Reporting David Elfin
As we in the media are known to do, especially in today’s 24-7 news cycle, we blew the alleged rift between Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan so out of proportion that the quarterback felt compelled to address it Tuesday for a second straight day.
You’d think that we were dealing with President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner squabbling over major governmental issues instead of an NFL quarterback and his coach discussing the former’s use. It’s not even as if Griffin issued any kind of “play me or trade me” proclamation about Washington’s three remaining preseason games.
In essence it comes down to this: Griffin wants to take full practice — which will happen Wednesday for the first time since he suffered the knee injury that required surgery seven months ago — and play as soon as possible, while Shanahan is being conservative after gambling that the then-rookie’s amazing athleticism could surmount an obviously ailing leg in the divisional round loss to Seattle in which he was injured.
After criticizing Shanahan for indulging Griffin like a favorite son in the wake of the torn knee ligaments, I have to give the coach kudos now for being the adult in this situation. In fact, I couldn’t believe that Shanahan let Griffin run 7-on-7 drills in a downpour in Richmond on Aug. 1.
With just one NFL season to his credit, Griffin is the foundation of the Redskins, on and off the field. He’s more than the face of the franchise, he’s its very lifeblood with no slight intended toward backup Kirk Cousins, who has filled in for him with aplomb.
Other than the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, there hasn’t been another Washington athlete in memory whose presence was so critical to his team. It was no coincidence that with Griffin at quarterback the Redskins soared from three straight finishes at the bottom of the NFC East to their first division crown in 13 years.
Shanahan is 61 and in the second-to-last year of his contract. Even if that gets extended, everyone hopes that the 23-year-old Griffin remains in Washington longer than his coach.
And yet, as Griffin said today, “Coach is coach. I’m the player. Coach has a plan and I’m abiding by that plan. I’m doing everything the coaches are asking me to do. I trust those guys. They want me to have a long career and that’s what part of this plan is about.”
Indeed. Griffin is so smart that he graduated from both high school and college a semester early, the latter with a 3.67 grade point average in political science. But he has also been the star of just about everything he has ever tried, including competing in the Olympic Trials in track at age 18 as a sideline to his football stardom. Although he’s the child of two former military members, Griffin is used to getting his way. After all, he’s RGIII, right?
Even the Redskins treat him differently than his teammates. Griffin had a weekly press conference during spring workouts even though he wasn’t fully participating in them. And he’s only allowed to talk to the media in those settings unlike many of his predecessors at quarterback.
So when Griffin was candid yesterday, saying about the vaunted plan for his return to action, “I don’t like it … I don’t understand all of it,” he was voicing what comes naturally to one of the nation’s most popular people, one with nearly a million Twitter followers.
Shanahan, who worked with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young as a coordinator and John Elway as a coordinator and coach, has plenty of experience with headstrong stars even though his own playing career ended with a ruptured kidney in college.
“Robert is an energetic guy that wants to play,” Shanahan said Tuesday after Griffin delivered his brief statement. “I talk to him [about] different ways to handle different situations … but it doesn’t change a person’s personality. Me and John Elway used to have knockdown, drag-out fights all the time. …You want that strong mindset, but at the same time, when I look back at my experience dealing with all these injuries, I think I’ve got a good feel for what a guy can do and what a guy can’t do and what it takes to get him ready for his first game.”
The bottom line is that Griffin’s going to ease back into 11-on-11 drills beginning Wednesday. He’s not going to play in preseason. Barring some unexpected setback –- he hasn’t had one since the surgery –- he’s going to open the season as the starter against Philadelphia on Sept. 9. And then, hopefully, the current brouhaha will recede into history.
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.