rg3ver?

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  3. Hey guys, thanks a lot for the kind words. It's going to be a fun season for sure. Belly, as far as I know, I did coin Rg3ver. I have never heard anyone else use it, but that doesn't mean it's never been said before.
    Hail!

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