Dave Sheinin is a Washington Post staff writer and the author of “RG3: The Promise.”
For someone who hasn’t been seen in action on the field in more than eight months, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III still manages to dominate debate in his adopted hometown like no other sports figure — maybe no other figure, period. As RGIII prepares for his return from January knee surgery in the Redskins’ 2013 opener Monday night against Philadelphia, the fascination with him — and the misconceptions about him — may be reaching another peak.
1. He’s a publicity hound who wants to be a pop-culture icon.
In terms of exposure, Griffin’s entry into the NFL was unprecedented: He had four national commercial campaigns (Adidas, Gatorade, Nissan and Subway) airing before he took his first regular-season snap. That was the start of a push, driven by his agents at Creative Artists Agency, to make him the future face of the league — an effort that, by all measures, appears to have succeeded. Now, Griffin is everywhere, his image appearing on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” roughly once every seven nanoseconds, and there is a paparazzi-like infatuation with his personal life.
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Griffin is certainly comfortable with his celebrity, and there is no question that his natural magnetism is a marketable asset his agents have capably exploited. But Griffin has described himself in interviews as a “loner”or even a “weirdo” at heart, and his standard evening routine remains a home-cooked meal and a rented movie from Redbox.
The “selfish” label, which arose in news reports quoting anonymous NFL scouts before the April 2012 draft, may be a misreading of two other Griffin traits: his enormous confidence and his aloof manner around people he doesn’t know. But he also signs autographs tirelessly and was voted captain by his teammates in 2012 and 2013.
2. His health is jeopardized by the Redskins’ offense and his reckless style of play.
The rise of the “zone read” offense was one of the top story lines in the NFL in 2012 because of the success that quarterbacks such as Griffin, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick had in running the college-style scheme. But while the other two stayed healthy, Griffin’s season-ending knee injury in a January playoff game made many critics question whether the zone read — which is predicated upon the quarterback’s ability to run the ball, or at least the threat of him doing so — was dangerous to Griffin’s health.
But there are wide differences of opinion throughout the NFL about that. Some, most notably Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan, think the zone read keeps the quarterback safer, because the threat of a run “freezes” the linebackers and defensive ends who would otherwise rush him immediately. If Griffin is on the move, the defenders he needs to worry about are largely in front of him, as opposed to coming from his blind side or from behind when he is passing out of the pocket. Both of Griffin’s major injuries in 2012 — a concussion against Atlanta and the original knee sprainagainst Baltimore — occurred on scrambles out of the pocket on pass plays, not on designed quarterback runs.
Similarly, reining in Griffin’s aggressive style of play is a logical concept — but that style is a large part of his on-field brilliance. Either of the regular-season injuries above could have been avoided with some less risky decision-making, and he can certainly do himself a favor by showing some better awareness about staying safe. But getting him to completely alter his style isn’t going to happen, nor should it. Remember that the two most decorated drop-back passers in the game today, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, both suffered season-ending injuries while dropping back in the pocket. There simply is no completely safe place, or safe style of play, in the NFL.