Following Thursday’s preseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan announced that the team’s orthopedist, the renown Dr. James Andrews, cleared quarterback Robert Griffin III to resume full contact and play in NFL games once again. It was a highly anticipated announcement and everyone hopes that Griffin will line up alongside his teammates when the Skins face the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football to kick the season off on Sept. 9.
However, according to multiple sources today, Dr. Andrews “expressed concern” to the Redskins, Shanahan and RGIII himself about Griffin’s surgically reconstructed knee and counseled the team to limit Griffin’s exposure to “punishment” during games.
First, I wonder if Dr. Andrews realizes he’s talking about a player – a quarterback – in the NFL. Players in this game are exposed to “punishment” on a play-by-play basis. Something as seemingly simple as taking a snap from center and turning to hand the ball off at normal NFL speed places enough torque on the joints in one’s lower body to pull muscles, tear ligaments or tear cartilage.
These athletes are supremely conditioned, so the likelihood of that happening on such a mundane play is limited. But if the center steps back on a quarterback’s foot while he’s turning, who knows? That might be an extreme example, but counseling an NFL player to avoid “punishment” is like telling a gazelle to avoid the lions.
Should Griffin just hand the ball off to Alfred Morris or stay in the pocket when he drops back to pass? He’s just as likely to have a lineman roll up on him and do any sort of damage to his knee, ankle, whatever as it is for him to get hurt running with the ball – planned or not.
RGIII’s game is on the edge of the offense. Everything offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan does is predicated on the idea that Griffin can take off at any moment and pop for 80 yards. Everything.
Griffin separates himself from other zone read quarterbacks with his athleticism and raw speed. How much of that will be hindered by the reconstruction? We won’t really know until he’s under center and opposing NFL defenses are trying to stop him. We don’t know. Mike and Kyle Shanahan don’t know. Dr. Andrews doesn’t know. Griffin, himself, doesn’t know. He’s looked good in practice against his own defense that has been instructed not to make contact with him. But until it’s for real, we don’t know how much “RGIII” Griffin still has.
The Redskins can’t limit the things they run with Griffin. They can counsel him to try to use discretion when he senses impact. There are times he can slide and run out of bounds to avoid contact. But again, for the most part football is an instinctual game. For all the planning and scheming and coaching that goes into it, when you get on the field you have to allow talent and a certain amount of recklessness to take over. You simply cannot play afraid.
It’s very difficult to tell a player not to do the things that have made him what he is.
Then there’s the point of the offense being designed around his particular talents. Almost everything the Skins do on offense is based on Griffin’s innate ability to make plays. The play-action, the quick passes, the zone read… that’s all off Griffin’s playmaking ability and the threat of his raw speed and natural talent. Griffin is a good pocket passer, true. But some of that is benefitted by the defense’s reluctance to attack Griffin in the pocket for fear of him eluding the rush and busting containment. They’d rather he throw than run, for now.
Griffin is smart. He knows what he’s been through to get back to the point of playing again. He is going to have the best idea about his capabilities and his limitations. The team and the doctors can counsel all they want, and some of that will sink in. There are things he can do in certain situations to mitigate the “punishment.”
But they can’t counsel him not to be “RGIII”. It’s who he is. It’s how he got here. And how much of that unexplainable something that makes him RGIII was retained after his knee reconstruction will dictate his future and the foreseeable future of the Redskins.