Washington Redskins  

 

Robert Griffin III keeps pushing; Mike Shanahan keeps protecting

RICHMOND, Va. -- Nearly 35 minutes after the end of practice Monday, well after the rest of his teammates had cleared the field, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was still signing autographs. And hundreds of fans, maybe even a full thousand, were still waiting to get one.

Mind you, this was not some sort of fan appreciation day (that happened two days earlier). Instead, this was just another day in Richmond, during the deepest doldrums of training camp, 120 miles south of the team's usual home facility.

This, in its simplest essence, is the situation that stands before Redskins coach Mike Shanahan: Griffin is growing more powerful by the day, more capable of steering his massive fan base in whichever direction he desires. Remember back in 2006, when it seemed dangerous to buy shares of Google as the price cleared $500? Griffin is Google in 2006.

No doubt, that's just fine. A successful quarterback quite often gives rise to a successful coach, and this pairing appears to be heading down that road. But there is nonetheless an underlying situation in play that deserves to be addressed before it catches you by surprise: It's time to start putting less stock in Griffin's opinion of his own rehab.

He is charming. He is likeable. He is genuine. His way with words is as fashionable as his way with defenses, understandably leading many to smile and nod with every encouraging outlook he provides as he pushes for a Week 1 return. But according to team sources -- and don't take this the wrong way -- he is also stubborn as all hell.

As Griffin less-than-subtly indicated Monday afternoon, he is getting antsy with Shanahan's current timetable, and he's not afraid to say it.

"I'm ready to move on," Griffin said. "I mean, you can only do so much in 7-on-7 (drills). The completion percentage is there. I feel like the rhythm is there with the guys. We're finding the holes in the defense when we have to, and we are throwing the checkdowns when we have to, as well.

"Coach will tell you something else, but obviously, I'm ready to move on."

Had Griffin made that last statement before January's playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, it's easy to envision his fan base using the sentiment as reason enough to push Shanahan to play him. That's part of Griffin's charm. But Shanahan learned a very valuable lesson about his quarterback, one that fueled the greatest controversy to date of a storied coaching career. He can't be among those who fall for that charm again.

"(Griffin) might not always like the plan," Shanahan said Monday. "But it's not my job to be liked. My job is to do the best thing for him -- and that's what I'll do."

While it is incredibly unfortunate that it took a serious knee injury for this to hit home with Shanahan, it seems privately and publicly clear that the coach did indeed learn his lesson.

Griffin, on the other hand, is a different story. And that's why, as Griffin provides a weekly update on his timetable for a recovery, we should all be a little cautious.

Let's be very clear here: There is no rift between Griffin and Shanahan. As one team source said,
"(Griffin's) awesome with the coaches, and he works his ass off, but he's just tired of not being on the field." And as a source close to Griffin said Monday evening, "There are aspects (Griffin) doesn't like (about Shanahan's plan for him), but it's a give-and-take relationship, and (everyone) is balancing it very well right now."

That said, Shanahan is dead set on showing there is a hierarchy in place. While Griffin might be the most popular member among the fan base, Shanahan is making it privately clear that he is the boss within the organization. The team is trying to drive that point home with Griffin, but it's not entirely evident that this is sinking in with the quarterback.

"I was doing a whole lot more at this time after my recovery (from knee surgery in 2009) at Baylor," Griffin said. "Obviously, with this situation, and what we have to deal with here, there is a lot of (public) scrutiny, so Coach also has to account for that."

Such a suggestion -- that Shanahan's timetable is at least partially affected by fear of a public backlash in the wake of January's controversial injury -- proves Griffin feels like he should indeed be doing more than he is right now. It also indicates he doesn't foresee any reason, not even the perception of outside scrutiny, that he won't be suiting up for the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.

"You can say whatever you want about what (Shanahan) is doing," Griffin said. "I can feel any kind of way about it, but at the end of the day, we all have to be on the same page, and that is what I am trying to do; just do everything the coaches ask me, show them that my rhythm and timing is there, show them that I can play.

"And at the end of the day, they have to come through for me and play me Week 1 if I do everything they ask me to do."

Did you catch that last line? That's affirmation that Griffin truly does view this rehabilitation as a give-and-take situation -- not just a decision that will be made exclusively by Shanahan. And that's where he might be wrong. It is also why we might find ourselves, one month from now, hearing from a very frustrated and disappointed quarterback if Shanahan decides not to play him in the season opener.

There is nothing wrong with any of this, mind you. There is nothing wrong with having a quarterback who wants badly to be back on the field, nor is there anything wrong with having a coach who cautiously protects his star's health and future. Heck, many wish that's how things had played out back in January.

Ultimately, as long as Shanahan continues to keep his feet firmly on the ground, as long as the coach understands he'll never be able to out-charm Griffin when it comes to the fan base, the Redskins have no reason to worry.

Just be warned: When Griffin says he's ready to play, he absolutely means it. And you absolutely want to believe him. But the only green light that matters is the one that comes from Shanahan.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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