Will Preseason Inaction, Rust Carry over into RGIII's Regular Season?
In keeping Robert Griffin III firmly attached to the sidelines this preseason, Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan is running the risk of having a rusty and potentially less effective quarterback when his team opens the regular season against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 9.
However, Shanahan is also ensuring that his quarterback will be available and as healthy as possible.
Such is the bartering process this month for the Redskins, who have otherwise committed to treating their prized quarterback investment like any sane coaching staff would given the franchise-rattling finish to last season.
Only seven months ago, Shanahan saw Griffin crumple under his own weight and shred his right knee when he abandoned natural caution. Now, the Redskins head coach is ensuring caution rules the day with Griffin's extensive recovery.
According to Mike Jones of The Washington Post, Shanahan insisted Monday that Griffin won't play in any of the Redskins' four preseason games, despite his quarterback's rather public claims that he's ready to take on more than what Washington is giving him.
In fact, Shanahan claimed there was "no possibility" of Griffin changing his mind on the matter.
There is no friction. There is an understanding between coach and player. That is all. Don't have to like everything— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) August 12, 2013
The decision has continued to receive very little in terms of outside criticism. And why should it? According to Jones, the Redskins were clearly instructed by renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews that the best course of action in Griffin's recovery was to hold him out of the preseason.
However, if there's a singular risk in Shanahan keeping Griffin out until the regular-season opener, it's the readjustment to game speed, or the "rust" factor.
The NFL preseason doesn't present much in terms of tangible worth, especially for most starters and established veterans, save for maybe the third preseason game. Otherwise known as the regular-season dress rehearsal, Week 3 of the preseason does allow for teams to game-plan and prepare as if the contest had meaning. These games typically possess the best preseason preview to the upcoming real games.
However, most of the value in the preseason comes from seeing a live opponent in a true game setting. Padded practices and intrasquad scrimmages can only provide so much in terms of replicating the speed of the NFL game, which necessitates the need for varying lengths of preseason exposure for even the best players.
Griffin won't get that luxury in 2013. And it may hurt him at the start of the regular season.
Like Griffin has since experienced, Peterson shredded his knee late in the 2011 season but miraculously returned to practice during the ensuing training camp. Yet despite medical clearance, the Vikings went to great lengths to protect Peterson.
During camp practices, he wasn't subjected to contact. According to Tom Pelissero of ESPN 1500, Vikings defenders were under "strict orders" from head coach Leslie Frazier to avoid hitting Peterson in any of the team drills.
Griffin, a quarterback wearing the customary red jersey (or yellow, in the Redskins case) in camp, wouldn't have to worry about contact anyway.
But the Vikings also adopted the no-preseason plan with Peterson. Four exhibition games came and went, with Peterson stuck on the sidelines in street clothes. He received zero carries or snaps.
By the time the regular season rolled around, however, Peterson was much closer to 100 percent, and he eventually started Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Yet the rust he could have risked shaking off during the preseason was obviously there to start the season. Over his first three games in 2012, Peterson rushed 58 times (19.3 a game) for 230 yards (3.9 yards a carry) and two touchdowns.
He cracked 100 rushing yards for the first time in Week 4, but fell back to totals of 88 and 79 in Weeks 5 and 6, respectively.
Keep in mind, Peterson was still an effective running back. Rushing for 499 yards over six games after returning from reconstructive knee surgery is nothing to sneeze at.
Should Robert Griffin III be allowed to play in a preseason game before starting in Week 1?
However, it was clearly a rusty start to what eventually would be called one of the greatest seasons ever by an NFL running back.
From Week 7 on, Peterson failed to go over 100 yards only once. Seven different times he eclipsed 150 in a single game. Few running backs in recent history have put together a stretch of 10 games as dominant as Peterson's finish to 2012.
Peterson's recovery should provide plenty of optimism for what Griffin can accomplish in 2013, but it should also temper expectations for what the Redskins quarterback may be able to produce early on.
If there's any position in football that can quickly readjust to live game speed without the aid of the preseason, it's probably running back. But even one of the most natural runners of this generation struggled to immediately regain traction after a long rehab process.
The same should be expected for Griffin, who plays one of the most demanding positions in sports. On the opposite end of the spectrum as running backs, quarterbacks need to see fast, moving defenses in the preseason to reacclimate to the speed of the game.
Any slowing of that process, and even a smart, talented and athletic quarterback like Griffin can look visibly average in a hurry. Without any preseason exposure, it's certainly possible that the Redskins could see a less effective version of their star quarterback to begin this coming season.
But for the Redskins, any rust to start the 2013 season is a welcome trade-off for a completely healthy Griffin. The NFL season is a 17-week marathon, which gives the Redskins ample time to get their starting quarterback back up to speed in games that actually count.
Risking that reintegration during an otherwise meaningless preseason game might not sit well with Griffin now, but not playing him is the right decision, whether there's the likely appearance of rust in the opening weeks or not.
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