All eyes continue to focus on Robert Griffin III.
One year removed from his breakout rookie season, Griffin and the Washington Redskins are preparing for another playoff run in 2013. While there is no doubting the talents and potential of Washington's young quarterback, questions remain and worries linger about what lies ahead for both Griffin and the Redskins.
Will the ACL and LCL tears and subsequent surgery that hindered Griffin's playoff debut last season play a factor in 2013? How significant is the apparent rift between Griffin and Washington's head coach Mike Shanahan? Will Griffin be ready by the regular season or is it possible that he fails to take the field Week 1?
In all, these questions may be lumped into one: Can Griffin replicate the same success he enjoyed last year?
The Injury Factor
Robert Griffin III is no stranger to injury.
In 2009, when Griffin was playing collegiately for the Baylor Bears, Griffin suffered an ACL tear only three games into his sophomore season.
His rookie season also saw a number of injuries as well.
One of the first significant ones was during Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens when Griffin suffered a mild LCL sprain which forced him to miss the following week. That injury would resurface again in the playoffs when the Redskins faced the Seattle Seahawks on January 6 in the NFC Wild Card matchup.
It is worth noting that an apparent controversy emerged when Dr. James Andrews, a well-known orthopedic surgeon who had supervised his recovery efforts, never cleared Griffin to play despite conflicting reports from Shanahan.
The story, reported by USA Today's Robert Klemko, cites Andrews as saying:
[Griffin] didn't even let us look at him. He came off the field, walked through the sidelines, circled back through the players and took off back to the field. It wasn't our opinion. We didn't even get to touch him or talk to him. Scared the hell out of me.
The conclusion to Griffin's season is well known. Griffin re-injured his knee, tearing both his ACL and LCL in the process which eventually resulted in surgery on January 9.
Looking forward, what does this mean for Griffin and his immediate future with the team?
Griffin might be compared to a high-priced and brand-new automobile that is being driven extremely hard before having a chance at being broken in. In a way, Washington has already shown signs that they are taking substantial risks with one of their prized assets. This could potentially have serious long-term consequences.
Huffington Post commentator Ian McMahan elaborated on this further back in January by writing:
With the fact that this is the second ACL injury and surgery on the same leg combined with the added complication of the LCL repair, the rehabilitation process may initially be more guarded to ensure that both the ACL and LCL are sufficiently strong. An important question for the Redskins will be not only will he be ready to play but also will they consider protecting the future of the franchise by limiting his early season reps.
As of now, the Redskins are limiting Griffin solely to on-the-field practices and keeping him out of preseason games.
That is potentially good news for Griffin and the Redskins in spite of the fact that his competitive nature dictates Griffin would rather be playing in games, even if they do not count.
Dr. Andrews' consent may be the best deciding factor here. Had the team listened to him during the postseason last year, this discussion may not have even taken place. The fact that Griffin took the field against Seattle in spite of Andrews' wishes makes Griffin's return much more critical.
This aspect shall be discussed in depth later.
When he does return however, will Washington take necessary precautions or will they continue to push his timetable and risk another significant injury?
Conflicts with Head Coach Mike Shanahan
Perhaps these conflicts are being blown out of proportion. Perhaps they are not.
What is apparent are the disagreements between Griffin and Shanahan. These disagreements primarily surround Griffin's timetable and return to the field.
Shanahan was widely criticized for letting Griffin remain in the game against Seattle last postseason and it is safe to assume that the head coach would not want to make the same mistake twice. Yet the aforementioned controversy and subsequent tension between the two remains a hot topic.
Griffin has publicly announced his disapproval of Shanahan's plan. When asked about it, Griffin stated in an article via Mike Jones of the Washington Post:
I can’t B.S. that answer. No. I don’t like it, and there’s some part of it that I do understand. I don’t understand all of it, but [Shanahan] gave me his word. We talked about it. I know the plan. I’m not telling the whole plan because he doesn’t want the whole plan known. I understand that as well. But I don’t understand the whole plan at all. I can’t lie about that.
From Griffin's perspective, the young quarterback would be much happier if he were starting Week 1. If Shanahan and Dr. Andrews get their way, Griffin's debut may come much later.
