Washington Redskins Hiring Jay Gruden Will Make or Break Robert Griffin III

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2014

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The Washington Redskins chose their new head coach because they think he will help franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III. There is no other way to explain hiring former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, a move confirmed by ESPN reporter Adam Schefter and being given the final touches before official confirmation.

The decision to hire a quarterback-driven head coach says a lot about the post-Mike Shanahan Redskins. It says general manager Bruce Allen is, after all, firmly "in control."

It also says that Griffin had better start living up to his potential and fast. Because make no mistake, hiring Gruden on what NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports is a five-year deal will make or break 2012's second-overall pick.

Allen knows it, and that's why he obviously wanted Gruden all along. That should have been clear when he retained assistant coaches with ties to Gruden.

One such holdover, ex-tight ends coach Sean McVay, has already been named Gruden's offensive coordinator, per Mark Maske and Mike Jones, reporting for The Washington Post.

Well, Allen has now got his man, and it will be up to Gruden to shape Griffin into the championship-caliber quarterback he is supposed to be.

Many will point to Gruden's work with Andy Dalton as reason for optimism. After all, the positivists will argue, Gruden helped a quarterback who has a boatload of critics make three straight trips to the playoffs.

The same work Gruden did with Andy Dalton won't be good enough with Griffin.
The same work Gruden did with Andy Dalton won't be good enough with Griffin.Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The more skeptical among us, this writer included, will point to Dalton's lack of overall progress, evidenced by one postseason meltdown after another.

Of course, after just 24 wins in four seasons under Shanahan, no Redskins fan would begrudge three playoff trips in a row.

But that won't be enough to call Gruden a success in D.C., not if Griffin muddles his way through more postseason losses and continues to show the problems that blighted him in 2013.

Hiring Gruden shows Allen and owner Dan Snyder are still putting Griffin's progress first. Why else appoint a noted proponent of the West Coast offense?

That entire scheme is designed to do two things and two things only. First, simplify things for a quarterback and second, make said quarterback an elite player at his position.

West Coast offense passers must be able to make quick reads, something Griffin hasn't managed in two seasons as a starter. They must be accurate on short- and intermediate-range throws. Again, that's not something Griffin has made his calling card since being drafted.

Gruden will be judged exclusively on how he improves Griffin.
Gruden will be judged exclusively on how he improves Griffin.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

In an article discussing Griffin's suitability with a West Coast scheme, NFL.com writer Marc Sessler raises some worrying points for fans in Washington:

The burning question -- undoubtedly asked during the interview process -- is whether Gruden will adapt his weather-worn playbook to make the most of Griffin's unique skills on the ground.

There's a backstory here. Chris Wesseling wrote this week about Bengals owner Mike Brown's preference for Colin Kaepernick over Dalton in the 2011 draft. Gruden felt the opposite, pushing for Dalton as a better fit for the West Coast scheme that he -- like his brother Jon -- has long been married to.

"It was my feeling and a lot of other people's feeling in the building that Andy was the most mentally ready to come in and start Day 1," Gruden told WLW-AM on Tuesday. " ... Colin had the great physical makeup, but there were questions about his quarterback accuracy, as a passer is concerned. I also wasn't really into the read-option stuff and it wasn't really that popular at the time."

Let's put aside for a moment the worrying implication that Gruden will only trust something that is popular. The new head coach in Washington had better start liking the read-option.

Because when Griffin is healthy enough to pose a threat as a runner, the read-option has to be a part of this offense. If not, then the Redskins are wasting a key way to undermine defenses.

In fairness, Redskins fans should be aware that Gruden can be flexible enough to add wrinkles to maximize specific skills. When the Bengals beat Washington 38-31 in Week 3 of the 2012 season, their offense used the Wildcat to surprise the Redskins.

Gruden unleashed a package of plays tailored to former Wildcat quarterback-turned-wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Remember Sanu's 73-yard scoring pass to A.J. Green that caught the Washington secondary cold?

In his rush to mold a more assured version of Griffin the passer, Gruden must leave some surprises in the playbook for Griffin the runner.

The fact that Gruden valued accuracy as a passer above all else two years ago shows what the Redskins are hoping to get from Griffin. They want a coach who can turn their spectacular but erratic athlete under center into a competent pro-style passer.

That is a commendable and necessary approach. Griffin does need to refine the core mechanics of his game to thrive in the pros.

But the first few bumpy steps along that journey finally brought down the Shanahan regime. How Gruden fares will determine not only his fate, but the pro destiny of Griffin as well.

Here's hoping Allen and Snyder haven't fallen into another trap of having the right idea, but the wrong man.


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