INDIANAPOLIS — When the Washington Redskins’ ugly 2014 season ended with a 4-12 record after Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy each made at least four starts at quarterback, coach Jay Gruden said, “I’d like to pick (a No. 1 quarterback) as soon as I could so we could try to work and grind on him and develop him. But until that position is earned, you have to have a competition. I anticipate us having a competition at a lot of spots and quarterback is no different.”
Just fifty days later with offseason workouts still weeks away, Gruden, who benched Griffin after three consecutive subpar November starts, reversed course and named him the starter over fellow 2012 rookie Cousins. McCoy is due to be a free agent next month.
“Robert ended the season as the starter; we anticipate that going forward,” Gruden said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. “We anticipate (Robert and Kirk) both coming in with a good frame of mind and eager to get better. We’ll go into the season with Robert as the No. 1 guy, obviously. And then it’s up to Robert to grow and mature as a quarterback, and as a person. Moving forward, we just want to see some improvement. That’s up to us as a staff to get more out of him.”
That staff has been enhanced by the addition of veteran quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh after Gruden, a former Arena League passer, and offensive coordinator Sean McVay, worked wth the position last season. Although Gruden also called the plays, he said “I probably put too much on Sean last year,” prompting Cavanaugh’s hiring.
Griffin set rookie records for passer rating and quarterback rushing yards in 2012 while leading the Redskins to their only NFC East title of the last 23 years, but he hasn’t been the same since tearing his right ACL and MCL in a wild-card playoff loss to Seattle in January 2013.
Last season, Griffin posted an 86.9 rating while completing 68.7 percent of his passes for 1,694 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions. He was also sacked 33 times in 247 dropbacks, in no small part because of his tendency to hold the ball too long in hopes of making a play. Griffin also missed six weeks with a dislocated left ankle suffered in Week 2.
Cousins was only sacked eight times in 212 dropbacks but threw nine interceptions (and 10 touchdowns) and posted an 86.4 rating.
McCoy, a former Cleveland starter who was signed as a bargain basement free agent last offseason, led the way with a 96.4 rating while being sacked 17 times in 145 dropbacks with four touchdowns and three interceptions.
McCoy seemed to be Gruden’s favorite of the three quarterbacks, but he injured his neck against St. Louis in Week 14 and was reinjured the following week at the New York Giants. That opened the door for Griffin to return to action and the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, played well in a Week 16 upset of Philadelphia and was so-so in the defeat in the finale against NFC East champion Dallas.
Quite possibly prompted by owner Dan Snyder and then-general manager Bruce Allen, Gruden apologized in November after shredding Griffin’s performance against Tampa Bay. And since new general manager Scot McCloughan said in January that it was too soon to give up on Griffin, whose acquisition cost Washington two first-round draft choices and a second-rounder, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Gruden’s bosses told him that No. 10 has to go into training camp as No. 1.
“Robert is a hard worker,” Gruden said in Indianapolis. “He works hard on his body and his strength, but we will have things drawn up for him, specific things that he can do to get better from the quarterback position mechanics-wise, throwing-wise, drop-wise. Hiring Matt Cavanaugh will only help in that process. I thought it was important to add another set of eyeballs that can really hone in on the quarterback position.”
Asked about Cousins working recently with his brother Jon, a Super Bowl-winning coach with the 2002 Bucs, Gruden said he didn’t know about it until after the fact. Gruden added that Griffin is continuing to work with Terry Shea, who prepared him for the draft three years ago.
“Jon does his own thing with those quarterback camps,” Gruden said. “That’s totally on their own nickel, on their own time. So that’s something that I don’t push on anybody. (But) I think any quarterback in the NFL or college, Jon’s open to talking to. He loves coaching and working with quarterbacks.”
Gruden declined to discuss the Redskins’ interest in bringing back McCoy. The coach added that Washington is talking to the agents of some of its high-priced veterans such as receiver Pierre Garcon and defensive linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield about restructuring their contracts to make their 2015 costs more affordable under the salary cap.