All eyes on Robert Griffin III in Washington
This one won't count in the standings, but Saturday afternoon's matchup between quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III still is noteworthy. The top two picks of the 2012 draft will face each other for the first time as pros, kicking off what is sure to be a career-long comparison of young passers.
"I definitely look forward to playing the guy throughout my career," said Griffin, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner. "I think it will be exciting matchups every time we face each other."
Even in the preseason. Which is one more indication of just how much hope is being placed in both quarterbacks.
The Colts' Luck takes over for Peyton Manning, who was released and signed with the Broncos. Griffin, meanwhile, takes over a Redskins team that has been without a top- flight quarterback for what seems like decades. Even three-time Super Bowl-winning coach Joe Gibbs never had a quarterback with the raw talent of Griffin.
Pressure on both? You bet. Particularly on Griffin, who takes over a team that has had little success since winning the Super Bowl after the 1991 season. In a football-centric town starved for success, Griffin is being looked upon not only as a quarterback but as a savior.
But by all accounts -- and yes, it still is incredibly early in the process -- Griffin is unfazed by the expectations. "I think it's as expected," he said. "I don't think it's any more difficult than I thought it would be."
But for those around him, the aura is unmistakable and the feeling of hope is palpable.
"He's a special athlete with Olympic-caliber athleticism," wide receiver Anthony Armstrong said. "He's done so many things at the college level, and watching him on the practice field, it's definitely uplifting to see that. Now you just want to make sure everything translates and the game slows down for him. He's a real good guy. All that stuff you see on TV about being humble and down to earth is not an act. He's ready to take any of the pressure that the DC area puts on him."
That pressure is real, and it is constant. But the coolness that Griffin exuded during a brilliant run at Baylor is there for all to see. It may not be a guarantee of success at the NFL level, but the Redskins certainly are projecting him as their long-term solution. Thus, the buzz level has increased since the Redskins swung a blockbuster deal with the Rams to get in position to draft Griffin.
"Buzz? We've never had a problem with buzz," coach Mike Shanahan quipped, a nod to the team's struggles in recent years, especially when it comes to the quarterback. "Look, if you don't have the quarterback, and depth at the quarterback position, guys that you believe in, it's certainly hard to get to the promised land. Through the years, most teams that do win it have great quarterbacks."
Shanahan has been around some of those great quarterbacks -- Steve Young during his Super Bowl run in San Francisco and John Elway during his two Super Bowl seasons in Denver. He thinks Griffin has what it takes to be in their company.
"I don't think you really know until you get into game situations, but you do know what you see on film," Shanahan said. "The talent, the arm strength, the running ability. What you don't know for sure is how someone handles himself when the pressure is on. But I like the way he handles himself since he's been here. He's a worker. He does everything that he can possibly do to get himself better every day. When you have a guy like that with talent, good things usually happen."
That's certainly the hope for a franchise that hasn't had many good things happen lately.
"He's one of the most genuine people I've ever met," veteran tight end Chris Cooley said. "I think he relates to everybody, and I think that's what's helped him establish himself in this locker room and this huddle. We're looking at him as our guy."
Pierre Garcon, who knows a thing or two about great quarterbacks after playing with Manning with Indianapolis, likes what he sees.
Millions of Redskins fans hope so, too.