With the much-anticipated return of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III still a question as to when it will occur, the more important question is how he is going to return. For his own safety and longevity in the NFL, RG3 can start by opting to get down or get out of bounds to avoid further injuries.
After suffering a concussion last season in Week 5, a knee injury in Week 14 and a second knee injury requiring offseason reconstructive surgery in the playoffs, Griffin—last year's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year—needs to take into account his own safety in order to survive in the NFL.
Game plans are designed specifically to contain or stop him. He is a target every time he has the ball. With that type of focus by opposing defenses, RG3 needs to implement a new mindset that could be hard for any competitor to accept and implement.
It goes against everything football players and athletes in general have learned from coaches growing up with regards to always giving 110 percent. It is what makes winners out of winners.
It is understandable why RG3 is conflicted. In his heart and head, he tells himself to go the extra distance, extend the current drive and ride the wave of momentum that could result in points on the scoreboard.
Suddenly, the star quarterback is being told to protect himself and throw the ball away, slide feet first or get down or duck out of bounds before getting hit. It is an unnatural instinct that has been instilled in him since the earliest days of competition to stop short of the destination.
Despite RG3's injury last season, the Redskins have no plans to change the offense. In a June 12 press conference, courtesy of Redskins.com, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan explained his quarterback is an elite player in the game's toughest position who is still learning.
"(RG3 needs to) get used to sliding, knowing when to fight for yards, when not to fight for yards," Shanahan said. "I think it's harder for guys their rookie years because the speed of the game is a lot different. People get up on you a little [quicker]. You gotta slide early and anticipate things."
Despite the need for improvement in protecting himself, RG3 can’t help but bring a high-level of play every time he steps on the field. This new approach is something that is difficult to teach and Shanahan was certainly grateful to have someone with his talent to lead the Redskins last year.
"There’s nothing that we’re going to do that says, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this or we’re going to do that,’ Shanahan told reporters. “The thing that’s awesome about having a guy like Robert [Griffin III] is Robert’s capable of being great at anything. It doesn’t matter whether it’s dropping back, play pass, bootlegs, zone read, options, it really doesn’t matter. He’s capable at being great at all of it."
Last season, Griffin ran the ball 120 times. With the implementation of a zone read offensive scheme, defenses had to focus on running back Alfred Morris, who finished second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards, while not ignoring the threat of RG3 and his rushing abilities.
As a quarterback, he accounted for nearly one-third of the team's rushing yards, according to ESPN.com.
With so much offseason attention focused on RG3's return and whether he can rebound from total reconstructive knee surgery, the bigger picture is whether the star quarterback can protect himself in running situations.
He would be best served to make improvements in his sliding technique, throwing the ball out of bounds when receivers aren't open and not forcing himself to carry the burden of the entire offense on his shoulders.
With the addition of NFL draft picks tight end Jordan Reed, running backs Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison—along with the return of injured offensive veterans Fred Davis and Pierre Garcon—Griffin has multiple additions to the team on offense who can take some of the pressure off of him.
While it may be asking a lot of him to alter what he is accustomed to doing as a team leader, RG3 needs to be a smarter football player and protect himself and his career.
He has proven his competitiveness and ability in just one season in the NFL. The time is now for RG3 to utilize the talent around him so the team does not depend upon his zone read scrambles, dashes and sprints.
With either the offseason additions or returns from injury at running back, tight end and wide receiver positions, the need for Griffin to run the ball should decrease and with that comes the frequency of contact.
The NFL has been under increasing pressure to protect players after a variety of lawsuits filed by former players involving concussions sustained during their NFL career. Fifteen yard penalties are assessed for helmet-to-helmet hits and intentional hits draw possible suspensions and fines.
The league has been aware of this ever-increasing problem, going so far as eliminating the decades-long image of two helmets smashing into each other in the graphic sequence that aired on ESPN broadcasts of Monday Night Football until 2009, according to the New York Times.
With all due respect to RG3, the saying, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" applies, but is it easier or more difficult to teach a new dog old tricks?