The last line of protection for the most scrutinized right knee in Washington is 17 ounces of hollow carbon fiber.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III sustained his second major knee injury on Jan. 6 when he tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his right knee during a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Eight months later, Griffin is set to start the opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night at FedEx Field. But if he is to remain healthy throughout the 2013 season, it will be thanks in part to a state-of-the-art, custom-fit knee brace known as the Defiance.
Made by DJO Global, a company whose subsidiary, DonJoy, has produced orthopedic devices for 35 years, Griffin's brace uses a four-points-of-leverage system to keep the repaired ACL stable and prevent the twisting motion that ripped apart his LCL late in that postseason loss to Seattle.
During that game, Griffin was wearing a DonJoy Playmaker, a soft knee brace meant for mild to moderate ligament instabilities. That came after a hit late in the Dec. 9 contest against Baltimore that kept Griffin out of the following week's game and left him hobbled for the rest of the season. The key question: Will the new brace limit Griffin in any way?
"Last year, it was a concern because I didn't play with a brace or have to rehab with a brace all year," Griffin said. "So when you put it on, it does kind of restrict you a little bit more because you're not used to it. Now that I've rehabbed with it and everything you get used to it. Your leg gets stronger and you can carry that extra weight."
Griffin considers himself a passing quarterback who can run when needed, but the Redskins used that skill to maximum effect last year with the amount of read-option plays they called. Griffin said last week that there would be "tweaks" to the offense this year and acknowledged that he must continue to be smarter about sliding to the ground or stepping out of bounds when he sees trouble coming.
It's all part of keeping him on the field for 16 games and giving Washington a chance to repeat as NFC East champion. But at more than 1 pound, the brace will play a role, too. With a cuff on the back of the calf and another on the front thigh, pressure is put on the tibia, the lower leg bone, and the femur, the thigh bone, to lock the knee into place.
"We'd like it to be 4 ounces," said Brian Moore, DJO's director of athletic business and team sports. "But that brace is as light as it can get to be as strong as it can be."
The company does its homework. A representative measured Griffin's thigh and his knee, among eight different spots on his right leg, to ensure a custom fit. Once the angles of his bones and joints are noted, the brace is manufactured to specifics.
An ACL's job is to prevent the tibia from moving forward. The brace uses pressure to keep the tibia in place and reduces stress on the ACL by about 50 percent, according to a study cited by Mr. Moore. So far this summer, it seems to be working.
"I don't see the brace affect [Griffin] at all. He runs the same to me," Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "He looks as good as he always has. He's been cleared since the beginning of training camp so it's not like this has just happened. We've seen him for a month fully 100 percent."
Washington offensive lineman Kory Lichtensteiger tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus during a game on Oct. 16, 2011, against the Eagles. He has worn a Defiance brace ever since, though it took some adjusting.
"It's cumbersome at times. I think once you're playing, it's fine and it shouldn't slow you down." Lichtensteiger said. "Initially, it restricts your movement. You have to break it in, too. But once you get a little sweat on it and get it lubed up, it's good."
Griffin wore a Defiance brace during his redshirt sophomore season at Baylor after an ACL tear in 2009. The cuffs are what keep the knee in normal extension front and back. It's the rigidity of the 1-inch-wide hollow carbon fiber frame running down the leg that lets Griffin cut hard side-to-side and remain protected.
Patented in 1992, Defiance braces have advanced leaps and bounds thanks to technological increases. Griffin's brace also now has a force-point hinge in the center that acts as a shock absorber.
When Griffin's knee closes to within 25 degrees of full extension — the point where serious injury is more likely to occur — the hinge helps slow the knee. Moore compared it to the spring on a diving board that can be tightened to reduce bounce. The hinge also "teaches" the knee how to flex when running, jumping or cutting, which also limits injury risk.
"He's got a beautiful brace leg, he's very muscular," Moore said. "Not all of our patients are Robert Griffin III. We might have 5-foot, 300-pound people with knee problems. Here you're putting it on muscle, not loose tissue. His leg is ideal."
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