One of the stray benefits of having increased hoopla around Redskins training camp, is the parade of media celebrities.
As the NFL team in the Capital of the Free World, the Redskins are accustomed to having some of the industry leaders as beat reporters, who cover the team on a day-to-day basis. But training camp is the perfect forum to welcome some of the titans of the sports media industry, including Don Banks from Sports Illustrated.
Banks traveled to Redskins Park on Wednesday afternoon, from his home near Philadelphia (I’m sure he instantly enjoyed the difference). Banks has been a familiar face at Redskins Park in recent seasons–probably because he has two sons living in Ashburn. A little unplanned family time and a must-see quarterback made Washington the first stop on his 11-city training camp tour.
“I usually get between 10-12 teams on camp tours, so I usually try to see about a third of the league,” he said. “After that, you have time constraints and you don’t want to load up so much that you really aren’t spending any quality time at each stop. You’re doing a drive-by, and that’s a bunch of wasted energy for very little gain.”
Banks starts with the best, beginning his trek in Washington. From here, he will also see the Eagles, Jets, Bills, Panthers, Ravens, Packers, Vikings, Texans, Cowboys and Chargers. That other team in the NFC East didn’t quite make the cut.
Before Banks split for Philadelphia, he squeezed in a few minutes to share his early impressions of one Robert Griffin III. With all of the ecstasy surrounding his first few months with the Redskins, I had to know if we love Griffin III more as a dynamic player or as a dynamic personality.
“I actually think it’s for the whole package,” he said. “I think it’s what he does on the field catches your eye, and he obviously throws so well on the move. But you don’t talk to too many pro athletes that kinda knock everything out of the park [in an interview].
“He’s poised, he’s intelligent, he kinda knows when to charm you, when to get serious, and when to lighten the moment,” Banks explained. “I just thought the D.C. area was going to fall in love with him, and have this raging, long honeymoon. It’s pretty much gone the way I expected it.”
I wasn’t sure where his description was going, but I think ‘raging, long honeymoon’ is the new standard for explaining Griffin Mania.
Banks is a mock draft guru, so Griffin III has been on his radar longer than for most people in Redskins Nation. But even though he’s covered the league for more than two decades, Banks said Griffin III might be the first of his kind in terms of talent.
“I think the guy I covered that threw on the run as well–maybe not even as well as he does–is Randall Cunningham,” Banks said. “I covered the Vikings in the late 90s and he had his renaissance comeback season in ’98 when Moss was a rookie and they went 15-1, and blew the NFC title game.
“[Griffin III’s] package of skills are fairly unique. I do kinda worry, that because Cam Newton set the bar so high last year, that perhaps [Griffin III]’s going to suffer by that comparison.”
Newton, of course, is part of the discussion every time successful rookie quarterbacks are brought up. Like Peyton Manning in 1998, Newton had a dynamite statistical rookie season, despite winning only six games. So what do we call a successful rookie season for Griffin III: eye-popping statistics or a boost in the win column?
“It is partly about stats when you’re a rookie, because you’re trying to build a track record. But if this team takes a step backwards it’s going to be hard to call his rookie season a success. It really depends on how it plays out,” Banks said. “If he’s lights-out and the team around him totally underachieves, I don’t think he’s going to come out of this damaged. I think he is going to be the energy and the enthusiasm in the Redskins’ season.
“When the end of the year comes I don’t think people are going to say did we get the right guy. I think it’ll be fairly obvious that they got the right guy and now it’s a matter of him growing and developing.”
For what it’s worth, Banks likes what head coach Mike Shanahan has done to build the team, but suggests that they may need more firepower. Picking up two wide receivers will give Griffin III good talent to throw to, but Banks wants to see how the roster plays out.
“I don’t think they’ve added enough,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions still up and down this roster. I like Jim Haslett, I like a lot of the things he’s done so far, and I think the defense really has a chance to take a step. But I keep doing the math in the division and I keep getting in the 7-9 territory for this team.
“That would be better than last year, and it’s a step forward,” he said. “It’s gonna be the type of year, where I think they’re gonna be better, but not drastically better from a win-loss record. I think they’ll actually beat some of the teams they’re supposed to beat and still knock off an upset or two.”
Banks’s Other Player(s) To Watch In Camp (Besides Griffin III):
“I really want to see what Leonard Hankerson does this year. I think I’m recalling he just had an awful case of the drops last training camp, and he came a ways after that rugged start. I really think he’s an important guy if [Griffin III] develops a chemistry and a pretty quick cohesion with his receivers. He’s a guys that he really needs to develop something with.
“I remember how much Haslett talked about Jarvis Jenkins last year, and he’s a guy I’ll keep and eye on. I actually like to get here and kinda wipe the slate clean a little bit and start to rebuild my perception of the team and that’s what the camp stop is about.”
A big shout-out to Don Banks for taking a break as interviewer and becoming my interviewee. As someone with a global NFL perspective, it was nice to hear his candid commentary on Griffin III and the improving state of Redskins Nation. Check out his NFL Postcard from Redskins Camp on SI.com.