RICHMOND, Va. -- As Jay Gruden sees it, for four years, Robert Griffin III has been a prisoner of the expectations around him.
The idea now is to set him free.
Griffin wasn't very good last year. That much is impossible to argue. But neither were the Washington Redskins. And so a bad situation (a young quarterback struggling to learn a new offense) was made worse (with a team crumbling around him), and that's where Gruden wanted to start on Day 1 of his second training camp with the franchise.
"We can't put all the pressure on the quarterback," Gruden said. "There's only a few quarterbacks in the league that can handle that, and those guys are gonna be first-ballot Hall of Famers. The rest of them, they need help. They need help with the running game. [They need] some quick-element throws where the receivers do the work for them, screens, good play-action shot plays, good strong defense. If we win 17-13, who gives a (expletive)? We just gotta win."
The issue here -- as Gruden recognizes -- is much bigger than Griffin. Washington has finished last in the NFC East six times in seven years, doing so in each of the four years before the team traded three first-rounders and a second-rounder to land the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner.
That's why Scot McCloughan was hired as general manager in January. That's why the organization moved heaven and earth this offseason to land offensive line coach Bill Callahan to revamp the run game. It's why Joe Barry is running the defense, rather than Jim Haslett.
And if all of this works, the Redskins won't ask Robert Griffin III to be what they needed him to be last year, which was way more than what he was capable of. Part of the problem, of course, was the mirage of his 2012 performance, driven by an offensive system that was inventive and comfortable for Griffin, but not sustainable. Another piece was the resulting hype, which Griffin himself, to be sure, helped fuel.
Griffin arrived at camp this week in a different spot. He still might be the most famous player on the roster, but his place within the franchise is not what it once was. The team exercised his $16.2 million fifth-year option for 2016, acknowledging that he won't see a nickel of it if he face-plants this season. Gruden also committed to Griffin as his starter for Week 1, but there's reasoning behind that rooted more in getting a clear read on the player.
Last year, the coach just wanted Griffin to earn his snaps, after a lifetime of being anointed QB1 on every field he set foot on. And when Griffin couldn't, Gruden replaced him. That point might come this year too, if improvement isn't shown. But for now, the plan is to let him ride out the bumps.
"The bar's been set so high with Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, and Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, everybody expects that from every young quarterback, and it's not gonna happen," Gruden said. "Everybody expected that from Andy (Dalton) when I was in Cincinnati, and we went to three playoffs in a row, and they're booing him out of the stadium. It's a hard position to play, and you gotta be patient with the young quarterbacks. Back in the day, quarterbacks didn't even play until Year 3."
Now into a discussion of what he clearly sees as a broader, league-wide problem in developing a position he played, Gruden paused and said, "Let's see what he can do, and give him some time."
Over the course of the spring, Griffin did in fact improve. His timing and rhythm were better, he was better from a decision-making standpoint and he improved on off-schedule plays, showing more discipline in keeping his eyes downfield, according to his coaches.
And now that he's got a year under his belt in Gruden's offense, Griffin is figuring out how to apply the system situationally against different types of defenses. This is important, because Gruden has no plans to flip the scheme upside down for the quarterback, as the Redskins did during Griffin's rookie year.
"Well, I don't know what you change it to," Gruden said. "It's not a read-option league, really. He's not a read-option quarterback. He's a different player than what he was in 2012. So I think, eventually, it's gonna be important to play the position within the pocket. We can still do some things with him outside the pocket, with the bootlegs and the rollouts and get him out on the edge with a few zone-read principles here and there.
"But for the most part, when you play quarterback in this league, you're gonna have to stand in there and make some throws on third down and in the red zone, anticipate some windows ... make your reads and change your protections, pick up a blitz, make some things happen off-schedule. That's just continuing to grow as a quarterback."
For now, 39 months after drafting him, Washington still isn't quite sure what it has in RGIII. There's been plenty of turnover during that time, too, and those in the building now are nearly as invested in him as some of the other since-departed football folks were.
Gruden continues to be blunt about his quarterback, saying, "He's young and he's definitely raw." That assessment is another reason -- combined with the overarching epidemic to make knee-jerk assessments on QBs, which the coach kept referencing -- to be patient. But it means Griffin has to be patient, too.
"He's not used to failure. He's very competitive," Gruden said. "It has an effect on him. He wants to be the best, and he's got a long way to go to be that. But he still has the confidence and still [has] the swagger where he thinks he can be, and he's starting to realize he has to put the work in and he has a lot to learn."
As Gruden wrapped up this conversation, the few remaining fans that had been perched on the far hill during the team's afternoon session were filing for the exits. The crowd was smaller than it has been in the past. There were no "RGIII" chants and far fewer No. 10 jerseys -- all affirmative signs that the GriffinMania of the last three years in D.C. has been tamped down considerably.
Very few people expect to see something transcendent from Griffin now when they visit Redskins camp.
And in a way, maybe that's exactly what's best for a quarterback who has struggled to take the next step.