WASHINGTON - Now four months removed from a nightmare of a second season in the NFL, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III feels an overwhelming sense of freedom, both mentally and physically. He also says he has rediscovered his identity.
With the contentious relationship with coaches Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan behind him, and a new hope sparked by his young, still-evolving relationship with new head coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay, Griffin says he feels like he can finally return to being himself. Trust and confidence has been restored within Redskins Park, and the quarterback's mind. And, now nearly a year-and-a-half removed from the reconstruction of his right knee, a fully healthy Griffin feels limitless once again.
A year after producing one of the most successful campaigns by a rookie quarterback, Griffin's story took an ugly turn when he tore ligaments in his knee at the end of the 2012 season, and spent all of last offseason rehabbing. Meanwhile, his relationship with his top two coaches deteriorated gradually - worsening throughout the 2013 regular season, in which Griffin struggled to recapture his dynamic form. At the same time, Washington's team struggled as a whole, and a year after going 10-6 and winning the division, the Redskins slogged through a 3-13 season, which climaxed with the ugly divorce from Mike Shanahan.
Griffin spent hours, days and weeks reflecting on the past year. Although just entering his third season, he feels like a grizzled veteran. Although he would have preferred last season's woes not taken place, Griffin says the reflection on all that happened - on and off the field - have proven beneficial.
"All of those struggles - being injured, working my way back, losing games, having people talk bad about me, talk bad about my family, which is very dear to me - it all let me know who I am," Griffin said Thursday. "It's shown me who I am, and it's shown me who I'm not. It shows me that the little voice in the back of your head - that voice - it is your self-conscience. It's not telling me that I know everything, or you know everything, but I know what makes me a great quarterback, and in my mind, those are the things that I found out in these first two years. Sometimes, you - and they used to say growing up 'there's no such thing as a dumb question' - so, sometimes you can't be afraid to step up and say something. That's what this has shown me in this game, that as this team's leader and this team's franchise QB, you can't be afraid to raise your hand and ask a question. But it showed me that by enduring that, it's put us in a better place. It's put me in a better place this upcoming season, and the foreseeable future."
Echoing the sentiments of teammates Trent Williams and Barry Cofield, who praised Gruden after the start of the offseason program, Griffin said that the new coach has brought a feeling of renewed excitement, and is taking steps to ensure that he earns the quarterback's confidence.
"It's hard to compare [Shanahan to Gruden], so I'm not going to try to compare," Griffin said. "But I just know that Jay sees things from a quarterback's perspective, having been a quarterback, and being a younger coach. He knows quarterbacks need weapons, so we've added weapons. He knows quarterbacks need protection, so we've added protection.
"Coach is giving me all the proper tools, and he's putting the tools in the shed. . . . I'm ready to go to work. I've got my hard hat on, and I think everybody else [does] too."
Griffin admits that some of his struggles last season stemmed from his inability to go through the offseason practices because he was rehabbing his knee. He started the season, but acknowledges that some of his decision-making fundamentals had deteriorated. He also lost the impressive accuracy he displayed as a rookie. A year after throwing only five interceptions to 20 touchdown passes, Griffin had 12 interceptions to 16 touchdowns.
His top priority this offseason was to again become a fundamentally sound passer. He also has aimed to regain his confidence after a year that he described as "a whole journey of second-guessing and wondering."
Griffin has spent time this offseason working with quarterback guru Terry Shea, who helped him prepare for the NFL leading up to the 2012 draft. He couldn't do so last season because of rehab. Now having reunited with Shea, he believes many of the mechanical problems have been corrected. After spending the two previous weeks with Gruden and McVay, dissecting his play from the past two years and learning the offense from them, Griffin believes he is on his way to returning to form. The Redskins, although only two weeks into the offseason program and still five days away from their first on-field work, are headed back in the right direction as well, Griffin says.
"There's just a lot of [an exhale]," the quarterback said. "To have the people we have now, and have the new players in place: the Jason Hatchers, DeSean Jacksons, the Shawn Lauvaos, Tracy Porters, Ryan Clark . . .
"The new coach, Jay Gruden only adds to what we want to do, to be successful. It is a new attitude. We get to have a fresh start. We're not starting over. But it is a fresh start."
It could take some time for the team to define itself, Griffin acknowledges. Training camp, after all, still is three months away. But the quarterback said he now has rediscovered his own identity and knows what it should resemble this coming season.
"As a quarterback, my identity is I am the leader of this team, I am the guy that everybody looks to when things are going bad. . . . I am the guy that delivers," he said. "I am the guy that everyone on the team offense, defense, special teams - when it's crunch time, they're not looking at Trent Williams, they're not looking at Alfred Morris. They're looking at Robert Griffin III and that is an identity and position I accept. You have to believe in yourself.
"If you don't believe, nobody else will, and that's what I do for the guys around me, for my family. I give them that belief that at the end of the day, things are going to work out, and I don't think their belief is misplaced, even with us being 3-13 last year. We will be a better football team this year. That is my identity."