ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan defended his play calling from late last season for injured quarterback Robert Griffin III, a topic that continues to arise as a season of high expectations continues to spiral.
(For the record: Yes, this topic is getting old for us, too. But it popped up again; Shanahan was asked about it and was more expansive than ever on this topic).
In a recent Washington Post column, Mike Wise wrote that the issue in the playoff loss to Seattle, and what led to a lot of the distrust by Griffin, “was the play-calling of Kyle Shanahan, the team’s offensive coordinator and Mike’s son, after Griffin was first hurt that they felt put him at further risk.”
Shanahan said he never felt like he put Griffin in harm’s way as a playcaller after his knee injury last season.
“I didn’t feel that at all,” Shanahan said. “We don’t just do stuff that you don’t think someone can do.”
It’s been oft-stated that Griffin’s distrust of the coaching staff stemmed from the coaches continuing to call certain plays after tearing his lateral collateral ligament Dec. 3, 2012 against Baltimore. Griffin sat out one game, then returned for the final two. In his first game back against Philadelphia he carried once on a zone-read option. In the finale against Dallas he ran the ball six times off the zone-read for 63 yards.
Against Dallas, for example, Griffin only ran out of bounds twice on the zone-read runs. On the first time, he was knocked out of bounds and his helmet popped off. He also scored untouched on a 10-yard touchdown run. He slid or dove forward on the other three runs, getting hit once.
“If you go to the sidelines for a 10-yard gain and don’t get hit on it, I felt pretty good about it,” Shanahan said. “Now if he was getting killed on it and we were running quarterback runs where there was no one accounted for and people are there hitting him, I’d feel pretty bad about it, because we’re just asking him to run to the sideline when nobody is accounting for him.
“When somebody tells me they’re healthy and also when doctors tell me somebody is good enough to go, then I don’t sit there and go against what somebody is telling me. I believe what I see, and that’s why the times he got hurt were actually pass plays, never on the zone-read. I would hope that’s common knowledge by now, but people seem to forget.”
Shanahan said when a player tells him they’re fine, then he doesn’t alter his play calls. Against Seattle, for example, Shanahan said he even spoke to Griffin about certain plays that he wanted to run. Griffin kept on a zone-read run early in the fourth quarter, limping out of bounds for nine yards. Later in the quarter, he ran a bootleg and was sacked.
“If a player ever told me, ‘Hey, I can’t do this.’ I would never do it,” Shanahan said. “When players ask plays, I know what people are talking about with the play outside, that one keeper that got him out of the pocket, and it’s definitely a play I asked about before I called it. I drew it up on the sideline and said 'do you think we are capable of doing this' and I was told yes, so I ran that play.”
On Wednesday Griffin said trust takes time to build. Thursday, Shanahan said he “would hope” that Griffin has trust in him.
“I think we’ve done some pretty good things together,” Shanahan said. “Mine and Robert’s relationship is the same as it’s always been. ... I understand when you’re not doing well that people are going to pick at stuff, and I get that. But what I’ve learned since I’ve been here is to make sure I don’t make perception my reality. Everyone is having a hard time because we’re not winning, and we need to figure out a way to win. I know what happens in here. I know what my relationship is with Robert. We go to work every day, we’re competitive people, but we work together. When he does good, I feel good. When he does bad, I feel I have a responsibility in that and we’ve got to continue doing better for each other.”
Shanahan said when he played through college, that the coaches he liked and respected the most were the ones he felt gave him the best chance to succeed.
“I don’t just try to be their friend and buddy,” he said. “I try to help them. I try to keep it real with them, tell them what they’re doing right, tell them what they’re doing wrong and hope they can use me as an asset -- someone who can help them and help their career. Usually when people are like that, they respect you for it.
“You want somebody to respect you, and the way people respect you is they think you know what you’re doing, they think you work hard, they think you’re a good coach, and that’s all I want from players is their respect, and I think I’ve earned that over my career.”
Shanahan was also clear that he doesn’t think they need to play backup Kirk Cousins in the next four weeks. He said working with Cousins gives him enough of an idea of what he can -- and can’t -- do.
“We have two quarterbacks who are very good quarterbacks, but there’s no question in my mind that Robert is our quarterback,” Shanahan said. “When it comes to what we could be doing with Kirk, that doesn’t enter my mind. Robert is a franchise quarterback. He’s a great quarterback, and he’s going to have a hell of a career, and I love coaching him. It’s been fun.”