Over five years ago, Robert Griffin III entered the December of his rookie year with the Washington Redskins at the height of his powers. He was a certified star, on his way to NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, when, in a game against the Ravens, he appeared to hyperextend his right knee on a vicious hit by then-Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
A month later, his right knee was shredded and the Redskins' season was ended in a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The next season, he started 13 games. The season after that, just seven. Griffin was inactive for all of 2015, and in 2016 started five games for the Cleveland Browns, his last action in a league that had seemed to leave him behind.
How far had Griffin fallen in the public's mind before he agreed to sign with the Ravens last week? When he was brought in to throw for the team last month, it was reported as a workout for wide receivers Willie Snead and Michael Floyd, "and there was just some random guy there throwing to them," he said to laughter at his introductory news conference Wednesday.
"I think what [the Ravens] came away from it, or at least what they echoed to me, was that they were impressed at how prepared I was for the opportunity, how eager I was to come in and just prove it to them, as opposed to relying on the merits of what I'd done in the league before," Griffin said. "And I think that's kind of what they're excited about, [which] is, I'm not just relying on what I did in the past. I want to show them the player that I am, the player that I can be moving forward."
For now, all he's expected to be is a backup to Joe Flacco. Ravens officials even acknowledged at their predraft news conference last week, where his surprise one-year deal was announced by general manager Ozzie Newsome, that his signing would not deter the selection of a quarterback later this month in the draft.
Griffin, 28, said at one point Wednesday that he feels as if he's 25. At another point, he said, "I probably haven't felt this good since I came out of college," in 2012, when he was a No. 2 overall pick after a Heisman Trophy-winning season at Baylor. But "a year off of football can do that."
When a reporter mentioned to Griffin that he hadn't thrown a pass for an entire season, Griffin gently offered a correction: He hadn't thrown a pass in an NFL game for an entire season. "I made sure I put the work in," he said. He watched games. He studied what offenses were doing, what defenses were doing. Not a day passed last year, he said, when he didn't feel as if didn't belong in the NFL. But he tried to spend his fall Sundays getting better, not feeling bitter.
Each week off offered another week of homework to complete.
" 'Now I'm going to go work on this all next week to make sure whatever this mistake was or whatever they did right there, I'm going to get better at that so that when I get my opportunity, I'm ready to go,' " he recalled thinking. "That's all I can preach — it's hard work and dedication. You can't get complacent or feel sorry for yourself because life's not fair."
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Injuries have afforded Griffin a lot of time to think, though. Since tearing his LCL, ACL and meniscus in the 2012 playoff loss to Seattle, he has dislocated an ankle, suffered a concussion and fractured a bone in his left shoulder. He has accepted that quarterbacks, as a matter of course, will get hit in the pocket.
But it's outside the pocket, as a scrambler whose dual-threat talents once seemed almost revolutionary, where he said he must be "smarter." He said he'll slide earlier to avoid contact. He'll step out of bounds when he has to. "And then when it's time to run for 70, I'll run for 70," said Griffin, who over his past three years in the NFL has had season-long carries of 26, 23 and 20 yards — or a combined 69.
Griffin, who threw for 886 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 59.2 percent of his passes in his lone season with the Browns before being cut last March, said he understands that "this is Joe's team." Coach John Harbaugh said last week that Griffin's Ravens teammates "like him as a person," an important consideration for a player who earlier in his career was known as a polarizing locker room presence.
All that's left to do, Griffin said, is "move forward as a new player, a better player, a grown player."
"I'm a Baltimore Raven," said Griffin, wearing a monogrammed dress shirt as he spoke inside the Ravens' smaller interview room, while his wife and infant daughter waited outside. "And my job is to do whatever I can do to help the team win games, in whatever capacity that may be."