- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Robert Griffin III planted his right leg in the turf at Redskins Park on Wednesday morning, stressing the NFL’s most scrutinized knee ligament. In rhythm, he whipped a short pass at the usual velocity. 

His mildly sprained right knee felt good enough that he waved to the group of reporters watching his every move.

“Just letting you guys know I’m OK,” Griffin said after practice.

The Washington Redskins were relieved to see it. Their franchise quarterback tested his injured lateral collateral ligament only three days after absorbing a nasty hit that prompted widespread fears of a more serious injury. Griffin’s progress increased optimism that he will play Sunday in a critical game against the Cleveland Browns.

“He was limited,” coach Mike Shanahan said, “but I was impressed with how he worked and what he did.”

Griffin wore a helmet, cleats and a jersey to practice like the rest of his teammates. Long black pants concealed a black brace on his right knee.

He practiced dropping back, planting and throwing short passes. He even threw one pass from behind his back.

“Planting and throwing is not a problem,” he said.

Griffin, during the brief period of practice open to media, ran in a straight line at a moderate pace and shuffled his feet laterally in separate portions of the team’s stretching session. He moved smoothly at times and gingerly at others.

It was an important step in his quest to play Sunday in a game the Redskins basically have to win in order for postseason qualification to remain a realistic outcome. Rookie Kirk Cousins is expected to start if Griffin cannot.

Despite the positive signs on Wednesday, Griffin’s status for Cleveland won’t be determined until he and team doctors see how the knee responds to increased physical activity.

“I did enough to give myself the confidence to push it tomorrow and then on Friday,” Griffin said.

That’s the latest indication his knee is quickly recovering. Griffin on Sunday night strongly doubted his availability for the Browns game. But on Monday and then on Tuesday, he felt progressively better.

How he feels getting out of bed and walking up stairs helps him measure his readiness to test the knee on the field.

“I can walk up and down steps normally,” he said. “I can walk around normally. I can run in place. I can run. I can do all those things, so I’m the happiest guy in the world right now.”

But even if the Redskins soon get a clear sense of whether Griffin will play, don’t expect the team to publicize it before the inactives list is announced at about 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Shanahan smiled when asked if he plans to string the uncertainty out until the game.

“Probably,” he said through a big smile.

For now, though, Griffin and team doctors continue to analyze his condition. There is much to consider.

Griffin relies heavily on instincts and athleticism to escape pass rushers and move the ball. When he tore the ACL in his right knee at Baylor in 2009, he couldn’t make the sudden, instinctive cuts that set him apart from other quarterbacks.

He tried to test that element of his game during practice Wednesday, but game action is difficult to simulate.

“Whenever you can’t see your leg or plan that you’re going to make a certain movement, can you make that explosive step? I was able to do that today,” Griffin said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to do it more and more throughout the week.”

There’s also the question of whether Griffin would risk more knee damage by playing. Because the LCL stabilizes the knee, a stretched or slightly torn ligament — which Griffin’s is — could compromise the joint during athletic activity.

Doctors, however, have not emphasized that as a possibility, Griffin said. His knee brace is designed to provide that stability.

He was fitted for a new brace, which is not uncomfortable, he said.

“If I feel like I can give the team the best chance to win, then I’ll play,” Griffin said. “If I can make sure I ensure my safety out there and my health and my career, then I’ll go out there and play. And if not, then I won’t.”

Meanwhile, Cousins is preparing as though he will start the game.

He normally practices only with the scout team offense. He wouldn’t comment on Wednesday’s distribution of practice repetitions, saying he was advised not to in order to maintain any competitive advantage the quarterback uncertainty might give the Redskins.

“Anytime you can get reps, you’re going to get better,” he said.

Browns coach Pat Shurmur, though, isn’t about to engage in a guessing game.

“What we do is prepare for the Washington Redskins‘ offense,” he said via teleconference. “I’m sure there’s things that RG3 has done that are really not traditional NFL-type plays that Kirk can still run. We just have to move forward and prepare like either one will play.”

Griffin is proceeding as though he will start, but he isn’t promising anything.

“I feel like I could push through any kind of injury,” he said. “Does that mean I’ll play on Sunday? Who knows? We’ll see what happens. I want to be out there for those guys like I told them I would be.”