Rookies get tested in any line of work, and in the NFL you get tested by being assaulted. If you're a hotshot rookie quarterback about whom everyone's gushing, the opposing defenses are going to take that personally. They're going to be extra motivated to play against you. They might even design a game plan specifically built around hitting you, maybe even excessively, just to see if they can get you off your game. A couple of penalties early in the game might be worth it, the theory goes, if it makes the quarterback more tentative later in the game. Prior to the Saints' bounty scandal, it was even OK to suggest that teams might be trying to knock quarterbacks out of the game.
So this is the environment in which young Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins finds himself. And after his second NFL game -- a rough one against the Rams in St. Louis -- Griffin spoke out about it:
"There was some extracurricular stuff going on after the plays," Griffin said. "They were doing a lot of dirty things. I still think they have an extremely good team, that doesn't take anything away from them, but the game was unprofessional. Who am I to talk? I've barely been a pro for very long, but from what I experienced against the Saints compared to that game, it was definitely unprofessional and it does need to be cleaned up."
Griffin was sacked only once by the Rams, but he was knocked down several times.
"I don't want to tip-toe the lines of anything that's happened with bounties or anything like that, but they were definitely going after me," Griffin said. "They made it a point, obviously, all week to hit me. Some of the shots were cheap of that nature. But it's nothing I can control. Teams are going to try to hit me because they don't think I can take a hit. I think I've proved over my career that I can."
Thing is, whether it's right or not, he's going to have to prove it again at this level. Not every team will play that way, but a look back at the game film indicates the Rams did. There were some after-the-play digs at Griffin -- a post-whistle elbow here, a little-too-excessive shove along the sideline there. It's nothing you haven't seen before. Teams are still doing it to the Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick, who has carried a brittle reputation with him throughout his career, and the Baltimore Ravens played the same kind of game in Philly on Sunday that the Rams played against the Redskins in St. Louis. After the game in Philly, Eagles players spoke openly about knowing the Ravens were trying to "bully" them, and that part of their game plan was to stand up to it. They did, and they won.
In this case, Griffin is clearly walking a fine line between answering a question honestly in a way that gets his point across and sounding like a complainer. I think he does a good job here for achieving the former without the latter. He sounds like a guy who's determined to stand up for himself and prove to everyone who's looking to test him that he's capable of passing every test. Whether he does or not will depend on everything from toughness to good, old-fashioned luck. I guess if you're a Redskins fan, you have to be happy he got this first physical NFL wake-up call without it doing any real damage to him.