Tonight I’ll be recording Arizona vs Oklahoma State. The Bowl game last season was a completely one-sided affair and I don’t expect much difference tonight. I don’t rate Nick Foles or the Arizona offensive scheme and Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon should have a field day. Expect some thoughts on the game this weekend in the round-up. I’m also scheduled to watch tape of Alabama against Penn State, Notre Dame at Michigan and Florida Atlantic versus Michigan State this weekend.
The unquestioned star of week one in my view was Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor) who had a tremendous performance against TCU. We’ll soon find out if it’s a sign of TCU’s defense taking a big step back, but it’s important to remember that in previous years they’ve had one of the best unit’s in college football – no exaggeration.
Griffin (I’m going to lose the ‘III’ bit for the rest of the article) is a redshirt junior despite currently featuring in his fourth year starting. He started 11 of 12 games a freshman and redshirted as a sophomore in 2009 after suffering an ACL injury. Due to the fact he’d only played three games that season, he was granted redshirt status and maintained an extra year of eligibility. What it means is he isn’t a lock to enter the draft next year despite four years of service at Baylor. Whether he can perform consistently as a passer will play some part, as will the feedback he receives from the draft committee.
His story is an interesting one – Griffin was born in Japan where his parents were stationed as US Army Sergeants. He moved around a lot – even living briefly in Washington state before finally settling in Texas. At high school he set state records for the 110m hurdles and on the AAU track and field circuit he won gold in the 110m and 400m hurdles. His athletic achievements stretch to a semi-final place for the US Olympic team in preperation for Beijing 2008. He received football interest from – amongst others – Oregon, Washington State, Stanford and Tennessee before committing to Houston. When coach Art Briles left the Cougars to join Baylor, he similarly switched to the Bears.
From a physical stand point he looks the part – 6-3 in height and around 215-220lbs in pads. He’ll celebrate his 22nd birthday just over two months prior to the 2012 NFL draft.
Before we get into his technical make-up, I want to stress that in studying Griffin on and off for the last 18 months I’ve never found anything but incredible praise for his leadership and character. This guy is the heartbeat of the Baylor programme, he leads by example and everyone looks up to him. Listen to one of his interviews and you won’t find a shred of arrogance or attitude, he’s a completely humble individual. That will help him when and if he ever gets a shot in the NFL because there are a lot of areas technically he will need to improve.
I was quite surprised how accomplished he looked throwing the football against TCU, because I’d not seen evidence of that previously. There were games when Baylor resorted to repetitive, simple screens and passes into the flats and I remember watching one performance (I forget who the opponent was) where Griffin barely threw a pass past the line of scrimmage. It was almost like he’d switched to rugby momentarily where the forward pass it outlawed.
My impression coming into this year was an athlete who on his day is capable of beating you with a combination of pass/run/athleticism, but ultimately he was a player with little future in the NFL apart from maybe a gimmick role. What we need to work out now is whether this is a matured, coached and capable throwing quarterback who is starting to blossom or whether this is going to be that one game where everything clicks and he dominates.
Perhaps the most striking thing was how little he attempted to run, it’s almost as if that option was taken away from him once Baylor felt confident throwing downfield. Griffin has been the very definition of a dual-threat quarterback, but was seemingly always more dangerous running. In this game, it was all about some pretty impressive deep passes, multiple touchdowns and big plays.
So onto the technique – which as I said needs a lot of work. The main thing that bugs me is the footwork, which is awful. Griffin has a habit of taking the snap, faking the hand off and jumping back with his legs spread out creating a situation where he’s immobile. The stance he gets into in preparation to throw is one that makes it so difficult to avoid pressure if he needs to make more than one read and move away from the pocket. It’s a really unnatural move for a quarterback and a major problem that needs to be worked on, he can’t take a snap and turn into a statue to throw.
Occasionally he also dances into this stance, as if he’s playing quarterback and also preparing to be in the background of Timbaland’s latest music video at the same time. I can’t stress enough just how bad this footwork is, how it prevents Griffin from really making the most of his throwing velocity, how it will make him a sitting target at the next level and bizarrely how it takes away one of the greatest aspects of his game – the ability to move around as a great athlete. This alone will set him back years of work – perhaps 2-3 solid years of practise and improvement – before he’s ready to truly face a starting NFL defense.
Having said that, it looks like he has worked to get stronger in the upper body and therefore gets more zip on those passes. When he was given a clean pocket and time to throw in this game, he actually did an excellent job whether it was throwing deep, finding open targets or even going through the odd progression. His ball placement was very good and he allowed Baylor’s playmakers a chance to thrive. The footwork would be even more of a concern if he didn’t flash some nice ability throwing the ball. If he can play half as well as he did here for the rest of the season, then he has a chance to spark some interest.
He gets the ball out fairly quickly and his release point is fine but not ideal. There were some occassions where he threw slightly more 3/4 than you’d hope for under pressure, but that’s to be expected especially if you need to get the ball out quickly.
The offensive scheme he works from is alien to the NFL, lot’s of option plays and one-read stuff. Alongside the footwork he’ll need a lot of time to adjust taking regular snaps from under center, reading a defense and learning to make more than one quick read and then resorting to a check down.
Teams love athletic quarterbacks who can make unpredictable plays. If they also limit turnovers in college and have the kind of personality that attracts coaches, then they get drafted. Griffin isn’t going to have a TCU game every week but it’s a good start and he’s at least showing improvement and progression as a quarterback. That too will perhaps make a team or two wonder – how good could he be if he continues this upward trend? I came into the year thinking he’d be an UDFA or low round level prospect, but if nothing else in week one he flashed enough to make you consider a home in the middle rounds – even if he will be a substantial project.
Tony Pauline gives Griffin a round 3-4 grade, stating: “Athletic quarterback with a developing game. Has the arm strength necessary to make all the passes, accurate on his throws and also dangerous carrying the ball. Has shown consistent improvement since his freshman season.”
I also noticed Pauline giving some praise to one of my favorite players, Fresno State’s defensive tackle Logan Harrell. I included him on my ’50 to watch’ list for 2012 and see him as a potential pass rushing interior sleeper. Pauline: “Hard-working, tough interior lineman that shows a lot of quickness and explosion in his game. Has an upside and could surprise with a big senior season.”