If there’s one thing Washington football fans love, it’s a quarterback controversy. Trading a king’s ransom to the St. Louis Rams for the privilege of drafting RGIII 2nd overall in the 2012 draft was supposed to change all that. Instead, it’s given us endless versions of the question: “When will our quarterback be ready to play?”
Those, like Joe Theisman, who thought Kirk Cousins was a better option than Robert Griffin III were silenced by Cousins recent stint as the starter. Questions about whether Cousins might be the best QB on the roster quickly turned to questions about when RGIII was coming back, and on Oct. 19 as Cousins was benched for backup Colt McCoy.
McCoy has played very well, but no one in Washington is excited about the Colt McCoy era. Besides, the Titans weren’t exactly a tough team to beat.
So the wait is on, as it’s been on so many times in the past three years, to see when RGIII will be ready to play. The question isn’t exactly whether RGIII will be on the field. In 2013 he started most of the season for the team, but observers say he was a shadow of his former self, without the explosive running and pinpoint passes that we saw in his rookie campaign.
The questions remain, then, about when RGIII will start and how well he will play when he’s on the field.
Head coach Jay Gruden knows that the worst mistake he could make is bringing RGIII back too early. His predecessor Mike Shanahan allowed Griffin’s competitive nature and desire to be on the field to get the best of him. When Shananigans let RGIII play with a bad knee against Seattle in the 2013 wildcard game, he made a critical mistake that resulted in Griffin tearing both his LCL and MCL. Bringing RGIII back too early risks serious injury and a long rehab, not to mention the long term risk to Griffin’s career.
There are two schools of thought on RGIII’s comeback: some say that at 2-5 in a surprisingly tough NFC East the season is essentially over, so Gruden should let the QB fully heal and look to the future. Others think there’s still time to salvage this year and RGIII should be on the field as soon as he’s ready. For his part, Gruden seems to be trying to find a happy medium between caution and urgency.
Gruden is right not to commit to a return date for his starting QB. Mike Jones of the Washington Post writes that Gruden “gave himself a lot of wiggle room.” He named McCoy the starter and is preparing as if Griffin won’t be back right away. He’s said he wants to wait until RGIII is 100 percent, but Griffin began taking reps with the first team in practice on Oct. 22 and could be back soon.
How’s The Knee, Oh Wait I Mean Ankle?
Just as Griffin was ready to silence people worried about his knee, he injured his ankle. RGIII cannot catch a break (oof, pun intended), and the ankle became dislocated on a non-contact play in week two. He was able to heal the knee through heavy rehab therapy, so hopefully he’s the same with the ankle. He’s been working frequently on a treadmill, gradually increasing his workload. He was lucky that there was no fracture in the ankle, but the fact that his ankle gave out without being hit gave fodder to critics who say his frame is too slight for an NFL passer, especially one who runs as much as Griffin does.
When Griffin does return, fans and commentators will watch both the ankle and the knee anxiously to see if he can make the kind of cuts necessary to make opponents miss outside the pocket. And for God sake, will someone please teach RGIII to slide? Every time this happens, the entire city of Washington has a heart attack.
The Waiting Game
With Griffin finally getting reps in practice, coaches can evaluate whether he’s in football shape. Since he hasn’t played since week two, there’s a sense that even if he’s physically healthy, he might need some time to shake the rust off.
Meanwhile, Gruden must manage everyone’s anxieties about Griffin’s health. He has to placate those who worry he’ll coming back soon and those who worry he’ll come back too late, all while making the decision he thinks is best for the team. He’s right to be careful. Mismanaging the QB’s health cost the last guy his job.