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RICHMOND, Va. – Waiting will not be easy for Robert Griffin III. Sitting through those training camp drills he longs to dominate will be an agonizing pursuit. Operating in the restrictions placed upon him by the Washington Redskins is going to tear at every competitive urge that surges through his veins.
A moment on Thursday afternoon screamed just how hard this is going to be.
It happened at the end of his first full practice back from the doctor's knife, when he was still not allowed to participate in a full 11-on-11 scrimmage and had to stand patiently to the side, his helmet by his feet. That was until he saw linebacker Bryan Kehl running back an interception and he just couldn't resist.
He jumped off the sideline and into a group of teammates who were chasing Kehl down. Someone knocked the ball away, it rolled on the grass and right by Griffin's feet. What was he going to do? Leave it on the ground?
He picked it up, and he started running. He ran past Kehl. He ran past his coaches. He ran past his teammates who watched with mouths agape. He ran across the grass across midfield, across the whole sun-splashed afternoon until at last he stopped. A crowd of close to 1,000 people were cheering him. Then he threw his hand in the air and pointed a No. 1 to the sky.
So, yes, it is going to be hard for the Redskins to keep their franchise quarterback tethered this summer. He will challenge every roadblock, steam through each limitation, bash past their decrees. He is going to demand to be on the field. He is going to push to be in practices. And when the preseason games start and the stands fill and the lights flicker, he may well want to play in those too.
This is when things get dangerous, because the Redskins' inability to merge Griffin's zeal with common sense is what led to all those torn ligaments in his right knee, the reconstruction on James Andrews' table and ultimately Thursday's limited practice on his rebuilt knee. The message delivered by coach Mike Shanahan this spring and summer has been one of patience. The message delivered by Griffin has been one of enthusiasm. Remember, it was Griffin who tweeted the announcement that he had been cleared to play earlier this week. Not Shanahan. Not the Redskins.
Thursday afternoon, not long after RG3 made his helmetless run across a drill from which he was banned, Shanahan talked about trust.
"I asked Robert to be as honest with me as possible," Shanahan said. "I told him I will be as straightforward with him as I can as I hope he will be with me as possible."
It is clear their relationship was frayed in the early winter, in those days after the playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks when the knee finally came apart. Griffin's father has said he didn't think Shanahan should have kept his son in the Seattle game after RG3 appeared to be seriously hurt. Griffin himself has suggested that he wasn't happy with the way he was used last season. And this week, when asked about his relationship with Shanahan, he said: "We all made mistakes last season, and we all understand that."
Now they have to trust each other more than ever because the Redskins' season and maybe the best hopes and dreams of this franchise depend upon it. Griffin is going to have to understand when his leg is still not ready despite his zeal to play. Shanahan is going to have to protect his quarterback despite his own zeal to win.
Somehow this is going to have to work between them. Griffin seemed irked on Wednesday that he had to test the knee for Shanahan early this week after Andrews had cleared him to play at the end of last week. If he was good enough for the man who might be the nation's top orthopedic surgeon, why wasn't he good enough for Shanahan?
But this is the way things are going to be. Even Shanahan must now know the decision to leave Griffin in the Seattle game was maybe the worst call of his three seasons in Washington. He can't afford another mistake with RG3. The success of the next several years here depends on his ability to throw himself in Griffin's way.
Shanahan has already declared that Griffin won't play in the preseason. He said on Thursday that he sees no reason to rush his quarterback into games that don't matter. He went as far as to say preseason games were "overrated" when it comes to preparing a team for the season. He said he wants RG III in "football shape," and scoffed at the idea that Andrews' clearance was an admission that Griffin was ready for full team drills in practice.
They have learned a lot since that January night when Griffin lay sprawled in a heap near the opposition's goal line. They understand so much more after Andrews cut into his knee and connected two torn ligaments. And yet there are still strange moments, little signs that say they have a great deal to grasp about each other.
On Thursday morning, as the Redskins took the field for their first walkthrough of training camp, Griffin lined up with the first team and took the first two snaps. He was not wearing the knee brace he is required to use. He came out of the practice. A team employee was dispatched to find the brace and eventually brought it to Griffin who put it on. But the quarterback did not return to the walk through. He stood on the side, watching, leaving unclear if taking those snaps was something he was allowed by the team to do. And if not, why was he not back on the field once he snapped the knee brace into place?
"He is supposed to have his knee brace on," Shanahan said. "I'm not sure why he didn't have the knee brace on."
He shook his head and smiled slightly.
This is the summer they are supposed to go slow together, build confidence, build trust.
Finding it all might be harder than they think.
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