Eight months after he underwent surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his right knee during a Jan. 6 playoff loss to Seattle, Griffin will start the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday. And he expects the emotions to churn as he stands in the tunnel ready to take the field with his teammates, a roaring FedEx Field crowd ready to explode at the sight of his No. 10 jersey.
“I don’t think there’ll be any tears. If there are they’ll be tears of joy,” Griffin told reporters on Wednesday in his first news conference since being cleared last week to play. “It’s been an adventure, it’s been fun. You don’t necessarily want to go on the journey that I had to go on this offseason, but you try to enjoy it along the way and hit those milestones.”
Griffin hasn’t missed one yet. The Redskins eased him into drills during training camp, steadily increased his workload and finally allowed him to go against the first-team defense. There have been no setbacks and barring one in Thursday’s practice, Griffin is set. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan says his quarterback threw 50 more passes in training camp this year than as a rookie last summer. As far as he and Griffin are concerned, rust isn’t an issue.
Griffin did admit that he will need his teammates to help him manage his emotions, especially early in the game. He will rely on playmakers like running back Alfred Morris, wide receiver Pierre Garcon and tight end Fred Davis, among others, to carry him through any rough patches.
But also waiting for him Monday night is that first big post-injury hit, which isn’t something Griffin had to worry about from teammates during training camp. It is an experience he went through once before after tearing his ACL as a sophomore at Baylor University. He was on the field 11 months later for the Bears’ season opener in 2010.
“I got hit early in the game on a scramble at Baylor,” Griffin said. “It’s a different mentality in college. You’re trying to get to the pros. There are a lot more different things you can do at that level that are frowned upon at this level. I’ve just got to be safe, slide and still play fearless.”
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick took just 12 snaps in the preseason last summer thanks to thumb and rib injuries, but was the starter in Week 1 and showed no ill affects. And, of course, Vick once spent 548 days in prison on federal charges for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy and missed two full seasons before returning in 2009. That’s a far more extreme scenario than Griffin faces, but Vick knows about returning from a long layoff better than anyone.
“By Week 2 [in 2012], I was back in full form, but I’ve been in the league for 11 years so I know what it’s like,” Vick said about sitting out much of last year’s last preseason. “It might be different for Robert. It shouldn’t take long, but he is coming back off of injury so it’s up to him and what he’s dealing with on the inside and his mental aspect and how he gets ready for this game and for the season.”
The last step before Griffin’s clearance was a weekend teleconference with Andrews and Shanahan, among others. Shanahan had said last week that Andrews still had concerns about Griffin’s knee. ESPN later reported that those concerns were based on how the team planned to use Griffin in games and not on the health of the knee. Andrews later disputed that report in a text message to The Washington Times. Whatever the case, neither Shanahan nor Griffin were talking about what was discussed during that phone call.
“Me, [Andrews] and coached talked,” Griffin said. “We’ll keep that between us. Bottom line is I’m ready to go, they’re confident in what I can do and we’ll go out there and play.”