For Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan, the tough decisions come after the doctors sign off

The Post Sports Live crew debate whether Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will be healed in time for the start of training camp. (Post Sports Live)
Jason Reid
Columnist June 14, 2013

All doctors have to do is examine quarterback Robert Griffin III, put him through tests and determine whether his twice reconstructed right knee has healed completely. That’s easy. Then comes the hard part for Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan: everything else about Griffin’s return.

After Griffin is medically cleared to practice, Shanahan must decide when he will play for the first time since he tore knee ligaments during a playoff game last January. If Griffin achieves his goal of being reinstated at the beginning of training camp late next month, should he start in Washington’s preseason opener? Should he play at all during the exhibition season? What about the regular-season opener? The young superstar is both the present and future of the franchise. Would it make the most sense for the Redskins to take it slowly with Griffin before reintroducing him to the intensity of the regular season?

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

So many tough calls — all Shanahan’s to make. No matter how many doctors check off on Griffin’s comeback, protecting Griffin falls on the guy at the top of the Redskins’ depth chart. Shanahan failed Griffin and the organization last season (leaving Griffin in that playoff game was the worst decision of Shanahan’s career). As Griffin prepares to return to the field, Washington needs Shanahan to show responsibility, vision and leadership. Unfortunately for Shanahan, Griffin seems determined to make his job as difficult as possible.

Last week, Griffin announced he believes he’ll be ready for the opening of camp July 25. Although team officials have been trumpeting how well Griffin’s rehab has been going, Shanahan likely wasn’t thrilled about Griffin providing a specific date for his return. Whatever Shanahan’s plan is for Griffin, it surely didn’t include setting expectations for Griffin to be all in by the first day of camp. That would be a very fast recovery based on the seven-to-nine-month recovery window doctors projected following Griffin’s Jan. 9 surgery. Now, anything less would be a huge letdown for the Redskins and their fans.

Shanahan is as goal-oriented as they come. You don’t win two Super Bowl titles and make $7 million a year merely striving to be average. Shanahan gave up four high-round draft picks for Griffin, in part, because Griffin pushes himself to excel in everything he does, “but you have to make sure he’s right,” Shanahan said in his office Wednesday at Redskins Park.

“We know the things he’s capable of doing. We’ve seen what happens when he’s on the football field and healthy. And believe me . . . nobody wants Robert back more than I do. But I want him to get well first. That’s the most important thing. . . . I’m not going to” lose sight of that.

Despite Griffin’s apparent progress, rehab from knee surgery is tricky. Griffin could suffer a setback before camp begins. Even if Griffin keeps rolling, there’s a time frame for recovery for a reason. Flooring the accelerator on the process could be risky business, especially considering how important Griffin is to the Redskins.

Shanahan would open himself up to brutal criticism if Griffin started practicing, but then stopped because of knee problems. Shanahan definitely gets it.

“That’s my thing to the doctors,” Shanahan said. “Don’t tell me he can go and then all of a sudden say, ‘Oh my God, he wasn’t quite ready. You used him wrong.’ I don’t want him out there if he’s not ready.”

The most conservative option for the Redskins is to assign Griffin to the physically unable to perform list. In that scenario, Griffin would have to sit out practice while rehabbing. Players on the PUP list at the start of the regular season cannot play for the first six weeks. That would alleviate the pressure on Griffin to perform well right out of the gate.

Griffin, however, served notice he’s not interested in playing it safe once doctors green-light his return, and don’t think for a second Griffin slipped in letting out his plan. He’s incredibly sharp. When Griffin has a message to send, he knows exactly how to do it — and whom he wants it to reach. As long as Griffin’s knee is right, he fully intends to take back control of his offense. Anyone who tries to get in his way should be prepared for a fight.

Still, Shanahan determines who plays for the Redskins. Once Griffin returns to practice, he’ll have to prove his knee isn’t slowing him down. It will be about convincing Shanahan he’s all the way back.

“Is he ready to play a game? Does he give us the best chance to win? That’s what you need to find out,” Shanahan said. “That’s where my decision comes in. I evaluate it on how he practices.

“Let’s say he’s cleared the first day. You’d have a month to practice. In a month, you could surely see if a guy is ready to play. Or sometimes a guy is practicing and you say, ‘Wait a minute. This guy is not ready to go yet.’ That’s my job to get it figured out.”

Shanahan can’t protect Griffin forever. Eventually, he’ll have to turn him loose again. But determining that moment will be the most important decision of Shanahan’s tenure with the Redskins.

For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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