Robert Griffin III had to learn the hard way about the often-unforgiving nature of the NFL.
The 2012 Rookie of the Year looked to have a bright future ahead of him as an electrifying talent with breakaway speed and a rocket arm, but a series of injuries derailed his career.
He first suffered a major knee injury in 2012, and then dealt with concussions, a dislocated ankle and a broken bone in his shoulder, and the litany of injuries ultimately led to him spending last year out of the NFL.
As Griffin looks back on the meteoric rise and fall of his first five NFL seasons, he has a new understanding on how to approach the game.
“I’ve learned to protect myself better,” Griffin said. “You’re going to get hit in this league – it’s just what it is; it’s going to happen. The offensive line’s job is to make that not happen; your job is to make that not happen by getting the ball out of your hands.”
Griffin was a highlight machine his rookie year, and was at his best when he used his running ability to complement the passing game. The Redskins designed their offense around Griffin’s abilities, and he set a then-rookie record with a passer rating of 102.4 that season, and had a career-high 120 carries for 815 yards and seven touchdowns.
But he played the game with a seemingly care-free attitude about his own safety, and he paid the price by taking one big hit after another.
Griffin specifically cited the need to do a better job of protecting himself outside the pocket. He’s taken the biggest hits while scrambling, and he now understands the need to slide or avoid contact.
But he doesn’t want to move too far away from the skills that made him such a dynamic player. He has world-class speed that changes the way teams defend him, and he wants to utilize one of his greatest assets.
“It doesn’t mean I’m not going to run. It just means that when I do run, I’ll be smarter about it,” he said. “I’ll slide earlier, get out of bounds when I have to, and when it’s time to run for 70 [yards], I’ll run for 70. It just is what it is. That’s what I more so learned by watching over the years. I’m excited about that.”
A benefit to spending an entire year off is that Griffin finally had a chance to heal. He’s essentially spent the last five years trying to overcome one injury after another. Even after tearing his ACL during his rookie season, Griffin returned to the field just eight months later to be ready for Week 1.
The injuries had clearly taken a toll, but now he’s back to full strength.
“If I’m being 100-percent honest, I probably haven’t felt this good since I came out of college,” Griffin said. “A year off of football can do that when trucks aren’t landing on you every play.”
The year away from the game gave Griffin new perspective.
All he could do was watch the game from a distance hoping to get another chance, and he put the focus on improving on the mental piece. He understands that his body can’t withstand countless blows from NFL defenders, and he appreciates more that NFL careers are fragile.
"It helped me become a smarter player," Griffin said. "I tried to use that experience to grow. I feel like I have grown from that and I look forward to being able to show it."