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Less zone-read under new Washington coach

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 | 8:58 p.m. CDT

RICHMOND, Va. — Robert Griffin III faked the handoff to Alfred Morris and took off down the left sideline, showing the burst of speed that helped him become the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012.

The crowd loved it. They haven't seen much of the zone-read during the first few days of Washington's NFL training camp, but here was proof that it's still a potent part of the playbook.

Except that it wasn't.

It was actually a busted play, a spur-of-the-second decision made by Griffin because the defense was keying on Morris.

"That actually wasn't even a zone-read play," Griffin said. "Coach asked me what the hell I was doing. 'I saw something, Coach.' ... It was either, hey, let it ride and allow my running back to get clobbered or just take a risk, and I took a risk."

Griffin was among new generation of young, agile quarterbacks who appeared set to revolutionize the NFL two years ago with designed runs that kept defenses hopelessly off-balance, but quarterback run plays are a minor role in the team's scheme under new coach Jay Gruden. Gruden says there will be "sprinkles" of zone-read, but he's more interested in developing Griffin's skills as a drop-back passer.

"He's obviously very good at the read-option," Gruden said. "He's proven that he can do it, but he's also proven to come off a major injury the last couple of years. He's healthy, but there will be a balance. We used some in Cincinnati with Andy Dalton and they used some here. ... We just won't overuse it."

That's fine with Griffin, who has always been quick to remind everyone that he does indeed have an arm.

"I made my name throwing the ball in college," he said. "I won a Heisman Trophy with Baylor. ... The zone-read, it a part of every quarterback who can move around a little bit. It's something you want to sprinkle in, keep the defense aware of, make them have to practice (for), but it's not something you make the focal point of your offense."

Griffin had an extraordinary rookie season as a passer, throwing 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions with a 102.4 rating, but he also ran for 815 yards. Last year, after major knee surgery, he ran for only 489 yards and his passer rating fell to 82.2. When defenses don't have to worry as much about RG3 the runner, they can focus more on RG3 the passer.

Running leaves Griffin vulnerable, but he's yet to be injured running a zone-read play in the NFL. The injuries that have caused him to miss playing time have come on designed passes, usually when he's scrambling downfield.

Nevertheless, Gruden said the concern about "future hits on the quarterback" play a role in deciding how often to use the zone-read.

"I view it as if you run it just a few times throughout the course of the game, maybe three or four times in two games, it's just something for the defenses to have to worry about," the coach said.

Griffin also responded to comments made this week by team president Bruce Allen, who told ESPN 950 this week that the decision to play Griffin in Week 1 a year ago "was almost a little disrespectful to the game of football" because Griffin didn't have sufficient practice time coming off the knee surgery.

Griffin lobbied hard to play in that game and even took part in an "All in for Week 1" marketing campaign, but nowadays, he points out that the final decision to play him rested with ousted coach Mike Shanahan.

"I saw what Bruce said, and I know where he's coming from," Griffin said. "That was Coach's prerogative, the previous coach's prerogative, I can't really do anything about that. All you can do is just fly with the punches. Like I said multiple times, I played with the hand I was dealt last year."

Notes: Wide receiver Pierre Garcon sat out team drills Wednesday as he recovers from a sore hamstring. ... Cornerback Courtney Bridget, who hurt his right shoulder earlier this week and is scheduled for surgery, was waived-injured. ... Tackle Tyler Polumbus missed practice due to personal reasons. ... The Redskins signed defensive tackle Jake McDonough. ... Griffin went to see "Hercules" on the team's day off Tuesday. "I thought it was a decent movie," he said. "Some of my teammates absolutely did not like it, but I had low expectations. I just wanted to see 'The Rock' smash things."


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