By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: In a few months, new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will likely be asked to take a high-profile rookie quarterback under his wing and prepare him to spearhead a turnaround for a franchise that regularly chews up and spits out signal callers like a wood chipper shreds branches.
As the play-caller for the Washington Redskins, Shanahan proved he could guide a young quarterback to success. But after making a run to the playoffs during Robert Griffin III’s rookie season, it all turned ugly.
RG3 suffered a sprained right knee late in the 2012 season and sat out a game against the Browns before returning. A few weeks later in a wild-card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, the same knee buckled in the first quarter, but he kept playing until it bent in gruesome fashion and knocked him out of action with 6:19 left in the fourth quarter. The Washington Post reported Griffin developed trust issues with Shanahan after he was initially injured late in the season because he felt Shanahan’s play-calling, specifically zone-read runs, put him at further risk.
Then in 2013, Griffin struggled mightily to bounce back after the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee was reconstructed, and the Redskins went 3-13. Shanahan and his father, Mike, the team’s former head coach, were fired following the season.
The Browns have the fourth overall pick in May’s NFL Draft and will likely select a quarterback early like the Redskins did in 2012, when they traded up to choose Griffin second overall. All of this makes outsiders wonder whether Shanahan learned from his experiences with Griffin and what his relationship will be like with his next star pupil.
Shanahan, 34, opened up about the subject Thursday during an introductory news conference.
“Anytime you go through a 3-13 season, it is a challenge,” Shanahan said. “It’s a challenge on your relationship. It’s a challenge with everybody in the building. You’ve got to deal with a lot of stuff, a lot of negativity, and the thing I learned going through that, especially with a high-profile guy, there’s a lot more stuff that comes out. When stuff would come out, we’d address it. We’d get into our room. We’d talk about it and make sure we felt good about it.
“I think Robert and I, through a very tough time, we managed to keep our relationship through the year. I’m not going to say it was easy. Nothing’s easy when you go through something like that. But I do believe going through it, Robert and I in the long run, it’ll make both of us better. It’s something that is a challenge, and I do believe going through that, as hard as it was, will help me.”
New Browns coach Mike Pettine said the topic was addressed Jan. 29 during Shanahan’s interview. The Browns named him their offensive coordinator Monday. Contrary to an NFL Network report, Pettine insisted the interview went well.
“I didn’t feel like I needed to be assured,” Pettine said. “He opened up about it and talked about it at length. It was something I didn’t think was an issue at all. He was very passionate about it. When things go bad, I think a lot of the negative things are exaggerated.”
Asked about Shanahan receiving criticism for Griffin playing injured, Pettine said, “It was nothing that I felt was anything that reflected poorly on Kyle.”
So what kind of quarterback will Shanahan lobby for now that he’ll get another chance to lead an offense?
“I’ve been a coordinator six years [two with the Houston Texans and four with the Redskins], and I’ve played with seven different quarterbacks,” Shanahan said. “Each guy has been a little bit different. I’ve had some real athletic guys. I’ve had some nonathletic guys. The main thing is you’ve got to be able to adjust. You’ve got to put in a scheme that is flexible. You don’t need a certain type of quarterback. You just want a good quarterback. You’ve got to figure out who the best guy is and go with the best one possible and figure out how to let him play the way he plays.”
And if it’s a rookie, Shanahan said, “The most important thing is asking them to do what they’re great at and then working and improving on other aspects of their game.”
Shanahan’s focus will now shift to evaluating this year’s quarterback class, so he can present his opinions to CEO Joe Banner, General Manager Mike Lombardi, assistant GM Ray Farmer and Pettine. He’ll also evaluate the quarterbacks on the roster, including Brian Hoyer, who led the Browns to back-to-back wins last season before suffering a torn ACL.
“Everybody’s looking for one of those top-five [quarterbacks],” Shanahan said. “If you’re not one of those top-five guys, then the odds are you’re [going] to get replaced. Obviously, no one here has proven that they are one of those top-five guys.
“But [Hoyer] has shown that he can play in this league, so you’ve got to see what his ceiling is and how high of a level he can reach. Everybody wants a franchise quarterback, and I really believe that’s the only way to have sustained success in this league. I’m not saying he is [a franchise quarterback], but he has NFL tape and hasn’t shown that he can’t be.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.