There are a few factors to consider in regards to the success that as yet unproven but highly regarded Washington Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III, better known as RG3, will be dealing with this season. Many expect him to have a phenomenal season, but here are five factors that could hinder, or completely derail, his success and the success of the Redskins.
1. The Redskin's offensive line - Starting right tackle Jammal Brown is out indefinitely with a hip injury (the same one that has plagued him the last two seasons), his replacement, backup tackle Willie Smith, twisted his knee during a one-on-one drill and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger just had a procedure on his surgically repaired right knee (the one that kept him out of the last 11 games last year). This doesn't bode well for a starting line that is basically the same unit that limped to the end of the 2011 season.
For insurance, the team signed veteran tackle Jordan Black (who didn't play at all last year) and are hoping Tyler Polumbus (with a total of 15 starts in four seasons before starting four more last season) and second year tackle Maurice Hurt can fill the void until their starters return. To the casual fan, the chance that Griffin is injured goes up exponentially with each offensive lineman lost to injury.
To make matters worse, the salary cap reduction the NFL imposed on the team, with the player's union consent, to the tune of $18 million a year for two years (because of their handling of salaries during 2010 -- the year of no salary cap) may keep them from landing any potential free agent linemen if it comes to that. For Griffin's sake, let's hope that doesn't become a factor. Unfortunately, it will probably lead to...
2. Robert Griffin III taking a lot of unnecessary hits - Griffin is 6-foot-2 and roughly 220 pounds, not a small man by any means but more of a lean, runner's body type by NFL standards. As a sophomore in 2009, Griffin suffered a season ending knee injury on an option play against Northwestern State. While his ACL injury is very common in sports, he will be playing against the beasts of the NFC East for (hopefully) a long time coming. No disrespect, but the Cowboys, Giants and Eagles are a step up from the Demons of Northwestern State. With all of the problems the Redskins offensive line seems to have, RG3 may end up using his legs far too often to try and escape the rush...which could lead to disastrous results. So what about the Redskins rushing attack? Well...
3. The Redskins have a suspect inconsistent and unproven running game - Tim Hightower, Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster aren't exactly names that strike fear into opposing defenses. Unlike in Denver, where Shanahan struck gold with his ever revolving door of running backs, inconsistency and injuries have kept him from achieving the same success in Washington. Last year, Hightower missed much of the season with an ACL injury, Helu played well but also eventually got hurt and Royster finished out the season. Each player has their own strengths and weaknesses, so a committee approach is probably the only solution for the foreseeable future. Without at least a serviceable running game, more pressure is put on Griffin's shoulders. If he doesn't feel comfortable handing the ball off, he may just run the ball himself or at worst be faced with too many long yardage situations. See above for the breakdown of that scenario.
4. Cam Newton has ruined rookie expectations After producing a 60 percent completion percentage, throwing for 21 touchdowns, rushing for 14 more, passing for 4,000 yards passing, and over 700 yards rushing. Thank you Cam Newton for your Madden-like numbers last year, you have destroyed the chance that Griffin can be considered a success unless he meets or surpasses what you did. To be fair, a more comparable (and important) record to try and surpass for Griffin would be Cam's 6-10 record in 2011, with the Panthers missing the playoffs for the third straight year.
I doubt that Griffin himself will be comparing his stats to Cam Newton's 2011 season, but the pressure the fans will put on him to not only win, but to have monster numbers while doing so, may hurt him more than expected. Being a great college player doesn't always translate into being a great pro, or even winning in the NFL. Ask Colt McCoy, who had an amazing 70.3 completion percentage and over 13,000 passing yards while at Texas (and becoming the winningest quarterback in NCAA history with 45 career wins) how the NFL transition is. It also depends on the team you go to and your coach...
5. Mike Shanahan is no longer (and maybe never was) as good as he seemed - Since becoming the head coach in 2010, the Redskins have gone 11-21 and finished last both years. Shanahan has no idea who is going to be his starting running back and, because of drafting Griffin, there will be no first round picks for the Redskins until 2015. Some say Shanahan isn't as effective as a leader when his team is losing, and he has done plenty of that in Washington. In fact, Shanahan's winning reputation may be almost solely based on his record from 1996-1998 in Denver where the team went 39-9 (46-10 including the playoffs) and won two Super Bowls. A
fter John Elway retired and Terrell Davis succumbed to injuries, Shanahan's Broncos went seven years without a playoff win. Take away those three years and his impressive record in Denver was a more mere mortal 99-77 in the regular season and 1-4 in the playoffs. Add in his coaching stints in Los Angeles for the Raiders and his current position at Washington, and his record minus those three magical years is just 115-99 in the regular season with the same 1-4 record in the playoffs. His stellar coaching reputation doesn't have quite the same ring to it anymore does it?
Only time will tell, but Griffin has more than reading defenses and NFC East foes to worry about in his rookie season. Let's hope his and his team's season is more Dan Marino than former Bengals quarterback Greg Cook (R.I.P.), especially for the Redskins who need a change in the positive direction. If Griffin doesn't provide it, who will? Kirk Cousins?