RGIII: From the next great thing to playing out the string - The Buffalo News

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RGIII: From the next great thing to playing out the string

They remember.

So much talent. So much excitement. So much intelligence. So much ... inspiration.

In 2012, Robert Griffin III was far more than a rookie quarterback for the Washington Redskins, far more than the second overall pick of the NFL Draft. He was, it seemed, altering the way football's most important position was played. He was, it seemed, putting an entirely different face on it.

A face of color.

Back then, you thought of transformative quarterbacking and you immediately pictured Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Now, there was a new name at the top of the mountain, destined to be there for many years to come – long after Brady and Manning and the others walked away from the game.

The Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor could throw, he could run, and he could run and throw. Robert Griffin III could do everything the long-established best QBs could do, and more.

Never mind him being the new name on the mountain top. This guy was so special, he was known by initials and Roman numerals: RGIII.

"I thought he was going to be the greatest quarterback that came through," Buffalo Bills defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman said Friday. "I thought he was going to change the league."

At the time, Robey-Coleman was at USC, looking forward to playing in the NFL. To him, RGIII was someone he could admire from afar, someone he believed was making the next level of football a more inviting place – even for a guy whose job was to make quarterbacks look bad.

"He wasn't just a regular African-American quarterback," Robey-Coleman said. "I felt like, when he came into the league, he had the mental capacity as a Tom Brady-type guy. When you hear him talk, he's so articulate, he's very intelligent, and I'm like, 'Well, he's the new generation of quarterbacks that's coming in the league.'

"I thought his future was just as bright as day. I was looking at it like, 'When I go against him in the league, I'm really going to have to bring my A game. I can't wait to play against him.'"

During that magical rookie season, Griffin set rookie records for the highest passer rating (102.4) and best touchdown-to-interception ratio (four-to-one). He led the Redskins to an NFC East championship and their first playoff appearance in five seasons. Griffin was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year and selected to the Pro Bowl.

Bright as day.

Then, the lights began to dim. Injuries mounted. The legs stopped working as well as they once did. The running style that was the foundation of so much of his success no longer served him well.

There were ugly confrontations with his head coach (Mike Shanahan), his offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan), and his second head coach (Jay Gruden).

Now, Griffin finds himself as a member of the 0-13 Cleveland Browns, who signed him as a free agent in the offseason. He will be their starting quarterback when they face the Bills on Sunday at New Era Field.

Griffin wound up on the Browns' injured-reserve list in Week Two with a shoulder injury. He was cleared to practice on Nov. 29. And with no one else capable of taking charge at quarterback, the Browns turned back to him, mainly to play out the string of a horrific season left in the hands of an ultra-young roster.

In completing 24 of 54 passes for 294 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions, and running 12 times for 64 yards and a TD, Griffin has been barely even a shell of his former self.

That is painfully obvious when one reviews video of the Browns games he has played.

"When I see him now, I see more of like, 'I'm trying to fight through it, I'm trying to get through it. I'm playing football, but I'm not here right now,'" Robey-Coleman said. "You can tell he's trying. I can't say he's trying to bring the old RGIII back, because I don't think that's possible. But I think he's trying to find his way through it right now.

"I don't really feel that, 'I'm trying to get to a certain destination' from him on film. I just see him playing football. 'I don't have a favorite guy,' like when he was with the Redskins and" Pierre "Garcon was his third-down guy or DeSean Jackson was his deep guy."

Still, the Bills are showing a level of respect for Griffin during practice. They have had EJ Manuel and quarterback-turned-tight-end Logan Thomas take turns playing the part of RGIII for the show-team offense to help the defense prepare for the game.

Manuel and Thomas have done plenty of running, as well as throwing, and the Bills' defenders have done plenty of chasing.

"They just give us different looks, because you never know where he'll end up," linebacker Preston Brown said of Griffin. "Sometimes he'll boot around, roll around, scramble around, do one of those Heisman throws that goes 60 yards. So it's definitely going to be a challenge for us to keep him contained.

"Sometimes, he's a little tentative to take those shots because every time he gets tackled, it seems like he gets hurt. He just can't stay healthy. That's the thing for him right now. I think when he stands in the pocket and throws the ball, he can be one of the best, if that's what he wants to do. But he does a lot of running. They have a lot of designed runs with the zone reads and stuff, because of the tremendous talent he has."

Once upon a time, that talent was inspiring.

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