‘I’m go­ing to take care of him. That’s my job.’

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Childs Walker

There are mo­ments on the Ravens prac­tice field when Robert Grif­fin III must feel he’s watch­ing a flesh-and-blood re­play of his own life.

The rookie quar­ter­back, a for­mer Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner, whips through im­pro­vised cuts faster than most play­ers can run in a straight line. Every eye at the fa­cil­ity set­tles on him, and hard­ened vet­er­ans rave about qual­i­ties that can’t be taught.

That was Grif­fin six years ago. To­day, it’s La­mar Jack­son.

In 2018, Grif­fin is a 28-year-old vet­eran try­ing to re­claim a career that lost its lus­ter af­ter his ini­tial burst of NFL star­dom.

For Ravens mini­camp news on safety Eric Wed­dle, cor­ner­back Jimmy Smith and line­backer Al­bert McClel­lan, go to bal­ti­more­sun.com/ravens Jack­son could be the man who costs him a spot on the Ravens ros­ter.

Any­one could for­give Grif­fin if a part of him wanted to un­der­cut the kid.

In­stead, lis­ten to him on his young team­mate: “I look at La­mar as a lit­tle brother. I’m go­ing to take care of him. That’s my job. I’m about all things Bal­ti­more Ravens, and La­mar is a big part

of this team. His growth and ma­tu­rity is go­ing to be a big part of this team. So my job is to come in and help him as much as I pos­si­bly can, to com­pete with him to make him bet­ter, and be that big brother to him to help him go down the right path and know how to be a pro. I rel­ish that op­por­tu­nity. I don’t look at it as a bad thing at all.”

Such ma­tu­rity ex­plains why Ravens coaches have spent the past two months rav­ing about Grif­fin, even if he isn’t re­ceiv­ing as many prac­tice rep­e­ti­tions as an­tic­i­pated when he signed with the team in April.

“Robert can still play at a high level. There’s no ques­tion about it. He’s healthy as well and cer­tainly skilled, tal­ented, smart. He’s had an ex­cel­lent camp, and I will tell you, he’s done an ex­cel­lent job with the reps he’s had of tak­ing ad­van­tage of them,” Ravens of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg said. “That’s what you ex­pect from all the play­ers. The reps aren’t al­ways quite fair. Life’s not fair. But take ad­van­tage of the reps you get, and make the most of those. He did that just beau­ti­fully.”

Grif­fin hasn’t been a full-time start­ing quar­ter­back since 2013. He didn’t play a snap in 2015, started five undis­tin­guished games for the Cleve­land Browns in 2016 and failed to catch on with a team at all in 2017.

That way­ward fate seemed unimag­in­able when he won the Heis­man Tro­phy for Baylor in 2011, then torched the NFL as a rookie with the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins.

But Grif­fin swears he never gave into bit­ter­ness or de­spair. He watched the NFL closely last year, mak­ing sure he stayed abreast of the league’s trends and hap­pen­ings. He also worked out fu­ri­ously in Orlando, Fla., with famed track and field Ravens quar­ter­backs, from left, Josh Woodrum, Joe Flacco, La­mar Jack­son and Robert Grif­fin III drop back to throw dur­ing mini camp at the team’s train­ing fa­cil­ity. coach Brooks Johnson and per­for­mance coach Tom Shaw.

“When I watched quar­ter­backs play, I would tell my­self, ‘I know I can do that,’ ” Grif­fin said. “But I’m not just telling my­self. I’m go­ing to put the work in. That’s why, when I came here for my work­out with the Ravens, they told me, ‘Hey, it’s like rid­ing a bike for you.’ Well, it’s only like rid­ing a bike be­cause I put the work in.”

If he didn’t con­front his dif­fi­cul­ties with daily toil, he might have be­come “one of those guys at the bar, telling old war sto­ries about what they used to do, how they got screwed.” “I didn’t want to do that,” Grif­fin said. When the Ravens an­nounced they’d agreed to a one-year deal with him at their pre­draft press con­fer­ence, Grif­fin felt re­born. He knew he was not com­ing to take Joe Flacco’s job, but he was back in.

