ASHBURN — With the play breaking down, Robert Griffin III saw an opening.
It didn’t matter that it was a Sunday afternoon at Redskins Park, with players in shoulder pads and shorts, with a defense that wasn’t live and a team that had, essentially, given up. Griffin tucked the ball and ran to his left, scampering down the left sideline toward the end zone, drawing a roar of applause from a crowd that convened on the facility for “Fan Appreciation Day.”
What did matter, though, is that Griffin had just two days before left a preseason game with a concussion, playing only 16 snaps in the Washington Redskins’ game against the Detroit Lions. That left him subject to the NFL’s concussion protocol, a five-stage process that gradually eases a player back into competition provided he hasn’t exhibited any lingering symptoms from the hit over a series of days.
Griffin participated not only in individual drills, which would be expected from a player three days after a concussion, but also in team drills, stepping in with the first-team offense for each snap Sunday afternoon. He signed autographs and posed for photos with fans for 15 minutes after the two-hour practice ended, then disappeared into the building, again forbidden by a team spokesman to answer questions not only about how he played or how he was feeling, but how he had managed to navigate the process so quickly.
“I have no idea,” coach Jay Gruden said, acquiescing when asked about Griffin’s progress through the concussion protocol. “He just went through the necessary steps with the doctors and the concussions tests that are all implemented by our training staff, and so far, he has taken the necessary steps, you know? … He hasn’t been totally cleared yet. He’s still got to go to a neurosurgeon, but we’ll wait and we’ll see.”
Gruden explained Griffin’s participation on Sunday as being in line with the non-contact stage of the protocol, which, by nature of the Redskins’ practice, was an otherwise ordinary day as quarterbacks are always off limits.
The concussion protocol outlines a five-step process, meant to unfold over the course of a week, that would permit a player who has sustained a concussion but has exhibited no additional symptoms to be able to play in a team’s game the following week. That process includes a period of rest, a return to conditioning work, an ability to participate in individual drills, a chance to return to the team in a non-contact fashion and then clearance to return to a full practice.
There is no specific timeframe associated with each activity, but in presenting the protocol for public consumption, the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee, in a document issued in 2013, uses the example of each stage unfolding on a separate day.
“The workouts would ramp up over a few days if no symptoms occur,” the document states. “But if a player has a history of concussions or isn’t progressing as quickly as planned, the process moves accordingly.”
The concussion is at least the second documented by the Redskins since Griffin joined the team as a rookie in 2012. He left a game against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 7 in the third quarter after taking a hit while scrambling, and he returned to practice that Wednesday, acknowledging afterward that he wasn’t aware of his surroundings until approximately 15 minutes after the hit.
“My brain, my head, my future outside of football, my life is more important than trying to get that touchdown on third-and-[goal],” Griffin said nearly three years ago. “What happens to me affects a lot of people.”
Griffin left Thursday’s game, a 21-17 victory over the Lions, with 9:31 remaining in the second quarter. After taking a five-step drop, Griffin inexplicably dropped the ball, then attempted to recover it by diving for it.
Lions defensive end Corey Wootton also dove for the ball, landing on Griffin’s upper body, and Redskins right guard Brandon Scherff landed on top of Wootton. Griffin returned to his feet after roughly three minutes and was escorted to the locker room.
He played just 16 snaps over four drives, completing two of five passes for eight yards, and was sacked three times and hit three more times before leaving the game. Gruden said he would have kept Griffin in for a fifth drive, and perhaps longer, because the offense needed the work, “whether he takes one shot or 10 shots.”
If Griffin is cleared to play by the Redskins’ next preseason game, a road contest against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, Gruden said Griffin would start and would likely play the entire first half.
“We need the practice, so we’re going to try to get as much as he can,” Gruden said. “No question about it. I anticipate a good football game that first half, a very great challenge from Baltimore, and I know what their defense is all about — a physical brand of football over there — and hopefully, we’ll be up to the challenge.”
• Zac Boyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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