RG III shouldn't have pushed return
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III made good on his vow to return to play in the Redskins' opener eight months after reconstructive knee surgery. Now, after two weeks of struggling, it appears he would have been wise to choose oft-maligned Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose as his guidepost for how to return from such an injury.
Griffin might've spared himself the spectacle of standing in front of reporters this week to deny he still feels impaired beyond a little rust, or that he felt pressured by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's example to get back onto the field in record time.
The more RG III has played this season, the smarter Rose has looked.
By now, anyone paying attention to RG III's early-season performances has noticed what relentlessly candid Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon called on Wednesday "the elephant in the room" for the 0-2 Redskins.
"Everybody's talking about the injury, the injury that's been talked about ever since January, Robert's knee and his knee brace and what he can and can't do, and if he's prepared or not, and if he's ready to go," Garcon told reporters. "You definitely can't move as fluid and as fast as you could if you didn't have [a brace] on. It's common sense, really."
So there. Someone on the inside is saying it: RG III is not fully recovered from the ligament injuries he suffered in the playoffs against Seattle.
The read-option run skills Griffin displayed during his rookie season have been almost entirely scrubbed out of the Redskins' attack, ruining what made the Redskins one of the NFL's most dynamic offenses.
Griffin has totaled just 25 rushing yards on nine carries this year; in the first two games of last season, he ran the ball 20 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. The Skins have run the read-option only five times this season -- and Griffin has handed off every time. The smokescreen excuse that Skins coach Mike Shanahan has thrown out is that Washington fell behind a combined first-half score of 50-7 in those games.
The difference may be more attributable to a straitjacket of Griffin's own making.
And Garcon has been far franker than Shanahan or RG III about that, too, when asked to explain.
Griffin: "If teams will give us the QB runs, then we'll take it."
Shanahan: "We have the ability to do everything we've done a year ago."
Garcon: "We don't want [RGIII] always to keep running."
Garcon's take is the same one Griffin and his father, Robert Griffin Jr., expressed here and here in the months after he injured his knee, and then again in the August issue of GQ magazine, in which the elder Griffin said: "You tell a kid that you want him to be there for 14 years, guess what? Historical data will tell you that the more he runs, the more subject he is to career injury.
"You name one quarterback out there that would rather run the football than throw the football and I'll show you a loser," he continued.
Shanahan remains under a microscope for keeping a hobbled Griffin in the game against Seattle last season even after his knee buckled without being hit earlier in the game -- a precursor to the play that finally sent him into surgery. The way Griffin was being used also was questioned after he suffered a concussion in Week 5 against Atlanta and was knocked out of a Week 15 game against Baltimore and missed the following game in Cleveland.
Now? Anyone can see Griffin still doesn't move the same, or plant his repaired leg on some throws. Defenses are playing him as if they don't fear his ability to escape the extra pass-rushers they were understandably afraid to send at him a season ago.
Rust and timing issues aside, Griffin's movement and decision-making have been so noticeably different, NBC analyst Tony Dungy had seen enough at halftime of the Redskins-Packers game Sunday night. Dungy, a Super Bowl-winning coach, is one of the more restrained NFL analysts you'll hear. Which makes it all the more remarkable that he said he'd consider starting quarterback Kirk Cousins right now if this RG III and this drop-back-style offense is the best Washington can do.
Then longtime NFL safety and celebrated tough guy Rodney Harrison, who was seated beside Dungy in an NBC studio, said this could be told now: He was "scared to death" when he first returned from knee surgery with the Patriots and the bodies started crashing around him, especially near his lower legs.
NFL players -- even active ones -- are supposed to have more license now to admit the sort of fear Harrison confessed, aren't they? Why not give RG III more time to get himself right, especially since he didn't take a live game snap in the preseason?
And in this alleged age of enlightenment about player safety and well-being, athletes in other sports are supposedly encouraged to do the same, right?
But remember how Rose took a lot of heat for insisting he'd return to the Bulls only on his own timetable even after he was medically cleared to play late last season? The Bulls' point guard was adamant he wouldn't come back until he felt physically and mentally well enough to try -- the same problem Griffin is struggling with now. Rose stuck to that even after the short-handed Bulls upset the Nets in the playoffs, setting up an Eastern Conference semifinal series against Miami.
Rose took an enormous public relations beating even though teammates publicly and steadfastly supported him throughout, saying it was entirely his call. He needed thick skin and a granite jaw to endure it all. But he made the call and stuck to it, no matter how angry the backlash. He could have put in a good cameo in a Miami series the Bulls probably weren't going to win anyway. Instead, the Bulls expect they'll have him for 10 to 15 uninterrupted years of good health and greatness.
There are some takeaways to be gained from this.
Shouldn't Rose -- and not the Vikings' Peterson or RG III, who made a TV show documenting his accelerated rehab -- be another accepted model of how to deal with such injury dilemmas? Especially if this is sincerely a time when sports across the board are rightly asking how much of the old "whatever-it-takes" ethos is worth saving?
The fact that Rose's choice was seen as a bad departure, and he was somehow setting an unconscionably selfish precedent by putting himself first, suggest there's still a long way to go.
RG III could've made a similar call. Like Rose, he enjoys that kind of clout and the support of his teammates. They're both franchise players who had breakout rookie seasons and are seen as perennial MVP candidates in their leagues.
But RG III chose to mimic Peterson's return path instead.
Griffin -- who spent the offseason making bravado-filled promises about his recovery and pressuring the Redskins with remarks about what kind of attack he wants going forward -- at least honestly answered that question himself: Put it on me, he said.
What he still hasn't acknowledged is whether it was wise to insist on every start and every snap by opening day.
He's still not 100 percent. And neither is his team.