In what was arguably the best performance of his college career, Jets rookie Robert Griffin did something he had never done before during Baylor’s Alamo Bowl win over Washington last season.
When the Bears broke from their offensive huddle, Griffin would reach back behind him and touch the hand towel that hung from his waist. Each huddle, Griffin touched that towel, which had a special message written in black marker on the inside — “R.I.P. Mom.”
Just days before that bowl win in December, Griffin lost his mother to a yearlong battle with kidney cancer.
“My coaches knew my intensity was high; they knew what was going on,” Griffin said. “They ran the ball behind me. They ran behind me a lot that game. They knew how I was playing; they knew the emotion and they ran behind me.”
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He’s used that loss to help refocus his life. He’s hoping to justify the Jets taking him in the sixth round of this past April’s NFL Draft.
“I’ve been through a lot; I wake up every day knowing I don’t have a mom. I know that she is upstairs looking at me. Everything that is done — walking, playing, brushing my teeth — I want to do it for her. I want to be a new person, a new personality,” Griffin said. “I’ve talked to [head coach] Rex [Ryan] and [general manager Mike] Tannenbaum about wanting to be a new person.”
The learning curve for an offensive lineman in the NFL can be steep. Learning the playbook is daunting, especially the intricacies of run blocking. In college, he said the Baylor playbook “is three pages. ... This one is more like 3,000 pages. Literally. It is this thick.”
Griffin holds up his giant left hand and spreads his thumb and index finger about four inches wide. It is a tall order for the 6-foot-6, 330-pound right guard to impress given that the Jets have three Pro Bowl offensive linemen as starters.
“It’s just a learning process, I have to learn. I can’t just come out there as an offensive lineman on fire. One thing from college to the NFL is technique, technique, technique. You can’t just use your physical power like in college,” Griffin said.
“It’s just like training wheels on a bike. You don’t just hop on and start riding a bike. You have to learn to pedal.”
There’s an appreciation of the moment that he’s in right now, even if he is still on training wheels. Teammate Jordan White, himself a rookie out of Western Michigan, trained with Griffin before the NFL Draft at a facility in Dallas. He said the player’s nickname is “RG300,” a blend of Griffin’s size and a spoof of his famous quarterback at Baylor, Redskins first-round pick Robert Griffin III.
White sees a player who is quiet on the inside, but can turn it up on the field.
“He’s lively inside, even though he doesn’t say a lot,” White said. “He’s a quiet guy but on the football field he turns it up. You get into an argument with you and he’ll let you know.”
“I wake up every morning and every prayer is ended with a ‘Thank you Mom,’” Griffin said. “She’s watching me and loving it. She knows what I always wanted to do, always wanted to make the big leagues. She’s watching me, from that luxury box in the sky. Now I want to make it for her.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.