In his first public comments since last season, Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan spoke Wednesday about the team’s frequent use of the zone-read option, a play which many outside the organization felt put quarterback Robert Griffin III at risk of injury.
“I was real pleased with [the zone-read],” Shanahan said at the team’s mandatory minicamp. “I think it really helped us.”
The offensive coaching staff had been the target of fierce offseason criticism after many believed the zone-read — which allows the quarterback to become a run threat — was one of the culprits for Griffin’s eventually knee injury. But Shanahan begs to differ.
“Those aren’t really designed quarterback runs,” Shanahan explained. “They’re designed to give the ball to [Alfred Morris] and when the whole defense is not accounting for the quarterback and taking everyone else, that’s when he goes the other way. So, I kind of enjoy the zone-read because really, your quarterback’s not taking it unless there’s no one to hit him.”
So what, then, contributed to Griffin’s injury troubles as last season went on? According to Shanahan, it was his quarterback’s approach to avoiding big hits when he was scrambling on designed pass plays.
“When you think about last year, we’ve got to get better at coaching certain things,” he said. “I think we did throughout last year, situations on how [the quarterback] can account for the free hitters [on scramble plays]….when guys aren’t blocked and stuff, there’s seven guys in coverage who are coming at him from all directions going airborne to hit somebody. Those are the times when I really get worried.”
Earlier this offseason, Griffin has publicly acknowledged the need to protect himself on the field by learning how to slide, running out of bounds, or by throwing the ball away. Shanahan echoed that sentiment Wednesday, while also adding that the zone-read is actually safer for the quarterback, contrary to outside opinion.
“The three injuries [Griffin suffered last year] were pass plays. They weren’t the zone-read. The zone-read is something I learned throughout going through the year that I think really helped us.
“It’s the least pass rush I’ve ever seen as a coordinator. [Defenders] just sitting there just scared to death just watching everyone else not moving. And I really enjoyed sometimes being able to drop back and not have four guys just teeing off on the quarterback all trying to hit him in the pocket.”
In other words, don’t expect a philosophical shift in the Redskins offense in 2013.