Little At Stake As Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III Meet In Preseason
ASHBURN – If at some point in the next decade both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III reach considerable NFL success, the first meeting between the top two players taken in the NFL Draft in April may be remembered more fondly for its novelty than for any tangible result.
Today’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins at FedEx Field does come, after all, during the preseason. The commemorative T-shirts being sold by the NFL conveniently make no reference to that, and even though it will be televised nationally on a weekend afternoon, it doesn’t change the fact the game is still being played in mid-August.
That makes it difficult to ignore a feeling that the game is anything but contrived. The two teams aren’t scheduled to meet in the regular season – Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer shared a field in 1993, as did Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in 1998 – and when it comes down to semantics, Luck and Griffin will never technically play against each other.
“He’s trying to lead his team, I’m trying to help lead my team, and I never will truly get to face Andrew because he doesn’t play defense,” Griffin said. “That’s the one thing I’ve always said and one thing I will continue to say, and we’ve just got to look forward to playing the Colts’ defense.”
The quarterbacks’ draft status is only one indication of their similarity. Both have been viewed as transcendent players at their position – Luck for his fundamentals, Griffin for his athleticism – and will likely develop into elite players in due time. They’re each intelligent, hard-working and confident, which has led to a friendship that developed over the course of their college careers.
But while Griffin is already one of the more marketable players in the NFL, Luck can appear uncomfortable in the spotlight. Griffin may have won the Heisman Trophy, for which Luck was a finalist; Luck, in turn, was the first player drafted in the spring, one spot ahead of Griffin.
“I think you realize that’s sort of the nature of the beast, nature of playing quarterback, nature of being drafted one-two at any position in any sport,” Luck told reporters in Indianapolis earlier this week. “I don’t speak for him, but I’m sure he feels the same way. It’s not too hard not to get too caught up in it. I have much bigger things to worry about. Football is the biggest team game there is, so I’m just happy to be a part of a good team.”
The quarterbacks’ roles in resuscitating their teams couldn’t be more different. The Colts are trying to move on from Manning, who led the team to two Super Bowl appearances and one title in his 13 years, while the Redskins are trying to find someone who can consistently lead them to the postseason.
What they can potentially do for each team is what separates them the most.
“I think every quarterback is a little bit different,” Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan said. “Everybody has their strengths and their weaknesses, and you always try to surround your football team around a quarterback with his talents. … I had a chance to spend time around [Luck] and Robert, and I felt great. No matter what direction Indianapolis decided to go in the draft, we’d be in good shape.”
Most teams will treat the third game of the preseason as the most legitimate, beginning their game planning early in the week and allowing their starters to play into the third quarter. For Griffin, it will be a change from the basic defenses he saw at Buffalo and at Chicago, and the opportunity to learn from what he saw in those first two weeks will be a benefit.
The quarterback thrived against the Bills, completing four of six passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, then went 5-for-8 for 49 yards while being sacked three times against the Bears. His decision-making – specifically, his speed in doing so – was his primary concern after last weekend, and his ability to build momentum through the majority of the game against Indianapolis is something he believes should help.
And while Griffin admits the idea of facing Luck’s team does cast an interesting shadow on the game, it does, in essence, mean nothing.
“We want to win the game, there’s no doubt about that, and I think the guys in the locker room want that to happen as well,” Griffin said. “It’s our home opener and we want to go out and put on a good show, but for me, it’s just about continuing to get better.”