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Footloose and fancy III: Browns QB Griffin tries to put Redskins past behind him

The story of Robert Griffin III will always include the four seasons in Washington.

The story of Robert Griffin III will always include the four seasons in Washington.
Maybe someday the election and impeachment in the nation’s capital will be reduced to a footnote. But as he prepares to take his first regular-season snap with the Browns on Sunday in Philadelphia, Griffin is still defined — at least publicly — by the historical start, unflattering fall and four-year soap opera.
With six months elapsed since he was cut after being a healthy scratch for every game last season, he was asked what he would’ve done differently in Washington after being the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft.
“Hindsight’s 20/20,” Griffin told The Chronicle-Telegram on Monday. “But I’m not going to sit here and go back into the past when the future is so bright.
“I’m excited about what’s going on here. And I’m very, very happy to be here and thankful to the Browns, Coach Jackson, the Haslams and everyone who brought me in here and trusted in me and believed in me. And my teammates for responding and giving me a chance to go out there and lead them.”
Griffin’s shot at redemption comes where quarterbacks young and old, talented and not, have gone to fail. He’ll be Cleveland’s 25th starting quarterback since 1999, and seeks the success and longevity that have eluded all predecessors.
New coach Hue Jackson saw something he liked when he worked out Griffin in March and the Browns determined he was their best option, signing him to a two-year, $15 million deal. Better than Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, who went Nos. 1 and 2 in the draft.
The pickup of Griffin, 26, was met with a large dose of skepticism. His best season came as a rookie and was followed by a steep decline that included clashes with coaches and issues with teammates. Griffin insists he never doubted his ability.
“Nah, nah. You can’t,” he said. “That’s why I made sure I was a pro last year and tried to be a great teammate. I feel like I earned a lot of respect from my teammates, guys around the league for what I went through.
“You work hard, you be there for your guys and when your opportunity comes you make the most of it, and I’m glad that my opportunity has come.”
Real talk?
Griffin doesn’t like to show cracks in his armor. Many of his answers sound rehearsed as he tries to project an image.
“We play a kid’s game for a king’s ransom.”
“No pressure, no diamonds.”
“The life of your dreams does not come without a little bit of risk.”
Browns strength and conditioning assistant Joe Kim grew close to Griffin last year in Washington, and said he’s for real.
“The kid works so hard,” Kim said. “I noticed right away he’s so passionate about what he does.
“The way he dealt with what happened to him last year was an incredible testimony to who he is as a person. He never spoke out, never complained. He worked as hard as anybody.”
Griffin was finally healthy last season after knee and ankle injuries and a concussion, but coach Jay Gruden picked Kirk Cousins, drafted 100 spots below Griffin in 2012, to be the starter. Griffin would’ve been guaranteed millions this season if he was injured, so he sat and watched.
“After every practice, he would take the script, grab an equipment guy and go through the entire practice as if he was the starter,” Kim said. “He’s victory-minded. He believes he is going to be the best quarterback in the NFL. He works like it.”
Griffin showed off his arm strength and speed during the preseason, the traits that won him the Heisman Trophy as a junior at Baylor. If Griffin succeeds in Cleveland, it will be because he grew up and learned from his mistakes.
An Undefeated.com report said after his rookie year, which ended with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a playoff loss, he called a meeting to tell coach Mike Shanahan what he didn’t like and what needed to change. He took heat for publicly deflecting blame toward his teammates. He couldn’t stay healthy, partially because he put his body in harm’s way.
“Obstacles that you face in the league only build your character,” Griffin said. “I’ve had the opportunity to face a lot of obstacles in my career and I think they’ve helped build me up and allowed me to handle any situation.”
In transition
Griffin is a player and man in the middle of a transformation.
The player practiced sliding and throwing the ball away throughout the offseason after Jackson identified them as weaknesses. He needed to be better passing from the pocket and worked with quarterback guru Tom House to clean up his mechanics. Questions about his personality followed him to town, so he made it a priority to assume a leadership role.
“He’s been the leader that we’d all hoped at quarterback,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. “Everyone knows how talented he is as an athlete and throwing the ball and I think the one thing that maybe guys didn’t know about that have been really impressed with him is his work ethic, his intelligence, the way he prepares and he studies just like the great quarterbacks in the game right now.
“You put all those things together and you put a guy like Hue Jackson in his corner, and I think he can have an excellent season.”
Jackson believes in his ability to get the most out of players. He’s been adamant that the entire focus of the offense needs to be supporting the quarterback.
“We try to create the right environment for him to be all he can be, and he’s working extremely hard because this is something he really wants to do,” Jackson said of Griffin.
Receivers coach Al Saunders has been a coach since 1970 and was Jackson’s coordinator and quarterbacks coach in his one season as head coach in Oakland. They share the quarterback-centric philosophy.
“Every practice session, every game plan, everything that you do in the culture of your offensive team is to build around the quarterback,” Saunders said. “It’s really important to structure a practice environment to challenge him but also structure a practice environment and a game environment so he has success.
“What his weaknesses are, you’ve got to circumvent those things and direct everything toward his strengths. If you asked Bill Belichick right now how does he structure his entire practice, he would say everything’s about the quarterback.”
The coach and quarterback must trust that the other is doing everything in his power to make them both successful.
“It’s like a marriage,” Griffin said. “And I don’t think I could be married to any better coach, so it’s pretty awesome.
“He demands greatness out of me and he’s hard on me, but I love it because no one’s expectations for myself are higher than me.”
Griffin the person has acknowledged he’s going through a divorce and has a girlfriend. He seems freer on social media, tweeting Sunday about his love of pancakes.
He said he’s taken a lesson from NBA star Kevin Durant.
“He said, who are you posting for?” Griffin said. “Basically what he was saying is if you’re posting for other people, then you’re posting for the wrong reasons.
“I’m posting for my life and what I want. And if it motivates some people or it makes some people upset, that’s not my problem. I’m going to post it and I’m not going to look at anything that’s said.”
He said he’s stopped caring what other people think.
“I don’t worry about it anymore,” he said. “Because I can’t control those things and I’m here to play football. I’m here to win and change this culture here in Cleveland. So that’s what I’m focused on.”
Receiver Josh Gordon is Griffin’s oldest friend on the team. They were teammates at Baylor and have neighboring lockers.
“He’s definitely matured mentally,” Gordon said. “He was confident then, but he’s even more confident, if that’s even possible. I’m not really sure what happened in D.C., but I know he’s grateful to be here in Cleveland.”
Hear but don’t listen
The RGIII bandwagon was full when he had one of the best rookie years in NFL quarterbacking history — 20 touchdowns, five interceptions, 3,200 passing yards, a 102.4 rating and 815 rushing yards. He grew lonely as the production and playing time declined.
The doubters remain after his move west. And they’re loud, as Griffin was ranked 32nd of 33 quarterbacks in an ESPN poll of coaches and executives.
“It doesn’t bother me at all, because I’m not playing for those people,” he said. “I’m playing for the guys in that locker room, I’m playing for my family.
“Coach tells me don’t be afraid to be great and that’s the truth. I’m not trying to be great because they said I can’t be great. I want to be great for my guys in my locker room, I want to be great because I want to be great. That’s just the way I’ve always looked at it, and my experiences in the league have only reinforced that mindset.”
If he can rediscover his greatness while changing the fortunes of the Browns, the book on Griffin will begin and end with the chapter in Cleveland.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or [email protected] Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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