One of the NFL’s most dynamic play-makers — and personalities — is set to return Sunday, and the rest of the season could go far in determining his future in the league. Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden made it all but official Thursday when he said he has "every intent" of starting Robert Griffin III against the Minnesota Vikings.
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"All systems look like they’re go," Gruden said.
Gruden said Griffin is fully recovered from a dislocated left ankle suffered in Week 2 and that the third-year quarterback took most of the first-team snaps in practice ahead of Colt McCoy, who started Monday night’s upset over the Dallas Cowboys.
"We feel he’s at 100 percent physically right now," Gruden said. "But we still have another day left and to make sure that’s the case. All the doctors are on board, the trainers are on board, as far as physically, he looks great."
Gruden again said he wants to make sure Griffin is comfortable running the playbook, including all the new plays and concepts added over the last six weeks.
"I want to see him decisive with the ball, throwing the ball, accuracy, feet in the pocket — very important — make sure he’s not jittery, make sure he’s not tentative whatsoever with his reads, his decisions," Gruden said. "Make sure he’s confident, plays with that confident air that he has that everybody loves moving forward, and (then) we’ll make the final decision, but everything looks good so far."
The Redskins did not make Griffin available for comment. He is scheduled to address reporters on Friday.
Starting Griffin over McCoy has its risks in the Redskins’ quest to climb out of their early-season hole. Griffin’s only game in Gruden’s system, which is geared toward making Griffin less of a running quarterback and more of a pocket-passer, was a far-from-inspiring 17-6 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 1.
McCoy, meanwhile, has completed 36 of 42 passes in 1 1/2 games since Kirk Cousins was benched at halftime against the Tennessee Titans and has the Redskins (3-5) on their first winning streak since 2012. The more experienced hand of McCoy could arguably fare better against the complex defensive schemes run by Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.
But Griffin remains the key to Washington’s future, and the team needs to see if he can remain healthy after three major leg injuries over six college and NFL seasons, while also determining whether he can develop the all-around game expected of elite quarterbacks. Griffin is currently under contract through 2015, and the Redskins next spring will have to decide whether to exercise a team option for 2016.
"He’s played five quarters of football as a starting quarterback for me since I’ve been here," Gruden said, "and he’s got a lot to prove."
Gruden said he won’t limit Griffin’s mobility with play-calls because of the injury. Griffin’s best moves — including bootlegs and the read-option — will be part of the game plan.
"We can’t hold back because of any past injuries," Gruden said. "He’s got to play the position the way he plays it."
Griffin’s return changes the viewpoint from the Vikings defense. In two games vs. Minnesota, he is 41 for 59 for 463 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, along with 20 rushes for 182 yards and two TDs.
"You’ve got to treat him like an extra running back," Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said. "We’ve just got to hit him."
The Redskins have a bye following the Minnesota game, but Gruden said there was no reason to keep Griffin waiting any longer. The quarterback wouldn’t gain much practice time during the extra week because teams are mandated to give players at least five days off.
"There’s really no benefit to, if he’s healthy, to really sitting him and waiting for the bye because it’s not like his leg is going to get stronger," Gruden said. "His leg’s fine, so, (what) the heck."
The nonstop barrage of RG3 questions was perhaps taking its toll on the first-year coach, but he handled it with humor. Asked if he could just go ahead and declare once and for all that Griffin is starting, Gruden replied: "We have every intent of him of him starting, but, you know, (shoot), who knows?"
After some laughter, he added: "I might just change my mind now and just start Colt for the first play of the game — just to tick everybody off."