DA: Washington Still Doesn’t Know If RGIII is Tough Enough

There’s nothing worse than two-day old roadkill on the side of the highway. It’s sad, it’s gross, and you’re just wondering why it hasn’t been removed yet. Last night, Robert Griffin was that splattered groundhog.

Washington’s offensive line was shoddier than the paper towel in a Sham-Wow informercial. Just about every time Griffin dropped back to pass he was smacked, punched, and pile-driven. It was simultaneously harrowing and perplexing. Why would Jay Gruden allow his starting quarterback to be shot at like a quail in a Dick Cheney hunt?

It was a doomed inevitability. Griffin would eventually get hurt, smushed by 6’6″, 270-pound Corey Wootton. He suffered a stinger and a concussion, and suddenly Washington had yet another problem on its laundry list of issues: An already-banged up Griffin just midway through the preseason.

So what was this about? Why was RGIII forced to scurry for his life, dodging steak knives and booby traps, like a victim in Saw V?

“We weren’t doing that well on offense,” Gruden said. “I wanted to try to get something going on offense. A lot of quarterbacks play into the second quarter in a preseason game. Football is a tough sport.”

Ah, yes. The “tough sport” thing. The old coaching fallback for any marginally silly decision that results in injury. This is a tough sport, played by tough men, and toughness needs to be shown or else no one respects you.

Which in some ways makes sense. You certainly don’t fall into line as a football team and raise your own level of commitment behind a guy who doesn’t much care. Toughness is usually equated to desire because it would be easy to say “screw this” to injury, criticism, and pressure.

But Mike McCarthy doesn’t keep Aaron Rodgers on the field when his offensive line is getting steamrolled in a preseason game. Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and every other reputable, proven quarterback is out at the first signs of danger. Even before. But we know those guys are gamers. There’s toughness, and then there’s gratuitous violence.

Griffin, though, was in there getting suplexed and arm-barred merely because “football is a tough sport?” Gruden is suggesting something by saying something else. Football is tough, and we were subjecting our quarterback to that toughness, because we need to know if he can handle it. The organization spent a truck-load of draft picks to acquire Griffin, and four years later is still doing inventory on him. Can he handle this? The rigors, the fatigue, the nastiness that comes with the job.

Brian Mitchell was an All-Pro kick returner for Washington, and now trashes his old team (understandably) on television. He tapped into the “too soft” narrative.

“Listen, what I’m seeing right now is a team that’s coddling a young man, which is hurting him in the process,” Mitchell said. “You came here to be a football player, not a damn philosopher… He does a lot of stupid stuff, and it’s about time he hears it, instead of people kissing his tail all the damn time.”

Interpretation: RGIII is coddled, not tough. Once upon a time Jim Mora Jr. was an NFL coach. Now he leads UCLA, where everyone is debating the verbal undressing he gave his freshman quarterback. Media overheard it, and Mora was asked to explain his actions.

“You’re trying to put these guys into stressful situations, you’re trying to test them and setting things up to see how they handle it,” he said. “Out here, its toughening them mentally, physically and emotionally to be able to go in front of 85,000 fans against a great opponent and be able to perform in a stressful situation.”

This is how Gruden and the organization views leaving Griffin out to fend off the wolves last night. Gruden may have been woefully short-sighted in allowing the beatdowns on his starting quarterback, when his secondary options (Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy) aren’t exactly Theismann and Rypien. But the reason it happened is because the greatest question about Griffin is not whether he can pick up the offense, or stay healthy for 16 games. It’s whether this is the right job for him. Four years in the NFL and his team views him as a talented, attention-loving, excuse-making, drama queen. They still don’t know this very basic question: Is he’s tough enough? And last night didn’t give us any answers.

D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.

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