Lit­tle did he know that within three weeks, the Ravens would draft their quar­ter­back of the fu­ture, cast­ing his sta­tus back into doubt. Jack­son would eat up the rep­e­ti­tions a backup needs to prove him­self dur­ing off­sea­son work­outs.

But Grif­fin said he didn’t waste a mo­ment curs­ing his fate. In­stead, he mar­vels at the tal­ent col­lected in the quar­ter­back room.

“It’s not very of­ten you get a Su­per Bowl champ and Su­per Bowl MVP, two Heis­man Tro­phy win­ners and an NFL Rookie of the Year in one room,” he said. “It’s very rare, so we have to max­i­mize that. You can’t have too many high-qual­ity guys in the room.”

He’s en­joyed his in­ter­ac­tions with Flacco, the vet­eran and lead dog of the group.

“Joe knows I’m 28, so I am a young quar­ter­back, but I’m also a sea­soned vet­eran from the stand­point I’ve played a lot of foot­ball and ex­pe­ri­enced the highs and some lows,” Grif­fin said. “So I think Joe re­spects my voice in the meet­ing room. I try to rel­ish, try to seize the mo­ment when I’m in the meet­ing room with Joe or out on the field, just to be able to watch how he goes about things.”

But it’s clear he feels a spe­cial affin­ity for Jack­son. He sees the rookie’s rare tal­ent and hears the doubts from out­side about how he’ll fit in the NFL game, how he’ll be vul­ner­a­ble to in­jury as a run­ning quar­ter­back. It’s all so fa­mil­iar.

“They had the same ques­tions about me com­ing out, and I proved that my style does trans­late,” Grif­fin said, re­call­ing that 2012 sea­son when he led the Red­skins to the play­offs with sen­sa­tional run-pass ef­fi­ciency. The world seemed to be his for the tak­ing be­fore in­juries up­set the nar­ra­tive.

Those me­mories mo­ti­vate him to help Jack­son.

“I’ll be hon­est, I’ve told him mul­ti­ple times that he can­not change who he is to try to fit any­body’s mold,” Grif­fin said. “He’s got to be him­self, be the quar­ter­back he is, do things the way he does them and then learn … through all the peo­ple in his corner, in­clud­ing my­self, to de­velop his game to where he’s un­stop­pable. That’s the goal, and that’s why I’m here.”

They also dis­cuss the joys and dif­fi­cul­ties in­her­ent to be­ing an African-Amer­i­can quar­ter­back.

“I think he trusts me, and I think that’s a big as­set when we are on the field, when we are in the film room or whether we’re away from the field,” Grif­fin said. “I have his ear, and I’m able to guide him in ways that are very valu­able for two African-Amer­i­can quar­ter­backs, to be able to com­mu­ni­cate and dis­cuss some of the things we go through in this league. Be­cause it is a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence, but at the same time, it’s not some­thing to get down about. It’s some­thing to rel­ish. That’s what I’ve been preach­ing to him.”

Grif­fin takes the long view of his sit­u­a­tion. He be­lieves, deep in his gut, that he’s bet­ter than he was in 2012 — more poised in the pocket and far smarter about as­sess­ing de­fenses. Even if he doesn’t play a snap for the Ravens this year or doesn’t make the team at all, he main­tains faith that if he prac­tices well and men­tors well, he’ll climb back to the top of the moun­tain.

“Fo­cus on the lit­tle things, let the big things fall in place,” he said. “The long-term goals, those will never change. Once you get into the league, ev­ery­body pretty much has the same goals — win a Su­per Bowl, be con­sid­ered one of the great­est at your po­si­tion. And luck­ily for me, quar­ter­backs are play­ing well into their 40s now.”

KARL MER­TON FER­RON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Quar­ter­back Robert Grif­fin III, signed by the Ravens in the off­sea­son, hasn’t been a full-time start­ing quar­ter­back since 2013. He didn’t play a snap in 2015, started five games for the Cleve­land Browns in 2016 and failed to catch on with a team at all...

KARL MER­TON FER­RON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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