With just three days before the Washington Redskins report to Richmond, Va., for pre-training camp physicals and conditioning tests, and four days before they hit the field for their first practice, quarterback Robert Griffin III feels ready to join his teammates on the field, less than seven months since the reconstruction of his right knee. On Wednesday, he'll find out if he can.
A person familiar with the second-year quarterback's physical and mental health said this week that Griffin's knee - the same in which he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in 2009 and then this past January suffered damage to his lateral collateral ligament, ACL and meniscus - "feels great," and that Griffin believes that he has done everything possible to meet his stated goal of returning for the opening of camp. The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized by the Redskins to speak publicly on the matter, said Griffin continues to run and cut without pain or limitation.
However, the decision on whether Griffin receives the green light to practice this week rests with James Andrews, the sports orthopedic surgeon who serves as a team consultant and spends every game on the Redskins sidelines. Andrews, who has met with Griffin periodically to monitor his process since conducting his surgery in January, will examine his knee extensively Wednesday. He will determine then just how ready Griffin really is to return to the field, and relay that opinion to the Redskins. The Redskins declined to make Andrews available for interview for this story.
If Andrews determines that Griffin isn't ready to practice fully, Washington could place the quarterback on the Physically Unable to Perform list. That would prevent him from practicing, while he further strengthens his knee with running and other drills under the direction of the team's trainers.
"When the doctors feel like he's ready to go, we're going to get a chance to practice him. We'll see what he can do," Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said in June just after the team held its final offseason practice session. "I don't think anybody knows, though. We talk about this question every day and nobody knows for sure, but we're trying on July 24th or 25th, in that area, and we'll find out."
A player on the preseason PUP list can be activated at any time, so such a designation wouldn't block Griffin from his ultimate goal of returning in time to play in the Sept. 9 season opener. Last season, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who suffered a torn ACL on Dec. 24, 2011, started training camp on the PUP list. Two weeks later, he began practicing. Peterson didn't play a preseason game but did make a remarkable comeback, playing in all 16 regular season games and rushing for 2,097 yards, just nine shy of the single-season rushing record.
Still, those close to Griffin said the quarterback is adamant about not missing any training camp practice time. At the same time, however, he has prepared himself mentally for all scenarios.
Last week marked one month since the quarterback received clearance to resume the most strenuous running and cutting drills. Since then he has continued to work on making cuts, drop-backs, roll-outs and other movements with greater fluidity, speed and explosiveness. Glowing reviews have flowed out of Redskins Park throughout Griffin's rehabilitation process as the quarterback has been ahead of schedule all offseason.
If the Redskins do hold back Griffin, they would open camp with second-year quarterback Kirk Cousins as the starter as was the case during all of this year's offseason practices.
Cousins, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State last year, appeared in three regular season games and the final minutes of Washington's lone playoff game after Griffin injured his knee. For the season, Cousins completed 68.8 percent of his passes (33-for-48) for 466 yards and four touchdowns passes with three interceptions. His best showing came in Week 15, when he started in place of Griffin and led Washington to a 38-21 victory over the Browns while completing 26 of 37 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
Cousins spent the offseason preparing as if Griffin would miss time. Coaches and teammates observed a more polished Cousins and say they would have no problem with him leading the first team throughout the preseason and into the regular season if needs be.
"There's never a situation out there where he's caught off-guard," quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said of Cousins. "He's played in a couple games, and watching his demeanor out there, he just looks more comfortable and more confident. His play has really improved. We've got all the confidence in the world in [Cousins], just like we did going into that Cleveland game, and I think he proved to the world and his teammates that he's ready to produce."
Health-related questions remain regarding a number of other key players. Last season, Washington played the bulk of the season without top pass-rusher Brian Orakpo (torn pectoral muscle), defensive end Adam Carriker (torn quadriceps tendon), tight end Fred Davis (torn Achilles' tendon), and strong safety Brandon Meriweather (torn ACL). The team also had to go without top receiver Pierre Garcon for 10 games, mainly because of a torn ligament in one of his toes. Garcon also had shoulder surgery this offseason.
Orakpo practiced fully throughout the offseason and aims to return to his two-time Pro Bowl form and spark a pass-rush that struggled mightily in his absence last season. And Garcon last week received clearance from Andrews.
The Redskins hope Davis and Meriweather will open camp on the practice field. Meantime, Carriker is expected to be placed on the PUP list after having a second surgery this offseason.