Belief In Himself Has Robert Griffin III Ready For Return
Eight months to the day after he underwent surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee, the quarterback will return to the field as the Redskins open their season.
BY ZAC BOYER
ASHBURN – The dog tag dangled around his neck, the scripture forming a shield that hung near his heart.
‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
Robert Griffin III wore the metal tag, stamped with the word of Jeremiah 29:11, underneath his jersey all of last season. It assured him, comforted him, reminded him that when everything is in doubt, there’s always a reason.
And it motivated him, encouraging him that for all the work he put in during the offseason, the suffering would only make him stronger.
Eight months after undergoing surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee, Griffin will once again play football, making his return tonight for the Redskins’ opener against the Eagles at FedEx Field.
“I don’t think there’ll be any tears. If there are, they’ll be tears of joy,” Griffin said. “To come out of that tunnel with the team [before the game] is going to be a great moment – not only for me, but for the fans, my teammates who have seen me work as hard as I have this whole offseason to get back out there.”
Doing so will end an arduous chapter for the young quarterback, one complicated not only by the complexity of his rehabilitation but also the lengthy, indirect back-and-forth between coach and player over the circumstances in which the injury happened.
Griffin had led the Redskins, an otherwise hapless franchise in recent seasons, to their first playoff appearance in five years after setting multiple rookie, team and league records. He did so while playing the better part of the final month with a sprained right knee, entering the wild card playoff game against the Seahawks at less than full strength.
In a lasting image from the fourth quarter of that playoff game, an eventual loss, the knee twisted and buckled beneath Griffin, leaving him helpless to recover a football that had come loose after a bad snap.
The decision to keep him on the field while he was clearly hurting was heavily scrutinized in the ensuing months. Griffin and Mike Shanahan subversively pointed to the other as being responsible – Griffin by demanding to stay in, Shanahan by not replacing him – before each side eventually accepted their roles in the saga.
Yet disconnect lingered even into training camp in late July, shortly after Griffin received clearance from James Andrews, his surgeon, to return to football-related activities. Perhaps as a vestige of the decision he didn’t make during the winter, Shanahan restricted the quarterback’s workload and even needed three extra days last weekend to declare Griffin would face the Eagles.
“We had a game plan for Robert, and we were hoping with this game plan that we could get him ready for the first game and there wouldn’t be any swelling and there wouldn’t be any setback,” Shanahan said. “So far, so good.”
The team Griffin returns to won’t look all that different from a year ago – a positive for the Redskins, who had the fifth-ranked total offense and the fourth-ranked scoring offense. Still, those milestones were reached within the structure of a scheme that accentuated Griffin’s abilities as a runner and a passer, including the use of bootlegs and the read option.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has maintained the Redskins won’t deviate from those principles this season, reiterating that Griffin was hurt by scrambling, not because of a designed play call.
It will ultimately be some time – the end of the season, possibly longer – before concerns surrounding Griffin’s future have been answered.
When he stands in the shadows of the stadium this evening, anxiously awaiting his return, he can only hope for the best in the present.
“I’ve told [teammates] I’m going to need them for that, because it’s gonna be tough to just know how to feel in that moment,” Griffin said.
“But we’ll work on it all together and we’ll be all right.”
➤ A version of this story appears in Monday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.