The sheer number of fans present at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va., where the Redskins are holding their 2013 training camp, speaks to the excitement that surrounds this team. The percentage of those fans wearing Robert Griffin III jerseys and shrieking his name with excitement as he exited the practice field speaks to their adoration of -- and expectations for -- their young star quarterback.
The buzz all summer has surrounded whether Griffin will or won’t be ready to start Week 1 following January surgery to reconstruct the ACL and repair the LCL in his right knee. Based on his conversation with the media on Monday, there is no question in Griffin’s mind.
“There is no doubt that I’m playing Week 1,” Griffin said. “That’s just the way I feel about it.”
Perhaps Griffin can see the light at the end of the tunnel, given that he is about to increase his participation in practice, albeit on a gradual basis. Thus far in camp, he has been limited to 7-on-7 drills, combined with individual work simulating pocket activity and the associated footwork (including dropbacks, pivots, cross-body throws and throws on the run), but he has yet to face any true pressure forcing him to react on the fly.
On Wednesday, Griffin will begin working in 11-on-11 drills, although a source tells ESPN that it will only be against the scout team. Still, that represents progress and can be considered yet another step toward returning to play. As to how this will be different from what he’s done so far, Griffin said, “[It’s] just live action, getting guys flying at you. I don’t think it’s a huge step. I just think it’s time to get back out there with my teammates.” He later added, “I’ve been ready for this. I think that’s well-documented.”
The formal ramping up of activity makes sense. Griffin has been able to gradually increase the intensity and speed of his work through the early part of camp and has suffered no setbacks in the form of soreness or swelling. He credited his mom and dad with having something to do with not needing a day off (“I am proud that I have good genes”) and is eager to get back in the mix. “I’d just like to see the look on the guys’ faces when I step in the huddle,” Griffin said. “They laugh and joke about it that they haven’t seen me in a while, but I think the guys are happy to have me back out there.”
From a timing standpoint, the Redskins have a full practice week here before camp closes, followed by a Monday night preseason game. There will be a short week before the third preseason game the following Saturday. This week then becomes a good time to gradually increase Griffin’s full team activity and for the coaches and medical staff to get a good look at how he is responding.
Although Griffin is not expected to participate in any preseason game action, it doesn’t mean he won’t continue to try. He’d like to get some reps in the third preseason game, but as Griffin indicated, Shanahan has told him it’s a “hard no” right now. The concerns about Griffin setting foot on the field before the start of the regular season are obvious. Even if he is physically ready to perform, the risk of him suffering an injury -- any injury -- and the associated fallout, may not be worth the reward of a test run for a single series. The natural concern about not returning to competitive action is that Griffin isn’t forced to truly react to an oncoming rush against an opponent whose intent it is to bring him to the ground, without regard for his recently reconstructed knee. As for how he’s preparing in the absence of that pressure, Griffin said he tries to mimic it as much as he can, “making movements without thinking about them, breaking and escaping from the pocket, stopping [and] starting really fast. You just react, and you trust that you’re going to be OK.”
Much has been made about the fact that this is Griffin’s second ACL reconstruction on the same knee, as the success rates for a revision procedure are slightly lower, but there are some positives. First, his graft for this surgery was taken from the patellar tendon of the opposite knee (his first graft was from the right knee, and thus it could not be the source of the graft this time). Using the opposite knee eliminates some potential for issues with the tendon anchoring the large quad muscle on his right knee, possibly one of the reasons he has not experienced any tendinitis or stiffness.
Perhaps most importantly, Griffin carried the experience of his first rehab into this second round, removing much of the anxiety athletes typically endure when they suffer such a significant injury.
“I was more ready for it,” Griffin said of this reocovery process. “I knew what parts of the rehab were going to be the most difficult. I knew where you were going to have the most pain, which is early on in the process. I know that every time you do a new exercise, it might not feel right the first time, but once you do it again, you get that confidence back.”
Confidence is one area where Griffin is not lacking. It is likely to serve him well when he does return to competition, because that aspect of recovery is typically the hardest thing for an athlete to regain after an injury such as this. And yet it is such a critical element of returning to an elite level of performance.
In medicine, the standard for gauging success following rehabilitation is a return to the prior level of function which, for Griffin, means returning to the field as an NFL quarterback. He says his prior experience recovering from ACL surgery is what has prepared him for success this time.
“Just having the confidence to know I can go back out there and play at a high level like before, and even better than before,” Griffin said, adding, “I did that in college, and I know I can do that in the NFL.”