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RGIII: ‘Play Tough, Play Hard, Play Fearless … Play Smart’

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC) - Five days shy of eight months since he lay on the ground in Landover with a badly injured right knee, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is pumped that it’s just five days before he finally returns to action in that same stadium for the 2013 opener against Philadelphia.

“It was real gratifying to get cleared to play,” Griffin said in his first public comments since he was medically cleared to play by surgeon James Andrews on Aug. 29. “I’m ready to go and they’re confident in what I can do.”

That clearance was just about pro forma considering how good Griffin looked while working on the side during OTAs and minicamp and on into practices during training camp and preseason without having a setback, but the condition of the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year’s right knee has still been topic No. 1 around the Beltway since he crumpled to the ground in the divisional playoff loss to visiting Seattle.

“We know how much work he put in during the offseason [so] it would’ve been a shock to us if he wasn’t out there [on Monday],” said Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield. “It’s no surprise to me that a guy like [2012 MVP] Adrian Peterson, who’s a freak of nature, heals faster than the average guy. Or that a guy like Robert Griffin would heal faster than the average man. They’re faster and they’re stronger than the average man, so why wouldn’t they heal faster?”

Other than wearing a brace to protect the repaired joint, Griffin has no plans to change the all-out style that made him perhaps the NFL’s most exciting player during his record-setting rookie year.

“I just want to make sure I go out there and play tough, play hard, play fearless and, at the same time, play smart,” said Griffin, who was held out of preseason games as a precaution even though he returned to full practice after the first one. “I’m not going to go out there and play scared. [You have to] play like you were never gone. Everyone’s anticipating that I’ll be rusty, but that’s not the way I feel.”

Griffin’s just 23, but he is experienced at this kind of comeback, having torn his right ACL as a Baylor sophomore in 2009 before returning to at least the same high level in 2010.

“The first time, I didn’t have anything to base it off of,” Griffin said. “[I was] a lot more scared. You don’t know how you’re going to be [when you return]. The second time around, I know what it takes to get to where I was and get better. That’s why I have the confidence to know that I’ll be ready to go and it’ll be smooth sailing.”

Griffin said he’s not at all concerned about the first hit he takes on the knee, especially since he endured so many tackles in the intervening three years of facing opposing defenses who knew his weak spot.

“It will feel good,” claimed Griffin, who hasn’t been fully his dynamic self for a full game since the Week 13 victory over the-then defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants last Dec. 3. “Football is football. You’re gonna get hit. I’m not really anxious about it. You get up from it. Your adrenaline’s running so you usually don’t feel the hits until next day. We’ll see how I feel the day after.”

Griffin’s also not exactly sure how he’ll feel as he waits to be introduced to the home crowd on Monday for the first time since January. He said that his emotions could be as high as they were for his debut last September in New Orleans, where his parents are from and where he spent part of his childhood.

“It’s been a long journey,” Griffin said. “You don’t necessarily want to go on the journey that I had to go on this offseason, but you try to enjoy it along the way. To come out of the tunnel with the team, it will be a great moment.”

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who has worked with Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway, Joe Montana and Steve Young, said that in a quarterback’s second NFL season he can react to what he sees instead of thinking so much because the offense is second-nature.

Griffin, who had nothing to do but rehab and watch film for much of the offseason, concurred, saying, “Now I’m fluent in Redskins offense.”

If Griffin wasn’t fully comprehending the game in 2012 while setting rookie quarterback records for passer rating and rushing yards and leading Washington from the NFC East basement to its first division title in 13 years, imagine what he can do this season if his surgically repaired knee cooperates.

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 

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