Washington Redskins: Fixing RGIII is the top priority for new head coach Jay Gruden

New Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden's top priority is to fix quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Redskins' general manager Bruce Allen hired Gruden, the ex-Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator, to do what predecessor Mike Shanahan couldn't. Namely, develop Griffin into a pro-ready, franchise quarterback.

But Allen should have warned his good buddy Gruden, a noted quarterback-driven coach, before hiring him, that fixing Griffin is no easy task.

Gruden recently tutored Andy Dalton to three-straight playoff appearances. Although, given Dalton's epic postseason struggles and the role of the stout Cincinnati defense in the Bengals success, that stat is a little misleading.

Refining Griffin's game will be more of a challenge. The dual-threat ace the Redskins traded consecutive first-round picks to draft second overall in 2012, has faulty mechanics. He also struggles to read defenses.

One year after taking the NFL by storm, thanks largely to the college-style, read-option attack, Griffin bottomed out in 2013. He lost an entire offseason recovering from major knee surgery and returned a shell of the player who led Washington to its first NFC East title since 1999.

His footwork, delivery and accuracy all ranged from shaky to downright awful last season. Worst still, he displayed a consistent inability to decipher coverage and make quick reads.

Whenever defenses took his primary receiver away, Griffin was lost. He couldn't work through his progressions and connect with second and even third targets.

With his surgically repaired knee preventing the kind of running that frightened the life out of defenses in 2012, Griffin had to stay in the pocket, where the results were dreadful.

This is the main reason Gruden has been hired. He has been appointed to improve Griffin's technique in a scheme more suited to longevity and success at the pro level.

Gruden's version of the West Coast offense is supposed to be the means to do it. In its simplest form, the scheme is defined by quick and short underneath throws connecting with big receivers slanting inside coverage to take the ball on the run.

That is the theory at least. But the quick, precision throws that are a feature of West Coast-style schemes, have hardly been a staple of Griffin's game.

In fact, the debate about how well Gruden's offense will mesh with Griffin's run-first skills has already begun. In his introductory press conference, Gruden professed a love for the read-option, according to NFL.com writer Marc Sessler.

That is certainly encouraging, since Griffin's threat as a runner is something defenses must be made to account for. But praise for the scheme that gives dual-threat quarterbacks more license to make

plays with their feet, sounds hollow coming from Gruden.

After all, this is the coach who in 2011, convinced the Bengals to draft Dalton over Colin Kaepernick. Gruden believed Dalton was more pro-ready as a passer, and was not enamoured with the read-option scheme that Kaepernick thrived in, per another report from Sessler.

For his part, Griffin has already stated his keenness to operate a more pro-style offense, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport.

But does that really mean Gruden's West Coast attack will bring out the best in Griffin? That seems a bit of a stretch, especially considering Shanahan was a noted proponent of West Coast-style principles.

He was also lauded as a quarterback guru, just like Gruden is. Yet, Griffin couldn't thrive in a Shanahan scheme that let a mobile quarterback move the pocket and attack slant lanes in coverage.

Of course, anytime Shanahan is involved a personality clash can be assumed to be the main cause of any problems. But that doesn't alter the fact that when Shanahan tried to make Griffin a more pocket-based passer this season it ended badly for all concerned.

Now Gruden gets his turn, and at a time when the Redskins are in need of a major rebuild. Anytime a team wins only three games out of 16, there is sure to be a myriad of problems, not just the quarterback.

The Redskins have an abysmal secondary and a weak offensive line. They also lack credible receivers alongside record-breaker Pierre Garcon.

But those issues, while serious, will be secondary to Gruden's main priority. His success and survival as head coach in Washington, will be determined by how he fixes the team's would-be franchise quarterback.

image: © Keith Allison

Have something to tell us about this article?