It is not unusual to see conflicts between a budding star and a head coach and it is plausible that this is simply another case of that.
However, is this particular conflict something that could turn into a bigger distraction as the season progresses?
Washington's general manager Bruce Allen does not think so. In a recent interview published by USA Today, Allen stated:
I don't see a controversy at all. I know somehow Billy and Sonny are laughing that we created a quarterback controversy with Robert Griffin. But we have a very competitive player who's dying to play football and we have a very experienced coach who's doing the right thing.
Washington would like to believe that Allen is correct in his assumptions. If that is the case, the situation is merely a disagreement between a player who wants to get on the field as soon as possible and a head coach who wants to exercise all caution before committing his star athlete to the rigors of football.
Even Griffin feels that the situation is being blown out of proportion; a situation he elaborated on via a tweet on August 12.
In all likelihood, this disagreement is insignificant and should not be a distraction or cause for concern.
Still, this storyline may be worth continued watch especially if Griffin suffers any lingering effects from his surgery and recovery.
Training Camp Preparations
Even though Griffin has not participated in the first two Redskins preseason games, he has been able to prepare for the regular season in training camp.
Thus far, there have been indications that he is well along in this process.
Some reports, like those of Redskins lead writer Brian Tinsman, state that Griffin is looking sharp at practices and is experiencing similar scenarios that he will have to face during the regular season.
On the other hand, other reports state that Griffin is not as sharp as he was when Washington closed out last season.
John Keim of ESPN wrote on August 6 that Griffin's footwork has not been all that stellar and that the quarterback's accuracy was inconsistent. While he did acknowledge that Griffin experienced similar problems before the 2012 season, Keim did note that this could be a concern moving forward.
How much this factors into Griffin's regular-season performance remains to be seen. While keeping him out of preseason games is good insurance against injury, the absence of practical playing time could be a hindrance.
Griffin's Regular-Season Debut
Emulating directly from the apparent controversy between Griffin and Shanahan is the question surrounding when Griffin will return.
There is no doubt that Week 1 will be a goal, both for Griffin and the Redskins. Whether or not that actually happens however is up for debate.
On one hand, Griffin would clearly like to be starting when the regular season begins. Shanahan would probably like that scenario as well, given Griffin's talents. Yet how eager is Shanahan to put his franchise quarterback into the fray if there is any notion of it being done prematurely?
Dr. Andrews may have the final word on this matter.
Keim reports via another article that Andrews will be the final authority on Griffin's return. Keim writes:
Shanahan said Dr. Andrews will make the final decision as to whether Griffin will return for the team's season opener September 9—and won't do so until after the final preseason game.
There exist rumors that Griffin's debut may not come until after Week 5 as tweeted by Fox 29 sports director Howard Eskin.
If that is the case, Griffin may miss a third of the regular season which could potentially thwart Washington's postseason prospects.
On the other hand, if Griffin does return prematurely, there remains substantial risk of another injury.
Andrews' analysis will prove to be the turning factor regarding Griffin's return. It is true that a team can be too cautious, especially with a player like Griffin. While he is an asset that deserves protection, Griffin's services are best felt on the field and not in rehabilitation.
In all, it very well may be a pay-now or pay-later scenario. Washington wants Griffin on the field as soon as possible. They also want to protect their asset—something they failed to do last season.
These factors boil down to one simple question: Will Griffin be able to perform at the same level he enjoyed last year?
The lingering effects of last season's injuries and subsequent surgeries remain a concern and will have commanding influence on what happens to Griffin's second NFL season. If there exists a rift between Griffin and Shanahan, to what extent will that affect both the young quarterback and his team?
This much is known: Griffin's prospects for another stellar year are very much in doubt.
If the circumstances fall into place correctly, it is plausible that Griffin emulates the same success in 2013. Yet any analyst and pundit can point out that such circumstances do not always occur as hoped.
Griffin's return—and subsequently every move between now and then—will be observed with great scrutiny, whatever the case may be.
If it works out for the better, all parties would be happy. If it does not, someone will wind up taking the blame.
Who bears the brunt of that blame, if it happens, remains to be seen.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.