Let's be clear about what the Washington Redskins accomplished in last week's NFL draft. By addressing the offensive line, general manager Scot McCloughan looked toward the future and also put Robert Griffin III in the best position to succeed this coming season. The rest is up to Griffin.
McCloughan selected tackle Brandon Scherff with the fifth overall pick and added two other offensive linemen among Washington's 10-member draft class. The message was clear: The Redskins plan to build a foundation the right way while surrounding Griffin with enough talent to help McCloughan determine whether the quarterback should be part of the franchise's future. That's called good leadership.
For years, Redskins fans have argued that the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner would never reach his potential playing behind Washington's so-so offensive line, which, by NFL standards, was smallish by design. The group just got a lot bigger.
With Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams on the left side, Scherff is projected to start on the right and massive rookie guard Arie Kouandjio, a fourth-round pick, is in the mix for a significant role. McCloughan envisions the Redskins being able to "win up front" consistently, he said earlier this week while fielding questions about Washington's newcomers at Redskins Park.
"We need to have big guys come off the ball and move people," McCloughan continued, his excitement about the new-look line evident in his confident tone. "We're addressing this with Kouandjio, Brandon -- our big-body guys who have no problem doing the dirty work."
If Scherff and Kouandjio deliver and center Austin Reiter, chosen in the seventh round, also contributes, Griffin could be a big winner. Obviously, the Redskins need a strong line no matter who starts at quarterback. It would be naive, however, to believe Griffin's situation was not among the factors McCloughan considered in devising his draft strategy.
McCloughan moved to bolster the line after exercising the fifth-year option in Griffin's rookie contract. The Redskins gave up four high-round picks for the pick to draft Griffin in 2012 and already have paid him more than $17.8 million. It's easy to understand why management isn't ready to give up on Griffin, who had a magical rookie season while leading the team to its first NFC East title in 13 years.
Some coaches who have worked with Griffin say it's unlikely he will regain superstar status. The fact is, Griffin still has a long way to go in his transition to become primarily a pocket passer. But you don't have to understand the complexities of a hybrid 3-4 defense to realize any signal-caller should benefit from playing behind a top-notch line. For some time, the Redskins haven't had one.
Former head coach Mike Shanahan sought nimble, athletic linemen for the zone-blocking scheme he used with the Redskins and Denver Broncos. Although Washington's line was generally effective at run blocking during four seasons under Shanahan -- in 2012, the Redskins led the NFL in rushing -- the group hasn't been as impressive in pass protection. At times, it appeared the Redskins lined up without a right tackle. Or they might as well have.
Of course, even the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, which includes three former first-round draft picks and is considered second to none in the league, has struggled at times. That established, the Cowboys have reminded their opponents that assembling a big, agile, powerful group is the best way to roll. McCloughan is traveling the same road. Soon, Griffin will get the opportunity to prove he deserves McCloughan's support.
Too often the past two seasons, Griffin held the ball too long, failed to connect with open receivers, rolled into pressure and would have benefited from retaking Quarterback 101. No matter how many ready-to-play linemen McCloughan acquires, Griffin must show significant progress at the art of playing the game's most important position. An improved running game could make him look good.
Last season, head coach Jay Gruden quickly determined that relying on Griffin in a pro-style offense was a formula for failure. With Scherff, who is considered an elite run-blocker, in the lineup and Griffin still atop the depth chart, Gruden would be wise to lean on the running game more than he has throughout his career as a playcaller. To hear Gruden tell it, he gets that.
"There's a lot of things we need to fix, obviously. We were a 4-12 football team," Gruden said. "[Scherff] is going to help our offensive line, our running game and our passing game."
He had better.
McCloughan's desire to get tougher along the line and, at least in part, prop up Griffin were factors in his decision to draft Scherff a bit higher than he had been projected by most analysts. And there were some raised eyebrows after McCloughan nabbed Scherff with defensive lineman Leonard Williams available. Depending on whom you believe, Williams may wind up being the most productive player in the class.
As Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs once told me, though, it doesn't matter what other people think of your draft as long as you pick the right players for your team. Time will tell, but McCloughan has found so many gems through the years (running back Frank Gore and cornerback Richard Sherman immediately come to mind) he has earned the benefit of the doubt with me.
Considering what McCloughan has done to help Griffin, the Redskins should expect much better results from a player who has delivered more catchy slogans than victories recently. Here's one that seems fitting: No more excuses.