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Plenty Of Learning Opportunities Arise From Robert Griffin III’s Concussion

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

LANDOVER, Md. – For months, ever since they selected him with the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins have maintained that working with Robert Griffin III would be a learning process.

Griffin III

They’d first have to get to know him as a person. He’d have to get comfortable with the offense. Once those introductions were made, both sides could go about constructing a plan that would fully utilize all of Griffin’s talent and, eventually, produce a winner.

The give-and-take wouldn’t be an exact science, and Griffin and the coaching staff came to understand that. For every step forward in the quarterback’s development, though, it seemed as though one issue – his safety – was always the primary concern.

It’s Griffin’s health that, early this week, will have the Redskins searching for additional answers on how to handle their prized investment. Griffin sustained a concussion in the third quarter of the Redskins’ 24-17 loss to Atlanta on Sunday and will miss an indefinite amount of time – possibly days, possibly weeks – after taking a stiff hit from two defenders while scrambling out of the pocket.

Whenever he’s able to return to the practice field, whether it be early this week or sometime in the future, there’s no doubt making sure a similar situation doesn’t happen again will be of the utmost priority.

“We’ve got somebody very special,” head coach Mike Shanahan said. “We’ve got a guy that competes, a guy that tries to make plays, and every game he goes in, just like that play in the red zone, when do you take a dive? When do you throw the ball away? That’s all part of the learning experience that he’s going to gain as the time goes on.”

Griffin won the Heisman Trophy his final season at Baylor as both a strong thrower and an accomplished runner. His arm figured to translate well to the professional game, and though his elite speed would immediately make him one of the fastest players on the field, how well he could handle opposing defenses was a concern.

His success on the ground in the season opener at New Orleans may have been the worst thing for Griffin’s development. After he gained 42 yards on 10 carries in Washington’s victory over the Saints, the coaching staff showed less reluctance in having the quarterback carry the ball – and Griffin showed less hesitation in doing so.

Griffin carried the ball 11 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns at St. Louis, which first realized the best way to make the quarterback shy away from running was to hit him hard. He ran 12 times for 85 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati, which went a degree further by hitting him often.

That changed at Tampa Bay, when Griffin carried the ball only seven times with fewer option looks. And Sunday, as luck would have it, Griffin didn’t carry the ball until 8:52 remained in the third quarter, with the fateful hit coming just under three minutes later.

He was sandwiched between linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux while trying to convert on third-and-goal from the Falcons’ 3-yard line; Weatherspoon’s right shoulder hit Griffin’s head, which then bounced off Babineaux’s back.

A defense will always have to respect Griffin’s ability to run the ball – even in situations, like Sunday, when it doesn’t appear to be part of the Redskins’ game plan. Atlanta head coach Mike Smith even admitted after the game that Griffin’s injury provided “a different dynamic” on offense when the Falcons no longer had to worry about the quarterback taking off.

“When he got out of the game, it definitely showed that they were respecting it,” said running back Alfred Morris, who ran for 115 yards on 18 carries. “Because once he wasn’t in the game anymore, they were able to just pin their ears back and fly and do all they could to try to stop the run game.”

Michael Vick has been the best model for a true dual-threat quarterback during his time in the NFL, but entering his 10th season, he’s been hampered by rib, thigh and knee injuries – and concussions – because of the hits he takes.

Griffin may have a bright future – and the Redskins think they do, or else they wouldn’t have surrendered two additional first-round draft picks for the chance to acquire him – but he won’t be able to live up to it if a greater emphasis on his safety isn’t made.

“Every game he goes in, he’s gonna learn, and that’s why it takes you two to three years to really feel comfortable in the NFL to slow the game down a little bit,” Shanahan said. “Robert’s gonna keep on learning.”

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