If you're an undisputed starter, the preseason is useless. The risk of injury outweighs whatever a veteran might be able to gain by getting their real-game sea legs each August. That's why there shouldn't be any debate regarding the Washington Redskins' decision to leave franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III on the sideline regardless of how well his repaired right knee feels.
The Redskins offense is nearly identical to last year's. Same receiving corps, exact same line (assuming Tyler Polumbus maintains his starting job), same backs and same tight ends. Nothing new, save for new wrinkles Mike and Kyle Shanahan are certain to introduce during training camp.
But there's no rush. Griffin can master those wrinkles off the field and in practice and they can be implemented throughout the month of September. A slight delay there won't be a back-breaker, and again, is a strong alternative to risking any sort of injury (or re-injury).
From the time of his reconstructive knee surgery to the 2013 opener, RG3 will have had 243 days to recover. Adrian Peterson had 253 days to do the exact same thing last offseason, and that recovery was considered to be borderline-miraculous.
That's why this isn't a debate. Kirk Cousins, who has already proven to be one of the most reliable backup quarterbacks in the league, will start Thursday's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville and is expected to handle those duties in the three weeks that follow.
They've also covered their zone-read tracks by (at least temporarily) employing the mobile Pat White along with cannon-armed veteran Rex Grossman. That gives the coaching staff the ability to toy around without having to expose Griffin to real-game contact.
Starters will go 10-15 plays in Tennessee, Shanahan said. Kirk Cousins will get more playing time in second and third games. #RedskinsTalk— Tarik El-Bashir (@TarikCSN) August 5, 2013
“You see Kirk step up being a real leader on this team,” tight end Niles Paul said this week, according to the Washington Times. “You kind of get the feeling that he’s been in the league eight years because that’s the way he carries himself, as a seasoned veteran almost.”
It also gives Cousins another opportunity to practice for any potential cameos he may need to make during the regular season. Of course, in a perfect Redskins world, that won't be necessary, but history indicates there's a decent chance it'll happen. Few NFL teams can survive long-term without their starting quarterback, but Cousins has to be ready to keep this team afloat for as long as possible. This experience will help.
Knowing that some stellar preseason performances could inspire the 'Skins to give him more opportunities as a pinch-hitter if/when Griffin has to sit during the regular season could inspire Cousins, as could the idea that 31 other teams are watching to see if he can be the next Matt Schaub or Matt Flynn.
Few are questioning the way the Shanahans are handling this situation, but I wanted to commit a few hundred words here to the strategy, simply because flying colors deserve that.