He continued this streaking “is-it-a-bird-or-a-plane” acceleration at Baylor. He arrived there in the spring of 2008, enrolling a semester early so he could run track and get a head start on his academics. When he was still the equivalent of a high school senior, he qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials in the 400 hurdles and was named a collegiate all-American. He finished his undergraduate degree in just three years, stacking his classes and making the dean’s list twice, carrying a cumulative grade point average of 3.67, and had to be talked out of entering law school.
Griffin’s habit of going far beyond the ordinary won’t be cured by one traumatic injury or even two. It’s a compulsion. When he woke up from surgery and James Andrews told him he had repaired tears in both his ACL and LCL, Griffin wept. And then wiped his face and declared he would make camp and be ready by the season opener. “As soon as I finished a little cry festival, I put the date of the first week in my phone, and that was my goal since then,” he said.
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Such surging ambition simply may not be able to confine itself. It must be tempting for Shanahan to take the tethers off and watch him go. For one thing, the fact that Griffin is such a fast healer takes much of the hurt out of his injury for everybody, all of the Redskins stakeholders who were so devastated and criticized when Griffin’s leg turned at that weird angle and he didn’t get up. It was surely one of the most agonized moments of Shanahan’s career.
“Any time somebody goes down, you don’t know what happens,” he said. “It’s always tough. What you hope is that he’s going to come back full speed.”
The best chance for Griffin to make a full, complete recovery is to take it easy, and if Griffin won’t slow down, Shanahan is determined to do it for him. That isn’t easy for a coach who has his own surging ambition and tendencies toward competitive excess, but Shanahan sounds genuinely conservative. He stresses that there is a huge difference among rehab, live drills and game speed. Griffin still has major recovery stages to go through. “We won’t put him in a team situation until we feel he’s ready to go,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan and Griffin were great collaborators last season, and until that awful final game, they obviously shared a terrific understanding and intuition with each other. But in the future, Shanahan will have to be better attuned to the extraordinary psychology of his quarterback, who appears to be a man with a magnificent need to use his talents up. You simply can’t take him at his word when he says “I’m fine” or when he says he has learned his lesson.
“As I know him better, it’s easier for me,” Shanahan says. “You get to know each other better every play, every practice, every year.”
For more from Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.