Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan may be forced to make one of the biggest decisions of his NFL coaching career, while the career of his star quarterback Robert Griffin III hangs in the balance.
It is subject to debate—should RG3 participate during training camp and the preseason, or wait until his knee is completely healed and err on the side of caution?
On the one hand, Shanahan needs his current and future franchise quarterback preparing and up to speed for the upcoming season, despite having completed only five-and-a-half months of an estimated seven-to-nine month rehabilitation process.
On the other hand, the head coach is working with a 23-year-old NFL star who is recovering from a second reconstructive knee surgery on the same knee in three years and repeatedly telling reporters, “The knee feels great.”
Additionally, RG3's doctor, noted orthopedic surgeon and Redskins team doctor Dr. James Andrews, told the NFL Network six weeks after surgery that RG3 “was way ahead of schedule” and “we don’t have to do much but try to hold him back.”
The fact that Andrews is the same doctor who called RG3 “superhuman” doesn’t help much, either.
Ultimately, it is Shanahan’s decision not only which player joins the team, but also how much they play and in this case, when they play.
The predicament facing the coach during this offseason is not necessarily when it is safe to allow RG3 to return, but how to convince him it is not in his best interest to return this early despite his assertions and abilities.
There are minimal potential gains in accelerating RG3’s return and possibly worst-case scenarios should his premature return result in a setback or a re-injury to his right knee.
Honestly, what is the rush to return? What does RG3 have to prove? Why not allow time to heal?
We know he can run the offense. This time last year, RG3 was not even officially a member of the Washington Redskins. He signed his four-year, $21 million contract with the team on July 18.
Despite signing two-plus months after he was drafted, Griffin managed to develop and exceed most expectations—breaking and setting several NFL rookie records en route to winning the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
In a May 26 article by the Washington Post, RG3 acknowledged the need to use caution and show better judgment following his injury, surgery and rehabilitation up to that point.
You come back like you were never hurt because that’s the only way you can play. You don’t play the game afraid to get hurt. You play the game like you’re supposed to be invincible, while at the same time being smart and sliding and all the other stuff.
Just days earlier during a press conference, Coach Shanahan told reporters Griffin’s return, and subsequent protection, will all be with his best interest in mind.
“We’re going to try to protect Robert as much as we can,” Shanahan said. “We’re going to let him do the things that we think he does the best, and hopefully it’ll be as productive.”
There are more than enough reasons, including the future of both RG3 and coach Shanahan, to be cautious.
Keep in mind, the sophomore quarterback just started sprinting drills as organized team activities (OTAs) concluded last week. Griffin has yet to begin drills focusing on stop-and-starts or cuts, and he has not faced a pass rush.
There is no contact during OTAs, and RG3 and a dozen other Redskins returning from injuries practiced as a special group during the four weeks of voluntary practices that ended June 12.
We know the things he’s capable of doing. We’ve seen what happens when he’s on the football field and healthy. And believe me . . . nobody wants Robert back more than I do. But I want him to get well first. That’s the most important thing . . . I’m not going to lose sight of that.
Regardless of how great his knee feels, RG3 needs to police himself, exert self-control, learn from last year’s experience and heed his coach’s advice and recommendation not to rush his return.
Nothing is gained by returning too soon to a game that is so physically demanding, as well as an offense that relies heavily upon his agility to lead it to victories this season and in future seasons as well.
The question is not so much if the Redskins can afford to be overprotective of RG3, but can they afford to be without RG3 if they are not overprotective? As the sayings go, "Time heals all wounds," "Only time will tell" and most importantly, "Better safe than sorry."
With so much riding on his successful rehabilitation and return to game form prior to his first knee injury as an NFL professional in Week 14, the Redskins and RG3 need to delay his return until the start of the regular season.