WASHINGTON – Robert Griffin III wants to have it both ways.
He doesn't hesitate to remind everyone that Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan left him in the game too long after the quarterback went down with a knee injury during the season-ending playoff loss in January.
Yet, Griffin got frustrated he wasn't allowed to practice more during training camp and play in preseason games as he worked his way back from the injury. He said he didn't like, and didn't fully understand, Shanahan's cautious and more pragmatic plan.
The bold statements only reinforce the fact that the Redskins are now Griffin's team, with everyone else — including Shanahan — in tow. He's a talented and worshipped megastar in only his second year in the league, and he's willing to lead the club as far as his twice-reconstructed right knee will let him.
No one is pining for the alternative. The Redskins endured two decades of doldrums before Griffin arrived and led them to an NFC title in his rookie season. He's good enough to make the club a regular Super Bowl contender for a decade.
Still, he realizes the need for harmony. There was enough of a backlash from his comments about Shanahan for him to tone down his act, at least a little.
"Coaches coach, players play," said Griffin, practicing his new favorite cliche recently at a Redskins luncheon. "And all of us together, we can do great things."
Assuming his knee holds up.
Five things to watch as the Redskins prepare to open the season Sept. 9 against the Philadelphia Eagles:
DOC'S DECISION: He's the most famous doctor in the NFL, but even Dr. James Andrews' reputation can take a hit when RG3 is involved. Andrews was on the sideline during the playoff game and gave the tacit approval for Griffin to stay in, thus giving the fans someone to blame in addition to Shanahan when the quarterback's knee finally gave out. Now Andrews must give the medical clearance for Griffin to play in Week 1. There's no doubt that this time the doctor, like Shanahan, is going to err on the side of caution. While everyone likes backup Kirk Cousins, there will no doubt be an uproar if Andrews decides Griffin isn't ready.
THE GRIFFIN PLAN: Griffin ran the zone-read to near perfection last year, giving defenses a new wrinkle that left them stymied. Opponents have been studying it and will try to adjust, but Griffin will need to adjust as well. When he decides to run, he needs to slide more often or get out of bounds to avoid the type of hits that caused him to miss all or part of four games last season. Griffin also makes it clear that he'd like to be more of a traditional pocket passer, but taking away the zone-read would eliminate the very thing that makes him such a unique threat.
RG3 VS. SHANNY: If the Redskins win, any differences between quarterback and coach can be happily swept under the rug. But if things go sour, the Griffin-Shanahan dynamic will be something to watch. Shanahan is in the fourth year of a five-year contract, and he didn't start winning until Griffin showed up. If it comes down to a choice between one or the other, owner Dan Snyder will probably choose the franchise player who has the talent to revolutionize the game.
SAFETY PLAN: Griffin's knee isn't the only one under scrutiny. Safety Brandon Meriweather tore his right ACL last season, and he's been slower to heal that RG3. He missed the first three preseason games, and it's far from certain he'll be full-go for Week 1. This matters because safety is the Redskins' most worrisome position. The defense ranked 30th against the pass last year, and — if there's no Meriweather — the starting tandem will likely be a rookie sixth-round draft pick (Bacarri Rambo) and a career backup better suited for special teams (Reed Doughty).
FAMILIARITY BREEDS SUCCESS? The Redskins sure hope so. Twenty-one of the projected 22 starters were on the team last year, and Shanahan and his coaching staff have remained mostly intact since he came to Washington in 2010. With some financial maneuvering, the club was able to rework deals and retain several players who appeared unaffordable when the team suffered a salary cap penalty imposed by the NFL. As a result, most everyone knows the schemes by heart, and few starting jobs were up for grabs during training camp. The final cuts to determine the 53-man roster will surely include players who would've made the team only a couple of years ago. "It's nice when you have some tough decisions to make," Shanahan said. "When it's easy to find your top 53, usually that's not a good sign."
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