By Steve Silverman
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When he was drafted in 2012, there was legitimate debate among football executives, coaches and fans about whether Robert Griffin III was a better quarterback prospect than Andrew Luck.
By the time their first season had reached the midway point, those who backed RGIII looked like they had a winner on their hands. He was the perfect mix of accurate passing and explosive running ability, and he appeared to have an excellent understanding of the offense that Mike Shanahan was running with the Washington Redskins.
But in reality, RGIII had merely gotten off to a good start with the Redskins. His eye-catching athleticism was the basis for his success, and he appeared to get the very early and basic lessons of running an NFL offense.
However, the reason Luck has found success in each of his three years and the reasons Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are successful in the NFL have less to do with their physical attributes — which are quite impressive — and more to do with their minds and how they have learned the game.
Once RGIII found his initial success, he began to rely on his football instincts. Those instincts had made him a brilliant high school player and even better at the college level when he was a superstar at Baylor.
The professional game is much different. It requires diligent study to learn every option you have at your position.
But that’s not enough when you play quarterback, because you also have to learn all the options and responsibilities of your teammates on offense, particularly your receivers. A quarterback has to understand what the receiver is seeing and communicate that knowledge. Nobody has ever done that as well as Manning, although Brady and Rodgers are quite close.
It doesn’t stop there. The quarterback has to know his opponents and the tendencies of the defensive linemen and defensive backs. It’s also important to understand the capabilities of the linebackers and how deep they drop and how well they cover. However, if a quarterback doesn’t understand where the pass rush is coming from or how opposing cornerbacks and safeties cover, they will be lost.
This is where RGIII has fallen down. By the time a quarterback is entering his fourth year in the NFL, he needs to be an expert at his craft. Injuries happen constantly in the NFL and pain is a regular factor during the season, but those things can’t stop the development of a quarterback’s mental game.
When he suffered a knee injury towards the end of his rookie season, a good portion of his speed and quickness went with it. Unlike top quarterbacks who understand that success in this game is really based on the chess match going on between the quarterback (and his offensive coordinator) against the opponent’s defensive coordinator, RGIII has never fully saturated himself in the nuances of the position.
He has been caught up in the politics of pro football, and he has had the backing of owner Daniel Snyder throughout his run with the Redskins. Shanahan realized that RGIII had shortcomings in his preparation and Jay Gruden has seen that as well. Eventually, the schism between Gruden and the quarterback will almost certainly lead to a divorce.
RGIII has been his own worst enemy. He has not become the student of the game that Luck is and if he is ever going to become a dependable quarterback and leader, he has to change his approach to his position.
As great an athlete as RGIII was when he was drafted, he is not at that level any longer. However, he is sharp and he could have the kind of mental approach that will lead to success. It’s all a matter of attitude and getting on the same page with his coaches. He is more than smart enough to do that.
It’s likely never going to happen in Washington because the canyon between the coach and the players is too deep to overcome.
But with a change of scenery and a change of attitude, RGIII could turn it around. It won’t be easy, but it’s likely he will get one more chance to re-ignite his career.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy