Rookies Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck The Next Great Class Of NFL QB’s
Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN on RGIII and Andrew Luck; 2012’s top rookie QB’s who are already in route to NFL super stardom:
Former NFL quarterbacks coach Terry Shea immediately perked up in his recliner while relaxing in his den this past Sunday. After spending a few hours watching the Kansas City Chiefs lose to the Atlanta Falcons, he was about to be treated to bonus coverage of the Washington-New Orleans game. Since Shea had spent the spring tutoring Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, he wanted to see how far his young pupil had come since their 10 weeks together. What Shea eventually witnessed caused a slight grin to curl across his face.
Even as the Saints chipped away at a 16-point deficit, RG3 didn’t wilt in the midst of the raucous Superdome. His footwork remained impeccable, his attention to detail precise. If his nerves were going to fail him, that would’ve been the moment to sweat. Instead, the 22-year-old Griffin took only one sack during the fourth quarter of a 40-32 win. “The fourth quarter is when you want to see how a quarterback performs,” Shea said. “That’s when your elite quarterbacks separate from the ordinary ones.”
It’s way too early to elevate Griffin to such rarefied air, but his performance (19-of-26, 320 yards, two touchdowns) did turn plenty of heads around the NFL. While the first pick in this year’s draft, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, was merely trying to survive in his team’s 41-21 loss to the Bears, Griffin was reminding people why he was worthy of the four picks Washington surrendered to St. Louis to select him second overall. Luck is so gifted that he has been hailed as the greatest quarterback prospect in the past three decades. Griffin, on the other hand, already looks like a harbinger for the position. The further we go into the future, the more quarterbacks might have skills equally as impressive as his own.
It’s simply the logical path that the league now finds itself on. The days when teams pined for a burly, 6-foot-5 statue who could throw from the pocket and do little else seem like eons ago. Instead, we’re seeing a different model, one first legitimized by the mind-blowing rookie season of Carolina’s Cam Newton last year and now pushed forward even more by Griffin’s fast start. It used to be that “mobile” was the only way to describe such talents. “Versatile” is the more accurate word choice in this case.
“You’re definitely seeing an evolution at that position,” said Shea, who also has worked with top draft picks such as St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman. “It used to be that teams would refer to certain players as athletes playing quarterback. Now it’s getting turned around. People are starting to say that we have quarterbacks playing the position who just happen to have great athletic ability.”
“The ‘drop-back’ quarterback always referred to somebody who had more organization and discipline to play in the pocket,” said George Whitfield, who trained Cam Newton for last year’s combine. “The idea was that you had a guy like [Hall of Famer] Troy Aikman and a guy like [former Nebraska star quarterback] Tommie Frazier and you couldn’t marry their skill sets. What I’ve seen from the younger quarterbacks coming up is an admiration for more conventional quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. Those guys didn’t have the best God-given ability but they turned themselves into legends. Now you’re seeing that same drop-back talent being one of the best athletes on the field. That’s when it gets scary.”
Griffin and Newton aren’t the only recent poster children for that trend. Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill had enough natural ability that he played wide receiver at the start of his college career at Texas A&M. Tennessee’s second-year quarterback, Jake Locker, ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at last year’s NFL combine, and another rookie, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, won his team’s starting job over highly touted free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn because Wilson is dynamic, both as a passer and a runner.
Even Luck doesn’t get enough credit for his overall athleticism. Though he downplayed his ability recently — “I’m nowhere near the athlete that Cam Newton or Robert Griffin is” — his coaches stress that he’s very much a part of this offensive evolution. “People sometimes don’t realize that Andrew’s combine numbers were very similar to Cam Newton’s,” said Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. “Plus, he came from a pro-style offense, so he’s already familiar with how we operate at this level. What you’re looking for in any quarterback is a big, strong kid who’s accurate as a passer. If he’s an athlete, that’s a nice extra benefit to have in there.”
Still, it’s hard to not think of Griffin as more freakish than Newton was upon his entry into the league last season. Griffin has run the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds, and his arm is both powerful and precise. As Shea said, “He reminds me a lot of Matthew Stafford in that way. The ball has just as much velocity coming off his hands as it does when it hits the receiver. His arm is really live.”
Combine those skills with Griffin’s intelligence and work ethic, and he’s a coach’s dream. When he worked with Shea this past spring, Griffin routinely would throw about 100 passes before the coach would end the drill for the day. After that, Griffin would go to every receiver he’d trained with — players who were trying to improve their own draft status — and ask them what they wanted to work on. It was a small offer, but one that said plenty about Griffin’s generosity and belief in preparation.
The rookie quarterback is just as committed to doing the little things after practice at his team’s facility. While other players trudged into the locker room on a recent sweltering afternoon, Griffin fine-tuned his footwork on a simple play-action fake. That same deft ball handling would be instrumental in setting up the Redskins’ first touchdown against New Orleans — an 88-yard scoring pass to Pierre Garcon.