White hoping to turn Redskins stint into an opportunity
ASHBURN, Va. -- Spend a morning at the Redskins offseason workouts this spring and it's difficult to watch anything but every movement made by the fast-healing franchise quarterback with the big, bulky brace on his surgically repaired right knee. But Robert Griffin III isn't the only comeback story on the Washington quarterback depth chart these days.
Pat White is here, too. Pat White, a name so far removed from the NFL radar screen that it's a struggle to remember how long he's been off it. Is it only three years since the Miami Dolphins gave up on the former second-round pick and record-setting West Virginia star? Because it seems longer. It seems as if White was never really in the NFL at all.
He'll tell you roughly the same thing. But here he is, in his old familiar No. 5, albeit in Redskins colors, trying to finally unlock the play-making potential that prompted Miami football czar Bill Parcells to spend the 44th overall pick on him in 2009.
White, now 27, was supposed to help the Dolphins offense take another step in revolutionizing the league with their innovative Wildcat formation. But four years later, his mission at the moment appears to be performing his best RGIII impersonation for a Redskins defense that won't be seeing much of the real thing from their rehabilitating starting quarterback in practice until the regular season arrives. The quick assumption is that White's multi-faceted skill set nicely fits the read-option offense that Griffin rode to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors (and the playoffs), but it just took time for the league to catch up to what he does best.
The only problem with that theory? White himself doesn't buy the notion that the NFL just wasn't ready for him in 2009. That version of history has it exactly backwards.
"The Dolphins gave me every opportunity, and I just didn't make the most of it,'' said White on Thursday, after a scorching hot OTA session at Redskins Park. "Maybe it wasn't in a zone-read type of offense, but they did give me plays on the field, and I didn't seize the opportunity. I have nobody to blame but myself.''
Looking back on his failure in Miami isn't White's favorite exercise, but give him credit for not faulting the scheme. He says a combination of immaturity, impatience and selfishness combined to end his days as a Dolphin, almost before they had begun. White played very sporadically in just 13 games as a rookie, suffered a season-ending concussion against Pittsburgh, and then was cut just before the 2010 regular season opened.
"It was me wanting to go in there and be perfect right away,'' White said. "When it didn't happen that way, frustration took over and selfishness took over, and I ended up out of the league. So I learned my lesson.''
It's tough at the moment to know exactly what to make of White and his chances in Washington. Quarterbacks with little or no track record in the NFL don't usually leave the game for three years and then find a measure of success. In some ways, it's notable that White has made it even this far, getting another look in a league that relentlessly moves on to the next crop of talent. One of the big stories in the NFL this spring has been the saga of a West Virginia star quarterback who went in the second round to an AFC East team, but we're talking Geno Smith to the Jets last month, not White to the Dolphins four years back. White's journey passes for ancient history.
Between now and the end of the NFL's preseason, White will show us what's real and what's not in regards to his comeback. Without a doubt, he's in Washington in part due to the stunning success of young read-option quarterbacks like Griffin, San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Seattle's Russell Wilson last season.
And the Redskins do seem like the right spot for White, in that with their unique situation of Griffin unlikely to play until September, there are snaps to be had in both practice and game situations. Many presume, as do I, that Washington is a win-win situation for White because he'll get the chance to log some valuable game film with the Redskins, showcasing himself to the rest of the league for that team out there that might want to add a read-option threat to their quarterback depth chart, or at the very least show their defense that look in practice via the scout team.
But in Washington, if all goes as planned, it's hard to see White climbing any higher than the No. 4 slot behind Griffin, valuable backup Kirk Cousins, and veteran No. 3 Rex Grossman. Given Griffin's injury and Cousins' relative inexperience, even challenging Grossman for the third-team quarterback job appears out of the question. Unless the Redskins opt to carry four quarterbacks, an unlikely scenario for any team, White would seem to be auditioning for the rest of the league this summer in Washington.
And yet, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan sounds intrigued by White's possibilities, and all but dismisses the idea that Washington signed him in April only to try and mimic Griffin's dual passing-running threat in practice while No. 10's recovery from knee surgery continues.
"He's definitely got a shot here,'' Shanahan said. "A lot of times that fourth guy doesn't get many reps, but he's going to get real reps. He's getting just as many as the second-team guy (currently Grossman, with Griffin not practicing and Cousins in the No. 1 role), and once we get to [training camp] he's still going to get reps, and then we're going to get a chance to evaluate him in game situations.
"I'll be honest, he has really impressed me, as a person and a quarterback. It'll be interesting to see how he does in the preseason, but he's got some unique skills. There was a reason why he was drafted in the second round. What we do fits Pat perfectly, because he's a great athlete and he's got the ability to make plays with his legs, and he's smart enough to handle all the play action and drop back. He's never been in our system and yet he doesn't make any mistakes. He's a fun guy to have.''
Shanahan said White doesn't look like a quarterback who has been out of the game since 2010, and that he has clearly made some progress in the first two weeks of the Redskins' OTAs. Still, there's plenty of room for improvement when it comes to White's timing, footwork, and passing touch. He doesn't have the strongest arm, but the part of his game that he must master is the footwork required to smoothly execute the read-option. That's where his three-year layoff from the game has shown up the most so far.
"I know that there's rust I still need to knock off,'' White said. "I've got work to do, a lot of work to do. The accuracy, the footwork, the timing, the whole nine. But I'm willing to work and to try and get better every day.''
After a brief foray into professional baseball with the Kansas City Royals organization, White in his post-NFL life tried to find something to replace the game. But after watching the read-option offensive craze unfold in the NFL last season, he realized he was still young enough to give the game one last try. For that, he said, he owes Griffin and Co. a debt of gratitude.
Point-blank, I asked him if he could still channel the old Pat White, the one whose sensational play-making ability at West Virginia made him enticing to the NFL in the first place? Or has too much time passed?
"I haven't been re-incarnated, so I'm sure that skill is definitely still there,'' White said. "I'm still a young 27. I like to tell people that I'm a 2009 model with only 4,500 miles on it. It's been sitting in the garage waiting to be revved up.''
For White, the ride in pro football hasn't been the one anyone expected. It went nowhere fast the first time. Whatever opportunity Washington affords him, and wherever it leads, it represents the kind of second chance many don't get.