RGIII recovery: Who’s responsible going forward?

March 28, 2013

Robert Griffin III still hopes to return by the start of the season. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Robert Griffin III and orthopedic surgeon James Andrews created a stir this week when they gave separate updates on the Redskins quarterback’s recovery from a January knee reconstruction and his chances of returning to action by the start of the 2013 season.

Andrews described Griffin as “way ahead of schedule” and “superhuman” in his recovery accomplishments thus far. Then, Griffin issued a statement reiterating his intention of returning by Week 1. The interesting part of what Griffin had to say came in the second paragraph, when he said, “I know where my responsibility is within the dilemma that led to me having surgery to repair my knee and all parties involved know their responsibilities as well. I’m looking forward to playing the game we all love so much again and not behind at the negative.”

Griffin seemed to say something without saying much of anything.

The responsibility tied to Griffin’s health has been debated often – from the time that he suffered a concussion while running the ball in Week 5 versus Atlanta, to the initial knee injury he suffered in Week 14 against Baltimore, again during his return in Week 16 after a one-game absence and throughout the playoff matchup with Seattle, where Griffin tweaked his knee early in the game and continued to play until seriously injuring it further and having to leave the game for good in the fourth quarter.

The day after the game, as the Redskins, their fans and the NFL world waited to see how extensive the damage was, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan was questioned on what responsibility fell upon him to protect his franchise quarterback. The questions continued when everyone learned Griffin would need to have his anterior cruciate ligament reconstructed and torn lateral collateral ligament and meniscus in the same knee repaired.

Was it Shanahan’s responsibility to bench Griffin to protect him from further injury? Was it Griffin’s responsibility to tell coaches and doctors whether or not he was really able to play? Or Kyle Shanahan’s responsibility to call plays that kept Griffin in the pocket? Are Andrews and the team’s trainers responsible for not pulling the plug as they watched the quarterback hobble all over the field and up and down the sideline?

Responsibility is something that has been asked about often, but the Redskins camp has always responded vaguely.

Immediately after the game, Griffin said that there was no way he was coming out until he couldn’t move anymore. He felt like it was his responsibility to lead his teammates until it wasn’t physically possible.

His head coach said after the game and in the days that followed, that Griffin had earned the right to remain on the field, and that his role in that situation is to trust the player and the doctors.

Shanahan maintained the same stance last week at the NFL owners meetings, and he added that it’s Griffin’s responsibility to learn to slide to better protect himself.

Neither Shanahan, Griffin or team medical personnel have revealed what internal discussions have consisted of. But based on the quarterback’s statement that he and “all parties involved” now know their responsibilities “within the dilemma that led to me having surgery to repair my knee,” it’s a lock that extensive dialogue has taken place and that everyone close to the situation has, or should have, learned something to apply to the future.

So, what are their responsibilities going forward?

For Andrews, Redskins head trainer Larry Hess and his staff, the responsibility consists of carefully ordering the proper treatment that will help Griffin return to full strength while also taking extreme caution to avoid overtaxing his knee and causing a setback. They can’t give the green light for progress to the next step in the recovery until they see everything they need to see. They can’t let Griffin talk them into letting him return to the field prematurely.

Griffin has a couple of responsibilities. During his recovery, he has to be completely honest on what his body is telling him, what he’s feeling or not feeling. He has to trust those charged with his care, that they are limiting him – if needs be – because they have his best interest in mind.

This could be tricky. A pro athlete of Griffin’s caliber is one of the most competitive people on earth. They want to push. They don’t want to hear ‘no,’ ‘not yet,’ or ‘you can’t.’ As hard as it may be, he must be patient.

I can’t help but recall my days of covering the Wizards when Gilbert Arenas overzealously tried to come back from his first knee reconstruction and after training on his own because he thought the trainers were moving to slow, he ended up having to have another surgery, and he never did return to top form.

Arenas reflected on the initial failed comeback attempts saying, “sometimes you have to protect players from themselves.” He retrospectively wished that team officials and doctors had taken the decision-making and shot-calling out of his hands.

Now, Griffin seems to be a heck of a lot smarter than Arenas. So, I don’t think you need to worry about him biking all over D.C. and running with a parachute on his own at a local high school track. But, he does have to trust and listen to Andrews, Hess & Co.

Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan have the responsibility of monitoring Griffin’s progress and probably listening slightly more closely to what the medical staff says rather than letting the quarterback talk his way into limping back onto the field.

Being that this is Griffin’s second comeback from a torn ACL, he has a good idea of how his body heals and what his limits are, so that should help matters.

The greater responsibility of head coach and coordinator involves how they handle Griffin once he does come back.

They’ll be tempted to take advantage of his world-class speed and dial up the option plays and quarterback keepers that greatly confounded opponents last season.

Shanahan last week seemed to dismiss the notion that Washington would scrap those pages of the playbook post-RGIII-surgery. He said that those wrinkles help keep a quarterback healthy because a defense is off-balance while unable to determine if they need to guard against Griffin running or throwing.

But, the coach and offensive coordinator need to find a balance.

The good thing for Griffin and the Redskins is, he isn’t a quarterback that’s a runner first and passer second. He can throw with the best of them. He had the third-best passer rating in the league, and the fourth-best completion percentage. They don’t need to dial up runs for him to be effective. As one former NFL quarterback said to me when discussing this, Griffin will still hurt a defense with his legs when plays break down, so the Redskins can capitalize there. The designed runs aren’t as much of a necessity.

So, while it’s the coaches’ responsibility to find the fine line in this area, it’s also Griffin’s responsibility to stand up for himself and share what he’s comfortable with and what he’s not comfortable with. His coaches need to listen, and not necessarily take that feedback as a sign that Griffin is fearful. This is important because a failure to accept that input could wind up damaging the relationship between player and coach.

Even though he didn’t elaborate on his statement, it seems that Griffin understands his role in this situation going forward.

It will take a while before we see how much or little “all parties involved” have learned about their responsibility in keeping him healthy and effective at the same time. The hope is that they have learned a lot. For now, it’s wait and see.

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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Mike Jones · March 27, 2013

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