Washington Redskins  

 

Robert Griffin III, Mike Shanahan under NFL microscope in 2013

RICHMOND, Va. -- All but one of the Washington Redskins' players were already on the field, having made the walk from their brand new building across a straight path of grass about 50 yards long. Yet the eyes of almost everyone remained focused on that building.

There was only one reason, of course, why a dozen cameramen would turn their backs to the action: Quarterback Robert Griffin III wasn't part of it. He was the last of everyone to make his debut, and the only to have his initials chanted when he did.

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If you aren't yet used to this way of the world -- if you've yet to accept RGIII's ascent to a level of mania rivaled only by Tim Tebow circa 2011 -- then it might be time to realize something: It's only going to grow.

And with that growth, the type that made a teenage girl's hand tremor Thursday as she stared down at the glove Griffin had just handed her, there will be debate. Debate about how to manage him. Debate about when to play him. Debate, it turns out, that is superficially similar to that which followed Tebow.

In the wake of Griffin's rapid rehabilitation from knee surgery less than seven months ago, Washington coach Mike Shanahan finds himself making decisions that will never please everyone, mostly because this subject has caused so many varying opinions. Should Griffin play in the preseason? Should the Redskins change the offense to better protect him? Is Griffin being too bold in his recovery?

While entirely subjective, these questions (from media and fans alike) hound Shanahan like an IRS audit. And so far, at least, it's difficult to argue with the decisions he has made.

Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, have developed a plan to bring Griffin along slowly enough to appease those fearful of re-injury, and rapidly enough to appease their stubborn quarterback, who proved in January's playoff loss that he'd be willing to play on crutches.

The coaches will allow Griffin to take eight of the team's 10 daily repetitions in 7-on-7 drills. They'll give him 30 minutes of individual work. But they won't let him get under center during team drills for at least another week, nor do they have any intention of playing him during the preseason.

"It just doesn't make any sense to play him in any preseason games," Mike Shanahan said. "So we're going to try to get him in football shape. What I'd like to be able to do when he's ready is be able to play or be able to practice at game-type tempo. When that'll occur, I can't tell you.

"When I think he's ready for it, it's going to take some time. It surely won't happen for 2-3 weeks. It does take some time to get back in football shape."

Reserve quarterback Rex Grossman said Thursday that if Griffin played the position like a traditional quarterback, he'd be healthy enough to go right now. But Griffin is far from traditional, which begs the other controversial query: Do the Redskins need to alter their offense in the coming weeks to protect their investment?

The Shanahans, at this point, don't see the need. While Mike Shanahan seemingly now recognizes the situation he faces -- something many would argue he did not fully grasp while allowing Griffin to play through injury in the playoffs -- he and his son maintain their convictions that it wasn't the read-option offense that put Griffin in danger.

Kyle will tell you the read-option actually protects a quarterback, since it allows him to hand the ball off in the instance that he's going to take a hit. He will tell you Griffin's three injuries last season all occurred on passing plays. And then, he'll tell you what he believes is the real area of concern: All of his life, Griffin has been outrunning defenders. The quarterback has never been forced to learn how to throw the ball away or slide or run out of bounds.

But in an NFL world that gets faster by the second, Griffin says he's starting to recognize the need to adapt.

"As a quarterback, I don't like to conform and say you can't win outside the pocket," Griffin said. "I think you can win outside the pocket, you've just got to be smart about it. That's what I learned over the past six months about myself. It's about what we need to do to win.

"Maybe that's keeping me in the pocket a little bit more. Maybe that's throwing the ball away a little bit more, sliding, doing all those things that are necessary."

For now, everyone is indeed saying all of the right things. Mike Shanahan is using a seemingly approvable level of caution; Kyle Shanahan is exploring ways to make Griffin better understand the moments when he is most vulnerable; and Griffin seems willing to recognize he isn't invincible.

These are good steps in the wake of a strange and scary injury. Turning these words into actions over the next several months will be better steps. After all, as Griffin continues his rehabilitation, nobody is questioning his work ethic. Nobody seems to doubt his motives, either. And, perhaps where this differs from Tebowmania most, nobody doubts his overall ability to play the position at a high level.

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But as Thursday's first practice of training camp commenced, as the mania and the debate and the wonder enveloped Griffin's world 6 1/2 months after a magical rookie season ended with the injury, it became abundantly clear that we're on the cusp of one fascinating experience.

Griffin is back.

And the attention on him is more overwhelming than ever.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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