It was the slogan. It was the documentary. It was a coach who figured they could ease him back in. It was a doctor calling him superhuman. It also was a group that overlooked the obvious: When it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL, especially for a young guy, there’s no substitute for repetitions. That’s where Bruce Allen, in essence, said the Washington Redskins organization erred last summer when it came to Robert Griffin III.
Allen told ESPN 950 radio Monday that having Griffin play after only a couple of weeks of practice was “disrespectful to football.”
That's easy to say now. Although his return was heavily debated, it wasn’t as if many in the organization were saying behind the scenes that Griffin should wait a few more weeks.
His knee was ready and cleared by Dr. James Andrews. His game? Another matter. Griffin did not look sharp in the throwing sessions the media could watch. But at the time, you figured it was natural rust and would be shed soon. Griffin, after all, was an athlete on a different level.
Ah, but playing quarterback is about more. It’s safe to say Griffin could have used a few more weeks of nurturing his game before returning. The problem at the time was this: The Redskins were entering the regular season, and he didn’t have time to continue rebuilding his game. Coaches often say young quarterbacks grow more in the offseason between their first and second seasons. Griffin didn’t have that. It took him a while to gain any sort of consistency and rhythm. A big play or game would be followed by erratic play; it never really changed.
There’s no doubt coach Mike Shanahan felt as if he had no choice but to insert Griffin. Allen never mentioned him, but Shanahan had the ultimate authority. There was so much hype surrounding Griffin's desire to return, which left the coach wondering how it would be perceived if he didn’t start him. Shanahan had the utmost confidence in Kirk Cousins -- but Cousins sprained his foot and missed two weeks, not returning until right before the opener.
Shanahan could have made a decision, just as he could have made one in the 2012 playoff loss and not used Griffin. A coach with two Super Bowl rings has that authority. Shanahan failed to make the decision; no one from the organization publicly disagreed with the move, either.
It’s funny, though, because life is different for Griffin with Jay Gruden. It’s almost as if the Redskins are trying the George Costanza approach: Whatever was done in the past, do the opposite. Gruden is more player-friendly and certainly more compatible with Griffin. They are trying to decrease the importance of his legs (the Shanahans incorporated them in part to ease the transition to the NFL), at least on designed runs; when he has run in camp, it’s been off scrambles. If any situations arise with Griffin when it comes to injuries, my guess is they will take a different approach there, too.
Gruden knows what went wrong here in the past. But it wasn’t just one or two people who learned a lesson when it came to handling Griffin’s injury. It was an organization. More than one person shared in this responsibility. If they learned from it, Griffin and the team can move forward with confidence.