The quarterback walked onto the boiling turf at Redskins Park on Thursday afternoon with a request.
“I would love to answer some questions about the team today,” Robert Griffin III said.
The word ‘team’ sounded louder than the others and hinted, for an instant, at the questions that lurk behind each throw, smile and drill in his return from right knee surgery.
For 11 minutes and 10 seconds, Griffin grinned and engaged in playful back-and-forth with his inquisitors and tried unsuccessfully to tuck in the forbidden Adidas logo that peeked out of his white mock turtleneck. He’s a gifted and honest orator, making eye contact when answering each question and unrattled by any turn the discussion takes.
One reporter asked if Griffin bulked up.
“Are you calling me fat?” he responded in mock offense, unable to hide his smile.
Griffin’s ease with words combined with limited access — this is the second time he’s spoken to Washington-area media since his knee crumpled in January — lend to parsing what he says and, in this case, does not say. He isn’t one to speak off the cuff or without understanding that, yes, the nine television cameras a few feet away and 10 digital recorders on the podium in front of him broadcast every word. The game, not just football, is one he understands.
So, while Griffin succeeded in narrowing the scope of conversation Thursday, the larger question surrounding his contentment about how he was used by Mike Shanahan and Redskins last season hasn’t disappeared.
The much-debated events that led to Griffin’s destabilized anterior cruciate ligament and his ensuing rehabilitation dominated last week’s media frenzy. He and Shanahan “hashed everything out” following the season and are “moving forward,” though what needed to be hashed out and moved forward from wasn’t detailed. Late in that session, Griffin was asked if he was happy with how the team employed him, particularly with the 120 rush attempts.
“I was happy with the wins that we had, the way we came out through the season and the adversity that we faced being 3-6, finishing 10-6, getting to the playoffs, winning the division,” Griffin said last week. “I think all those things are the building blocks, and now it’s just about continuing to make that relationship grow together so we can sprout up into a nice beautiful tree.”
That, for the unfamiliar, is a professional-level dodge.
The question wasn’t asked or answered in a vacuum. Earlier last week, Griffin’s father told WJLA-TV the Redskins needed to run less in the coming season to protect his son.
“I think that the message was loud and clear,” Robert Griffin Jr. told the station. “What they have to do in order to have Robert, you know, be what they want him to be, because you don’t want him to limp into the playoffs.”
The son didn’t back off his father’s comments.
“It’s not that I disagree or agree with what he said, but I’m proud of the fact he stood up and said something,” Griffin said last week. “As far as what he said about the team being united, it’s true. It’s proven in the NFL over the years that if the quarterback and coach are on the same page, then you will win a lot of games.”
At any point, Griffin could’ve made an emphatic, unambiguous statement and ended the discussion. But he didn’t. What’s left isn’t difficult to see through the news conference musings: the disconnect between the quarterback and the coach over last season’s option-heavy offense. Whether that remains an issue as Griffin’s knee grows stronger each day and how, if at all, the most successful part of the last season’s offense is changed, remains to be seen.
Griffin stayed on message Thursday. Team. Nothing about his relationship with Shanahan or the battering he took while running the zone-read option or whether he’ll slide or throw the ball out of bounds more frequently rather than absorb blow after teeth-rattling blow. Instead, his good humor covered the 15 questions, from describing his pecs as “amazing” to quipping he and Alfred Morris are “wily veterans.”
The quarterback ran 2 miles earlier this week and was cleared to do cross-fields during organized team activities. Next month he plans to start explosive sprinting and cutting.
“It’s been a journey,” Griffin said. “Everyone gets to see the flowers and roses side of it — out here running, throwing, feeling good about it, having a little energy, bounce in your step. But I’ve had to be patiently aggressive this whole time — just let my body heal and be aggressive where I can.”
The broader question of Griffin’s use and if he’ll be happy with this season’s offense lingered, much like the pesky Adidas logo. A team staffer tugged Griffin aside in the middle of the session — and live television broadcast — to conceal the mark. The logo promptly re-emerged. It wouldn’t go away.