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Will RGIII run his career into the ground?

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON

THERE IS a reason there are no really successful running quarterbacks in the National Football League.

Let’s quickly get past Redskins coach Mike Shanahan’s decision not to pull Robert Griffin III from Sunday’s playoff game and get to the crux of the matter.

I have yet to hear from anyone except Shanahan and tight end Chris Cooley who thinks Griffin, who was hobbling before the first quarter ended, should have remained in the game.

Shanahan, of course, doesn’t want to second-guess himself and Cooley, who wants to come back and play next year, doesn’t want to second-guess his coach.

There are, of course, two reasons for sitting Griffin on the bench: first, so he couldn’t further damage an already apparently injured knee; and second, so the Redskins have a chance to win.

After all, there were more than 40 other players who deserved an opportunity to move on to the next round of the playoffs. Backup Kirk Cousins had proved he was capable of doing the job.

That said, we must face the real reason that Griffin may not be the Redskins’ savior: running quarterbacks last about as long in the NFL as chopped liver does in the July sun.

Take Michael Vick, for example. He’s been beaten almost senseless in the NFL and his career seems to be about over.

Running quarterbacks just can’t take it. The NFL is not college and pro quarterbacks are not as young as they once were.

In high school, they may have been phenoms and in college they may have been Heisman Trophy candidates. But seven or eight years of getting pounded takes its toll, and by the time these guys get to the NFL, their legs and knees are not what they once were.

It’s like professional tennis players whose knees take a beating. Those guys are pretty much finished by the time they’re 25—and nobody blindsides them.

Running backs have a hard enough time staying healthy and they run mostly north to south. Quarterbacks often take the snap and run backward, set to throw and then run laterally.

While running backs can lessen the strain on their knees by throwing a shoulder into an oncoming tackler, running quarterbacks usually get pounded from one side or the other if some 240-pound linebacker doesn’t cut their legs out from behind.

Besides, being a passer, a quarterback is—or should be—reluctant to throw his shoulder into anyone, especially a tackler coming at him at 20 mph.

Quarterbacks, even those who scramble (there is a difference in being a scrambling QB and a running QB), almost always find themselves in a vulnerable situation. You can’t prepare yourself for a hit when you’re looking downfield for a receiver. And when you’re running laterally, either one knee or the other is likely going to take a blow.

There is another reason why running quarterbacks don’t last long in the NFL, the same reason Tim Tebow sat on the New York Jets’ bench this season.

Running quarterbacks usually can’t generate points quick enough. Tebow might engineer an eight-minute drive for a touchdown, but Peyton Manning could throw for three scores in that amount of time.

Coaches want passing quarterbacks for the same reason that gamblers would rather chance a bet on a 10–1 horse than put $2 on a dead favorite that pays 10 cents on the dollar. It is the potential return that guides the investment.

Besides, fans want to see quarterbacks throw 50-yard bombs and the fans pay the bills.

Five weeks ago, a group of us sat at a high school basketball game and discussed Griffin and his great talent.

“He’s good, but if he keeps running he’s going to get hurt,” one man said, adding, “You can’t quarterback from the orthopedic ward.”

In one season, Griffin has had a concussion and hurt his knee twice. That should tell him something.

One more thing: Last Sunday’s game may have uncovered an even-greater weakness in the young quarterback—arrogance.

In a post-game press conference, Griffin said that he did not leave the game because he felt that he—even while crippled—was better than his backup.

That attitude may have cost Washington a win over Seattle and Griffin his career.

Hopefully, RGIII will recover from his knee injuries. But if he leads the Redskins in the future, it will have to be as a drop-back passer, not a runner.

Donnie Johnston:

djohnston@freelancestar.com

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