OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Robert Griffin III had a choice to make last year as he sat at home. For the first since high school, he was not a member of a football team. He could play the woe-is-me card, or he could shuffle the deck and hope for redemption.
He chose the second option, and it led him about 50 miles from the place where his NFL career started in 2012 with him being named the league’s offensive rookie of the year as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
The choice to sign with the Baltimore Ravens was a no-brainer, but things are quite a bit different this time. The former No. 2 overall pick was no longer the darling of the league with a rare combination of athleticism and passing ability. Griffin has played only five games the past three seasons, mostly due to injury.
Griffin began organized team activities as a Raven, looking much like a sci-fi villain — dressed head-to-toe in all black, including a sleeve on his left arm, with purple braids peeking out beneath his helmet on a picturesque Thursday. He has high expectations for himself, tempered somewhat by a new perspective.
“Anybody would be lying to you if they said, ‘Oh, there was never a moment when you’re like, man, I should be out there playing,’ ” Griffin said. “I can help this team, I can help that team. All those moments happened. Instead of using them to demoralize myself and make me stop working, I used them to continue to work. That’s hard to do.
“People in life always have obstacles and adversity that they face. Your response to that obstacle and that adversity is what defines you. I never wanted to be labeled as a quitter. When my opportunity came, whether it was Week 7, Week 10, Week 15 or middle of the offseason, I was going to be ready to go. That’s the kind of mind-set I took into it. When I get my shot, I’m not going to squander it because I wasn’t ready for it.”
Griffin’s career with the Washington Redskins came to a crashing conclusion in 2016. He blew out his knee in the 2012 playoffs after throwing for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns with five interceptions and running for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. Things declined in 2013 as he went 3-10 as a starter, threw for 3,203 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and ran for 489 yards and zero touchdowns.
He dislocated his ankle in the 2014 home opener and didn’t play at all in 2015 after suffering a preseason concussion and never getting the job back from Kirk Cousins. He was cut in March of 2016 before signing with the Browns later that month, but he played just five games after suffering a fractured coracoid bone in his left shoulder.
Griffin, 28, signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal with the Ravens for the 2018 season, a move that many view as his final chance to prove he still belongs in the league. A long-term future in Baltimore is questionable, particularly as a starter.
The team drafted 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson as the successor to Joe Flacco, and those two aren’t going anywhere. The 2018 season could come down to a numbers game and if the Ravens decide to carry three quarterbacks.
“There’s a lot of guys that are sitting at home right now who want to be in this position,” Griffin said. “When you have the right perspective and cherish every moment and maximize your opportunity, it’s no different than what Joe’s doing. It’s no different than what any other quarterback in the league is doing. They’re maximizing their opportunity.
“My job is go out and show them that I’m an asset to the team, not a detriment. Do what I have to do to make it to where they can’t afford to let me go.”
Griffin spent most of his time in Florida last year preparing for another NFL chance. He worked at the Tom Shaw Performance program in Orlando. He trained at Florida Atlantic University in Fort Lauderdale and at the University of Miami. Griffin also worked sessions under renowned track and field coach Brooks Johnson alongside four-time Olympic medalist Lashawn Merritt and five-time Olympic medalist Justin Gatlin.
He also married Estonian heptathlete Grete Sadeiko in March. He credits his family for keeping him motivated.
“I was out of football for a year, but I wasn’t off for a year,” Griffin said. “I used it to study film, to study defenses, to study how the league was adapting throughout the course of the season to how different offenses are being run. A lot of studying of the game because I couldn’t go out and play the game. I can’t find 53 guys anywhere on the street and set up offensive and defensive meetings and go through practice . . . . So you have to find ways to get that work in.
“I threw passes to trees. When I had receivers, I threw passes to receivers. I worked on my footwork. Worked on identifying where I need to put my eyes on certain plays and certain coverages . . . . This was the only way I was going to be able to come back and continue to play the game that I love.”
Ravens Coach John Harbaugh seems pleased with what he has seen.
“Robert Griffin in the quarterback room has been excellent,” Harbaugh said. “A pro’s pro in every way. Not just the quarterback room. We’re down here and we do our early morning coaches workouts and he’s the guy who’s down there working out extra. I love everything about the way he handles it.”
Griffin’s time away from the game has made him more appreciative of being on the field, of what it takes to stay in the league.
“It’s not that I wasn’t appreciative before,” Griffin said. “It’s not like I didn’t work hard before. But sometimes things have to happen to you in life. You have to face a little bit of adversity and then if you get back, it’s determined on how hard you work. Do you really want it?
“It’s like Mike Tyson said, ‘Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.’ I got punched in the face and I’m still here swinging.”
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