Fourteen years ago, a rookie quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts by the name of Peyton Manning re-wrote the record books by throwing for 302 yards in his first game. Last season, that record was torched by Cam Newton, who went – 24/37 for 422 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. The Carolina Panthers ended up losing that game against the Arizona Cardinals, mostly due to their defense, but Newton arguably put together the greatest first-game performance ever.
Cam Newton entered the league with a unique skill-set. Big, strong quarterback with an unusual combination of athleticism and solid throwing ability. Newton had accuracy questions coming out of college – even after crushing records with the Auburn Tigers playing against SEC defenses. Though Cam’s precision was sporadic at times, his big play ability allowed him to earn pro-bowl and rookie of the year honors.
Newton brought unfamiliarity to the league, forcing a certain level of ignorance - the “Not knowing what to expect” factor on defenses. This allowed Newton to pick apart defenses early in his rookie season, because it was difficult for teams to plan against the offense Carolina orchestrated.
With help from a coaching staff that includes a respected offensive mind in Rob Chudzinski, Newton was able to add another dynamic to the multidimensional quarterback tree developed by Frank Tarkenton, Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, and Michael Vick.
Ron Rivera hired Chudzinski, as a familiar face from the Norv Turner staff in San Diego. He installed a variation of the Chargers’ aggressive vertical passing offense while mixing in a little of the read-option package Newton ran at Auburn. Towards mid season, Chudzinski slowly took Cam out of his comfortable zone to more of the vertical attack.
Cam had his ups and downs with pre-snap reads, dropping back and going through his progressions to make decisive and precise throws. It’s an element of his game that will take time to fully develop.
In just one year, the evolution of multidimensional quarterbacks has emerged to another level with Robert Griffin III. The 77th Heisman trophy award winner put Baylor University football on the map and could quite possibly be the most complete multidimensional rookie quarterback the NFL has ever seen. Robert Griffin III has an opportunity to mirror Cam Newton’s early season success during his rookie year, due to the unusual skill-set.
When the Washington Redskins traded up with St. Louis Rams for the 2nd overall pick, receiving the rights to draft Griffin – there couldn’t have been a better match. With the highly renowned offensive genius in Mike Shanahan and the aggressiveness Kyle Shanahan has when calling plays, Griffin couldn’t be in a better situation.
The Redskins have an offense tailored to what Robert Griffin III does best. They’ve implemented some Baylor-esque formations mixed into Mike Shanahan’s patented scheme. From naked boots to option reads and pistol formations – there’s only a few that can athletically accomplish those types of plays schematically and Griffin may end up being the best at it. Not to mention, Griffin is able to drop-back, go through progressions, and make throws on a rope.
Defenses will struggle with planning against Griffin and Washington’s offense early because of the dynamic Robert brings to the quarterback position.
The New Orleans Saints have the task of being Washington’s first regular season opponent with Robert Griffin III at helm, and are using back-up QB Chase Daniel on scout team to simulate Griffin. New Orleans’ replacement coach Aaron Kromer already has a ton of respect for Griffn - “The first thing I would say is that that’s a great move by Bruce Allen – to bring in Robert Griffin the way he did, trading the picks and getting the player of that magnitude in that program,” Kromer said. That guy, Robert Griffin III, is a difference-maker. Not only can he run and pass, but he is smart and he looks like he communicates well with the rest of the team. I know they didn’t put everything on tape that they’re going to do, but you could just imagine with his speed and ability to throw the ball that not only is he going to be able to drop back and scramble if he needs to, but they may use him in the running game. Shoot, he is the first one we think to throw a bomb pass over the top if he can get it. It’s going to be a tough day defending him.”
When asked how he plans to defend Griffin, Kromer said – “I think you have to spy him some and I think you have to contain him some. I don’t think you can do one thing the whole game. I think a guy of that magnitude will hurt you.”
Kromer wasn’t the only one who sung high praises of Griffin Wednesday, Drew Brees called Griffin a winner and said – “He [Griffin] is a phenomenal athlete. He can do things with his legs and his arms that most people can’t do. You figure it’s only a matter of time before he takes this league by storm. I just hope it doesn’t happen on Sunday.”
Griffin has a chance to add another page to the “multidimensional” quarterback book. In fact, he could totally re-write the book. Cam Newton stamped a page of his own by having success early in his rookie campaign, leaving no reason to doubt Robert Griffin III’s ability to do the same.
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