RICHMOND, Va. — Robert Griffin III throws ’em smiles. Pierre Garcon throws ’em footballs.
While just the merest glance or wave from RGIII toward a fan can elicit Beatles-era screams of glee at Washington Redskins training camp, his top receiver goes one better. Several times over the first two days of camp, Garcon has caught a pass downfield and tossed the ball into the crowd.
If it were a game, such behavior would come with financial repercussions.
But this is just practice.
“Coach can make a rule if he wants to,” Garcon said Friday with a laugh. “But, naw, hopefully we’re not getting fined.”
The Redskins can happily live with Garcon giving away footballs if he keeps up his winning percentage. While Griffin was undeniably the team MVP last season, Washington probably wouldn’t have won the NFC East without Garcon. The team went 9-2 when he was on the field.
“You’re always looking for your great players to play, and when you don’t have those guys, it is a difference,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “Some guys came in and got some valuable experience, did some good things, but when Pierre came back, you could see he’s a difference-maker.”
Garcon caught 48 passes for 683 yards and four touchdowns despite dealing nearly all season with a frustrating toe injury. He tore a ligament in the second toe on his right foot while sprinting to the end zone for an 88-yard score in the season-opener and missed six games trying to figure out how to deal with it.
He was emphatic about not having surgery. Never had surgery before, he said, and didn’t want to try it now, especially because doctors weren’t 100 positive that it would help. Eventually, he learned to play through the pain — essentially just became numb to it — and elevated the offense in the second half.
Then came the irony. After the season, Garcon was diagnosed with a torn labrum. Having succeeded in fending off the surgeon’s knife for his toe, he had no choice but to have an operation on his shoulder.
“It was a terrible feeling to have to have surgery,” Garcon said. “But the surgery for the shoulder wasn’t as bad as I assumed. It wasn’t major; it wasn’t as worrying as for my foot.”
Garcon joined Griffin’s so-called “all-world uncleared team” during spring practices, part of a group of rehabbing players that caught passes from Griffin on the side while the quarterback recovered from knee surgery.
But Garcon is now full-go at camp. The shoulder is fine. The toe? Well, it’s just something he might have to cope with for the rest of his career. He’s looking into wearing a special shoe to help ease the discomfort when he pushes off, but he said he’s not having problems so far at camp.
“Trust me, it’s nothing,” he said. “It’s over with, to tell you the truth. … You have to treat it. You have to prepare for the worst, but you can’t really worry about it. When you’re out there running, you’re out there running.”
With the starting unit essentially intact from last season, Garcon figures this year’s Redskins offense has a shot at being the best of all time, the type of optimistic hyperbole heard at every NFL camp this time of year.
If it is truly that good, he’ll certainly be front and center, along with Griffin and running back Alfred Morris, having come a long way from his days at Division III Mount Union before four years with the Colts.
“When I was in Indy, I was learning to be a professional player,” Garcon said. “I was coming in to actually help out on special teams. I learned the position, learned from Reggie (Wayne) and Marvin (Harrison), Peyton (Manning), Dallas (Clark), Jeff Saturday, all those guys. So when I got here, I kind of took what I learned and just added to what I’ve been doing.”
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