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No more wait-and-see attitude with rookie QBs like Redskins' RG3

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Photo - A decade ago, rookie quarterbacks were brought along slowly, but Robert Griffin III was named the Washington Redskins' starter immediately. (AP photo)
A decade ago, rookie quarterbacks were brought along slowly, but Robert Griffin III was named the Washington Redskins' starter immediately. (AP photo)
Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

ASHBURN -- Maybe 20 years ago -- or a decade ago for that matter -- it would have been different. Robert Griffin III would have eased into the NFL. He would have been allowed to grow and develop and take the typical lumps. Playoffs? Big numbers? John Elway didn't do it. Peyton Manning didn't do it.

Maybe those days don't exist anymore. Just look at what's taking place in the NFL nowadays: rookies leading teams to the playoffs, bypassing the typical apprenticeship and establishing themselves immediately. It doesn't happen every time, of course.

But two rookies -- Carolina's Cam Newton and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton -- made instant splashes last season. And five rookie quarterbacks have led a team to the playoffs since 2004. It's not a huge number, but it's one that allows teams to dream of the possibility. This season five rookies will open as starters, including No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. Ten of the 32 teams will be guided by a rookie or second-year quarterback.

The Redskins, of course, are one of them with Griffin.

"He can have an immediate impact," said former NFL coach Tony Dungy, now an analyst with NBC. "We've seen what Cam and other young quarterbacks did last year. I think you'll see Andrew Luck and RGIII have big, big payoffs early in the season."

Can you make the playoffs with a rookie quarterback? Sure, but many factors are involved. Five rookie quarterbacks have made the playoffs since 2004 (Ben Roethlisberger/Pittsburgh, Joe Flacco/Baltimore, Matt Ryan/Atlanta, Mark Sanchez/New York Jets and Dalton/Cincinnati). In each case they had either a top 10-defense or running game or both.

But the big question is why are these rookies seemingly more ready earlier? College offenses have become more advanced or at the very least more wide open. That means more passing. And that also has meant a trickle down to high schools and even to the proliferation of seven-on-seven leagues.

"You have more reps throwing it," former NFL general manager Charley Casserly said, "so it helps their vision, their understanding of throwing the ball, their pocket presence, reading defenses."

ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said that with college coaches restricted to 20 hours of work with their players per week, quarterbacks have taken charge of more aspects.

"They are running workouts," he said. "They are running passing academies on their own, so they are becoming dynamic readers. It's really enhanced the play at quarterback."

It should help Luck and Griffin that they were anointed the starters so early, allowing them to take every first-team rep in the spring and summer. It matters.

But smart coaches have started to incorporate more of what a player did in college. Carolina did that with Cam Newton last year; the Redskins will do that with Griffin this year.

"That's what separates the good coordinators from the not-so-good ones," said CBS analyst and ex-NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, whom Griffin spoke with in the offseason.

That means more elements of the spread.

"The options with Cam were very difficult on defenses," Gruden said. "You're going to see elements of what Robert Griffin did at Baylor. You're going to see an occasional read option. You're going to see an occasional designed quarterback run because this kid is special with the ball in his hands as well as throwing it."

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has mentioned the words supporting cast almost every time when talking about Griffin.

"Regardless of what quarterback you have, you have to have a supporting cast and you have to have a good system," he said. "I have seen guys that I think are excellent quarterbacks and have a pretty good supporting cast, and I think the system doesn't really fit the quarterback and they look pretty average. For a guy to really shine, he has got to have everything."

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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