NFL.com's Bucky Brooks has started a 'Face of the Franchise' series that looks at the player on each team "who, through sheer force of skill and personality, seem able to single-handedly drive their squads." He also looks at the next in line for each team. This could be a veteran leader, or a young QB who hasn't quite taken over the mantle for the team's franchise player. You generally want your franchise QB to be the face of the franchise, but that's not always the case.
Robert Griffin III is obviously the face of the Redskins franchise, and he has been since the trade with the Rams was announced before the draft. The team paid a small fortune in draft value to get the guy that would bring the franchise back from the bottom of the division/league, and into consistent title contention. Griffin electrified the DMV and the NFL in his first season, and led the Redskins to their first division title and home playoff game since 1999. While that game ended in a loss and a significant injury to Griffin's knee, the hope for the future with Griff at QB was still bright.
Then the 2013 season happened, and doubt about his long term sustainability in the league popped up. People forgot 2012 ever happened, and only focused on the 2013 version of Robert Griffin III. Put back in the game too soon, not trusting his knee or his offensive line, and wearing a knee brace that he wanted off, Griffin was just not the same player who won the Heisman and took the Redskins from worst to first in the division. Former Head Coach Mike Shanahan benched him for the final 3 games of the season to "protect the franchise" after weeks of excessive sacks began to take their toll.
Now we're entering a new chapter in Redskins history with a new coach, a new(ish) GM, but with the same face of the franchise who is looking to prove that the 2013 season was the fluke, not the 2012 season. He is already being talked about as an early candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, coming back from his lost season. The Redskins worked hard to upgrade his receiving options with the additions of WRs Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson, and early reports have been very promising from OTAs/mini-camp.
When the Redskins mortgaged the farm to land RGIII in the 2012 NFL Draft, there was no doubt he would immediately become the face of the franchise in Washington. Griffin affirmed his status as the franchise player by guiding the team to a division title, then winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Although a disappointing sophomore season -- caused in part by a lengthy recovery from a torn ACL suffered in the 2013 playoffs -- has led to questions about his leadership skills and overall ability, Griffin is poised to reclaim the franchise player mantle under new head coach Jay Gruden. If the savvy offensive coach can design a system to help his young quarterback get back on track, Griffin could even re-emerge as one of the faces of the NFL in 2014.
Next in line: DeAngelo Hall
It's hard to think of another person on Washington's roster who could displace RGIII as the face. Yes, Alfred Morris has put up impressive numbers in his first two seasons, but he's more of a complementary player whose production was largely a byproduct of the team's zone running scheme.
Although Hall is entering his 11th season, he has quietly become one of the team's biggest leaders. The elder statesman in the Redskins' secondary has played at an exceptionally high level for the team throughout his tenure in Washington, while also exhibiting the work ethic, savvy and toughness that teammates respect in a leader. With Hall still producing on the field (four of his 43 career interceptions came in 2013), the veteran still has the clout to command the locker room when needed.
Brooks' choice for next in line is a little surprising given DeAngelo Hall's reputation in the league during his long career, and also incidents on the field that have resulted in penalties, fines, and ejections. Hall had a quieter season last year, and according to many reports has matured. He was also in a contract year, and looking to play well for his next, possibly final NFL contract. Is Hall the 2nd biggest name for the Redskins franchise going into the 2014 season, and does that make him the leader of the defense, ahead of Barry Cofield, Brian Orakpo, etc...? London Fletcher is now retired which leaves a vocal leadership void, and DeAngelo Hall, for better or worse, looks to be the veteran who could take over that role.
Jamie Dukes went with RGIII as the most dangerous player in the entire division. He cited Griffin's lack of production on the ground as a rusher in 2013 following his ACL surgery and recovery that required him to wear a knee brace all season. He went from 815 yards to 489 yards rushing, and went from 7 rushing TDs in 2012 to 0 TDs on the ground last season(Thanks Will Montgomery's shoe laces!). Getting yards and TDs on the ground, and Griffin's ability to make plays with his legs made him dangerous his rookie year, and to an extent last year. Dukes makes the case that this ability to still makes him the most dangerous player in the division.
While I agree that the lack of TDs on the ground, and in the Red Zone in general last season hurt the team, I don't know if new Head Coach Jay Gruden wants Griffin to return to the RGIII of 2012. Is 120 rushing attempts sustainable for a QB in today's NFL? The QB with the most rushes last season was Cam Newton with 111 attempts, followed by Russell Wilson with 96, then Colin Kaepernick with 92 attempts, and Griffin was 4th among QBs with 86 rushes.
Gruden has not put an emphasis on the read option, but has said they will still use it to keep defenses honest. That doesn't mean Griffin won't scramble when the opportunity is there, but he does want Griff to avoid the big hits, and minimize risk. He is the face of the franchise after all.
"It’s one of the great dilemmas that I have as a coach," he explained. "How do you tell a guy not to scramble, when I see Russell Wilson and (Colin) Kaepernick and even Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers make some of the biggest plays throughout the course of a game or season on broken plays? So you can’t just say, ‘Robert, I want you in the pocket; if it’s not there, throw it away.’ I want him to be himself and play."
"Get yourself out of bounds, let’s get to the huddle and play the next one," Gruden said, relating his advice to RGIII. "But like I said before, he’s such a competitor; he wants every play to succeed. He’s gotta understand, the defense is gonna win their battles. It’s about winning the entire war, so to speak, from the position. Knowing when to throw it away and punt."
The focus has still been on strengthening Griffin's pocket passing. From working on his throwing mechanics with the same QB coach he worked with pre-draft, to being given more freedom at the line to audible plays that he didn't have in Shanahan's offense. Another year of recovery from his knee surgery, the loss of the knee brace, improved mechanics/footwork, and more experience reading defenses/calling audibles at the line will determine if Griffin will be the most dangerous player on the Redskins, in the NFC East, or in the league. He has the potential to be one of the best players in the league, but the questions still linger, and you need to prove it on the field to make people forget last season. The face of the Redskins franchise has the team on his shoulders, and it will go as far as he takes them. His rejuvenation this season will be the biggest story line for the team, and one of the biggest in the NFL this year. Stay tuned.