Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson was ecstatic after seeing his quarterback Robert Griffin III finish a play Wednesday during the team’s second joint practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It wasn’t a Griffin deep pass to one of his talented, speedy receivers nor was it one of those brilliant runs that got Griffin a lot of acclaim his rookie season that had Jackson slapping players on the back.
The play Jackson approved of so much was a simple three-yard check down. While the play may not have been as exciting as others Griffin has made in his career, it is the kind of play that shows the quarterback is not only maturing, but taking an understanding of Jackson’s system.
“We play progression football,” Jackson said. “At the end of the day, we’re not a team that just flips the ball up any kind of way. There’s a reason why we do what we do on every play. As long as our quarterbacks are progressing I get very excited because we can always call another play. If you give the ball to the other team, you can’t call another play.”
The play in and of itself shows the growth of Griffin. Once hailed as the next great wonder when he flashed on the scene as a rookie, Griffin’s career has the perfect combination of the good, the bad and the ugly. He went through the good of being AP Rookie of the Year and helping the Washington Redskins to a playoff berth in 2012.
Griffin set NFL rookie records for passer rating (102.4), interception percentage (1.27) and rushing yards by a quarterback (815) that season.
Griffin then suffered the lows of injuries that hampered his second and third seasons in Washington before suffering the ugly of being benched the entire season in 2015.
Griffin signed with the Browns in the offseason after being released by the Redskins. Prior to the club’s first preseason game, Jackson named Griffin the team’s starting quarterback over Josh McCown. Also in his first season with the Browns, Jackson said Griffin is doing better at this point than he expected.
“I think he’s a little ahead,” Jackson said. “I think he’s done a good job. He’s working on it every day along with the other quarterbacks. The guys understand how we play. Most important thing is taking care of the team. You have to be very team protected. That means taking care of the ball. We’ll do that at quarterback.”
Griffin is learning that. Criticized for holding onto the ball too long, which has led to him taking a ton of sacks, Griffin made quicker decisions in the two days of practice against the Buccaneers. Although he was intercepted twice by Buccaneers rookie Vernon Hargreaves on Tuesday, Griffin did not turn the ball over on Wednesday.
“Yeah, it’s funny,” started Griffin. “You can throw a check down and the coach will go berserk and then you can throw an 80-yard bomb and he’s like next play guys, next play. It’s all about understanding the process. When it comes to football, a check down can be the best throw because it’s the only throw you need to make in that moment. Coach has been hard on myself and us the quarterbacks for us to make the right decisions.”
Griffin is trying to find the beauty in the game again. After four years where everything he did was dissected, the fresh start in Cleveland seems to have been good for him.
“It’s about being consistent every day,” he said. “Without the guys around me, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. Football is a beautiful game because it takes 11 guys. When 11 are on the same page, it’s a beautiful thing.”