FOX Sports Exclusive
RG3 brings rebirth to Redskins glory
He is the messiah of Washington Redskins football.
Not to blaspheme, but tight end Fred Davis echoed the thoughts of long-suffering Redskins fans last Sunday when referring to rookie Robert Griffin III as “black Jesus” following a 38-26 win over Minnesota.
Griffin already has healed the quarterbacking wounds that date back to when Redskins wide receiver Josh Morgan was a kid growing up in Washington, D.C. during the 1990s. Mark Rypien and Doug Williams will never be Hall of Famers, but both did lead Washington to Super Bowl victories. Every other passer since then has fallen woefully short, whether it was an accomplished veteran from another club (Donovan McNabb and Mark Brunell) or failed first-round draft pick (Heath Shuler, Jason Campbell and Patrick Ramsey).
“I stuck with my team, but being a Skins fan back then was definitely rough just seeing all the faces come in and out under center,” Morgan told FOXSports.com earlier this week at Redskins Park. “I see why everybody is so high on Robert.”
Griffin is the player drawing the most attention entering the FOX America’s Game of the Week between the 3-3 Redskins and the 4-2 host New York Giants (1 p.m. Sunday ET). Based on his overall performance and some of the jaw-dropping plays he has made — like a 76-yard touchdown jaunt against the Vikings — RG3 already has justified Washington’s decision to trade a slew of high draft choices to St. Louis for the chance to make him the No. 2 overall pick in last April’s draft.
“We’ve made a lot of progress and one of the biggest reasons is having a franchise quarterback,” said Redskins linebacker and special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander, whose 3-3 team can claim at least a share of the NFC East lead by toppling the Giants (4-2).
“In this league, you need to have that type of guy leading your team if you ever want to win a Super Bowl.”
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan was reminded of that the past two seasons when McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck all failed to lead Washington into the playoffs.
Maybe it was coaching hubris to think he could win with those quarterbacks, bad talent evaluation or a combination of both along with other factors, such as a mediocre supporting cast.
The final result — consecutive seasons in the NFC East basement with a combined record of 11-21 — cast doubt upon Shanahan’s reputation as a football mastermind that he built when guiding Denver to two Super Bowl titles in the 1990s.
Such standing is being restored — and it wasn’t just the Griffin acquisition that’s doing so.
Shanahan didn’t exaggerate when telling FOXSports.com that he was “starting from scratch” when hired in January 2010. Ten players remain from before the Shanahan era began, including only three on offense (tight end Fred Davis, center Will Montgomery and fullback Darrel Young).
No quick fix, though, was in the offing. Bad drafts had left the Redskins without a bounty of young talent. Poor free-agent decisions and bloated contracts given to fading veterans left the team crippled under the salary cap.
And then there was an equally daunting challenge – changing the losing, selfish culture that had corrupted the locker room. Albert Haynesworth will always be the poster child for the mess left behind by the previous regime – a problem compounded by Shanahan’s decision to keep that grossly overpaid defensive lineman on the roster for all of the 2010 season despite the distraction it became.
But Redskins veterans say Haynesworth wasn’t the only player who needed an attitude adjustment.
“Just because you play professional football doesn’t mean you’re a professional.”
Alexander and Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss also saw unprofessional behavior unfold before their eyes.
“The aura around here is a lot different,” Moss told FOXSports.com. “You have guys playing together. The thing I see most is that guys understand their roles and jobs. Watching tape from the previous two years, you might see a guy not carrying out his assignment on a run play, being lazy. Now, everybody is flying around even when they’re not having the ball in their hands.”
Said Alexander: “Guys are out there fighting for each other now. I don’t think that was always the case from top to bottom. We always had one guy who was out for himself or another guy trying to do their own thing. Now, you have everybody in here from the most paid person all the way to the bottom trying to work in the same direction. That’s where we started improving.”
Such betterment is evident across the board.
Having a run/pass threat such as Griffin, and successfully incorporating some of the read-option concepts that helped him win the Heisman Trophy at Baylor, have led to the Redskins forging a No. 5 offensive ranking. Another much less ballyhooed pick — sixth-round choice Alfred Morris — has invoked comparisons to former Shanahan bell-cow running back Terrell Davis. Morris leads all NFL rookies in rushing with 538 yards and five touchdowns.
The improved depth that Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen assembled is paying dividends on offense and defense. The 2010 and 2011 Redskins were also .500 teams through six games before crumbling with injuries across the board.
So far this season, the Redskins have managed to overcome those same issues. Washington is scraping by in the passing game despite losses along the offensive line and a nagging foot injury suffered by projected No. 1 wide receiver Pierre Garcon (foot), who isn’t expected to play against New York.
Backups are forced to make an even bigger impacts on defense, where Washington has lost both starting safeties, its leading pass-rusher (outside linebacker Brian Orakpo) and a sturdy run-stuffing end (Adam Carriker). Although the unit doesn’t have the horses to dominate on a consistent basis, the Redskins have made amends with five returns for touchdowns as well as solid run defense.
In the three games they lost, the Redskins fell by one score or less. That’s one of the reasons Washington seems on steadier ground heading toward the midway point of the season than NFC East rivals Philadelphia (3-3) and Dallas (2-3).
But are the Redskins ready to legitimately compete for a division title or are they still a year away? Washington will have a better idea after facing the defending Super Bowl champions Sunday in what Morgan expects will be a “Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier” type of slugfest.
“It’s a great measuring stick,” Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield told FOXSports.com. “We’ll see exactly where we are.”
The Redskins, though, already know how far they’ve come since Shanahan arrived.
“We’re just starting to go in the right direction as a team,” Shanahan said while moving his hand in an upward motion.
With Griffin just beginning his NFL career, the sky may very well be the limit.