Until fairly recently, it wasn’t clear who would start the opener at quarterback for the Washington Redskins or the Philadelphia Eagles.
While Michael Vick had to win the job in the preseason, Robert Griffin III wasn’t given a chance to take the field but will finally be back under center Monday night when his Redskins try to spoil Chip Kelly’s debut as Eagles coach.
Even though Dr. James Andrews cleared Griffin last week, coach Mike Shanahan did not officially say he would start Week 1 until Monday. Shanahan and Griffin butted heads a bit during training camp, with the quarterback wanting to see more practice time and action in games while the coach used a cautious approach.
“You’re always trying to take a look at what’s in the best interest of your football team, obviously the health of your football team as well,” Shanahan said. “But if we didn’t feel like Robert was full-go, and he was ready to play and do all the things that you ask a guy to do, he would not be playing in this game.
“We believe he can do everything that a quarterback is asked to do.”
That’s plenty more than just being a pocket passer when it comes to Griffin, the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year who rushed for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. He threw for 20 TDs, compared to five interceptions, and 3,200 yards while finishing as the league’s third-highest rated passer with a rookie-record 102.4 mark.
Griffin now takes his first snap in an NFL game since re-injuring his right knee in a playoff loss to Seattle, having undergone reconstructive surgery which left his status for the opener in doubt all offseason.
Some teammates are saying he is now practicing as if the knee is no issue whatsoever.
“Robert is back. He’s back to being himself,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said.
Eagles fans hope Vick can get back to being the kind of player who so often dominated in 2010, leading a run to the playoffs, instead of the turnover-prone and injury-plagued one from the past two years.
It is Kelly’s job to help make that happen, having named Vick the starter over second-year player Nick Foles to run the high-energy offensive style he brings from Oregon. With Kelly having stressed the ground game despite his fast-paced style running the Ducks, Vick has been encouraged to run more despite injury woes which sometimes came from reckless scrambling.
“I’m going to have the opportunity to do what I want to do in this offense and run the football,” the 33-year-old Vick said. “And yes, I will be a threat. I think you’ve got to take on a certain mindset that you’re going to play the game all-out.”
Vick had more turnovers (15) than total touchdowns (13) last year and had only one rushing TD for the second straight season after having nine in 2010.
Kelly has been pleased with his progress in the preseason, during which he was 20 of 28 for 333 yards and four touchdowns to go with 73 yards rushing.
“The biggest thing with Mike that you saw was just his growth and improvement. He just kept learning the system,” Kelly told the team’s official website. “… His willingness to learn, his passion for the game of football was evidenced since the first day we saw him.”
While Vick may target deep threat DeSean Jackson even more after fellow starting receiver Jeremy Maclin was lost for the season, LeSean McCoy should get plenty of touches after being limited to 200 carries in 12 games under coach Andy Reid last year while totaling five touchdowns.
Alfred Morris nearly doubled McCoy’s rushing output (1,613 yards to 840), providing a potent 1-2 punch of rookies for the Redskins offense. The former sixth-round pick set a single-season franchise record and finished second in the NFL to Adrian Peterson, helping Washington finish 10-6 and win its first NFC East title since 1999.
While the Redskins won their final seven regular-season games, the Eagles dropped 11 of 12 to finish 4-12 for their worst record in 14 years.
Philadelphia lost both meetings with the Redskins, though Foles started both. Vick has won his last three games against them, throwing for 905 yards and eight touchdowns.
Griffin completed 30 of 39 passes for 398 yards and six TDs in last season’s sweep, and he rushed for 84 yards in a 31-6 win when the Eagles visited FedEx Field.
That was the only time the Redskins didn’t allow at least 16 points last season as the defense ranked 28th, though they’re hoping to improve with Orakpo - a two-time Pro Bowler - back after missing 14 games last season with a torn pectoral.
Only Tennessee and New Orleans gave up more points than Philadelphia, which is switching to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Billy Davis. The secondary will surely be tested by Griffin, with newcomers Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher taking over at cornerback for former Pro Bowlers Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
“RG3 is a great player,” Williams said. “We understand he’s going to bring his A game. So are we. We’re going to find out what those guys are about.”