When Washington offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus first met a quarterback who would become such a presence—such a star-spangled star—that he's known universally by the moniker RGIII, he was amazed at two things.
"He had every right to come in and act like one of those draft picks who thinks he's a big deal," Polumbus said. "But he didn't. He was a pretty relaxed guy. Trust me, I've seen rookies come in and act the opposite. He didn't. He was professional beyond his years.
"I'll never forget how he came up to me one day and said, 'I'm not going try and tell veterans what to do just because I'm the quarterback. I'm a rookie. I don't know anything. You're the vet. I'm going to listen to you.' I had never heard a rookie talk like that before."
Some of this you would expect from an offensive teammate of Robert Griffin III. What is Polumbus going to say: RGIII is a diva punk who needs his ass kicked?
Valid point. But wait. Polumbus wasn't done.
"I don't think he's changed since the first time I met him," Polumbus said. "He has always been one of the hardest-working guys in the weight room and classroom. That's still the same. Nothing has changed."
Linebacker London Fletcher told the media this week:
Robert has—he’s come in with a tremendous amount of pressure when you talk about being a Heisman Trophy winner, so many draft picks they gave up to get him. This is an organization that hasn’t had a franchise quarterback for over 20 years so the amount of expectations that he had coming in and the way he performed last year, he exceeded the expectations leading us to the playoffs.
Over the past season, there have been many different portraits of Griffin. Many are accurate. Some are not. What interviews with a handful of Washington players reveal is a more nuanced look at the star.
Some players, like Polumbus, say Griffin has been unfairly portrayed as an egotistical douche. Others, like one who asked not to be identified, said there is genuine concern in the locker room that Griffin's ego has swelled to super-sized proportions—though the player who believes this could not cite any specific examples.
The overarching fact, like many things in life, is that the truth seems to be somewhere in the middle. Teammates interviewed cite an almost unparalleled work ethic. One player compared Griffin's work ethic to the work ethic he's read about with other young quarterback stars like Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson.
Players mainly say that Griffin is like any other quarterback they've been around. "All quarterbacks have egos," said one player. "It's what makes them quarterbacks. I would say every NFL player has a healthy ego. You need that to survive in this league."
Players interviewed, in fact, said Griffin has the least giant of quarterback egos. They point to what is obviously a strained relationship between coach Mike Shanahan and Griffin. Privately, in team meetings, Griffin is nothing but professional around Shanahan and in front of the team. They also say Griffin's relationship with key offensive assistant coaches is good.
"I think Robert has put his ego aside so as to be a good example for the team," said a player.
Since his benching, players explained, Griffin has also been nothing but supportive of Kirk Cousins. Everyone has been watching Griffin closely, one player said, and to a man every player has been impressed with Griffin.
Yet players also say there is little question that one of the bigger problems is Griffin's close relationship with owner Dan Snyder. They say that the closeness is noticeable and that Snyder doesn't interact with other players the way he does with Griffin.
Again, this is where nuance comes in. Owners interact with their stars all the time. But if the perception is the star is coddled, then there's little question that can undermine the coaching staff and what is a fragile chain of command. Some questioned Snyder's close relationship with former player Clinton Portis as well.
Some Washington players believe the Snyder-Griffin relationship empowered Griffin to the point where it's possible Griffin places more blame for the offense's problems on Shanahan than on himself.
Over the years, I've spoken to both New England quarterback Tom Brady and owner Robert Kraft about their affinity for each other. Kraft is a huge Brady fan—thinks of him almost like a son. Kraft, however, would never allow his closeness to Brady to interfere in any way with Bill Belichick's running of the football team.
I don't know what happened down there, but I coached a little bit. I was fortunate enough to be able to be a coach. I don't know what I would have done if the owner went around me to the player. I really don't know. In my opinion, that's very disrespectful. My relationship has to be, I have to be in control of my football team. I'll answer to the owner, but I have to control that football team. And I think that owners own, coaches coach, players play. Leave it at that.
"I can honestly tell you this is a pretty unified locker room right now. I'm disappointed in how the season has gone, but no one is turning on anyone. This is probably my favorite group of players I've ever worked with.
"And (Griffin) is one of my favorite players I've ever worked with."
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
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