Reporting David Elfin
Robert Griffin III’s right knee has been blessed by surgical wizard James Andrews, who has much at stake in the matter considering he operated on Washington’s most famous joint. Coach Mike Shanahan has concurred, allowing Griffin to join his teammates in practice – as some of us have long expected — when training camp opens tomorrow.
But what happens now? There are 47 days until Washington’s season opener against Philadelphia. The original post-surgical timetable had Griffin hitting the field anywhere from Aug. 9 to Oct. 9 with the Redskins’ first game coincidentally splitting the difference.
Barring a setback during the next six-plus weeks, Griffin will obviously be the starting quarterback against the Eagles as the Redskins begin defense of their first NFC East title in 13 years.
In the interim, Shanahan has to decide whether to use his franchise player in the preseason games at Tennessee on Aug. 8, against Pittsburgh on Aug. 19 and against Buffalo on Aug. 24. The coach never plays his starters in the preseason finale, ruling Griffin out of the Aug. 29 game at Tampa Bay.
As a rookie in 2012, Griffin needed to test himself against opponents in the less-frenetic preseason before making his for-real debut in his parents’ hometown of New Orleans against the Saints in the regular season opener.
Shanahan gave the second overall pick in the draft 14 snaps in Washington’s preseason opener at Buffalo. Six were passes, none longer than 20 yards. Eight were handoffs, including the botched one between him and Evan Royster that the Bills recovered.
The next week at Chicago, Griffin handed off 14 times, ran three times for 17 yards and dropped back 11 times. He was sacked three times and completed five of his eight passes for 49 yards.
And in his first ballyhooed duel with top overall pick Andrew Luck of Indianapolis at home in Week 3 of preseason, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner ran once for five yards, completed 12 of 17 passes for all of 74 yards and handed off 16 times.
All told, Griffin dropped back 34 times in three games, ran five times and handed off 38 times (counting the fumble). That’s a total of 77 plays on half of which he didn’t pass or run, lessening the odds of him getting whacked by a defender in a different colored jersey.
So the balancing act that the Redskins are facing this summer is between getting Griffin some game reps before the action begins for real on Sept. 9 and exposing his surgically repaired knee to opposing defenses an average of 13 times per game based on last preseason.
Don’t forget that the Tennessee game marks the return from an NFL suspension of Titans senior defensive assistant Gregg “Kill The Head” Williams and that Pittsburgh’s ever-ferocious defense not only smacked Griffin around last October but injured then-Washington quarterback Jason Campbell’s knee in a 2007 preseason game. The lowly Bills, including former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams (63-1/2 sacks in seven seasons), are out to prove themselves to a new coaching staff.
Having watched Griffin perform his magic last season, seeing how well he moved during his work on the side of practices this spring and knowing how competitive he is, I know that he’s going to want to play.
But I can’t help but think back to the summer of 1999 when Trent Green, who had earned a lucrative contract with St. Louis after performing well at quarterback for Washington in 1998, suffered a season-ending knee injury on a preseason hit by blitzing San Diego safety Rodney Harrison. Unknown backup Kurt Warner replaced Green and turned the long-downtrodden Rams into “The Greatest Show on Turf” and the winners of a Super Bowl and two NFC titles over the next three years. Warner became a likely Hall of Famer while Green had to re-establish himself in Kansas City.
When Green was hurt, Shanahan was the coach of the two-time defending champion Denver Broncos and he surely remembers that scenario. Not that he would expect Redskins backup Kirk Cousins to become the NFL’s best quarterback if anything would happen to Griffin but as a lesson of what can happen in football, even in preseason.
Shanahan also know that he shouldn’t have indulged Griffin by letting the obviously hurting rookie remain in the divisional playoff game with Seattle this past January. If Cousins had filled in for Griffin then, time and rest or perhaps a minor operation instead of reconstructive surgery might have healed the starting quarterback’s knee.
My hunch and my opinion concur: Griffin won’t and shouldn’t play this preseason.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin