Griffin still evokes hope, even as reality makes it harder to believe

Robert Griffin III, sportsRICHMOND — There’s still an undeniable charisma about Robert Griffin III. Eyes stalk him, and though people aren’t as sure about what they see anymore, there’s an irresistible urge to cut through his bad recent performance, cut through the cynicism it created, and hope a great player is rustling within Griffin’s superior quarterback physique.

He’s still a star you want to wish upon, no matter how persuasive reality can be.

Some can dismiss this urge quickly because they’ve been fooled too many times, by Griffin or by the bittersweet nature of the sports experience. For others, this urge is more seductive, and the need to have hope is imperative, and nostalgia starts fluttering. All of a sudden, they’re in a 2012 state of mind, and Griffin is in all his braided glory, making a stunning first impression.

How could all that brilliance evaporate so soon?

Maybe there’s some left. Maybe Griffin can recapture it. Maybe this is the yesteryear.

Such is the complicated, polarizing mental tug-of-war that roils beneath the surface of this training camp. As Griffin prepares for what should be a conclusive fourth NFL season, he still possesses the magnetism and talent — even in a diminished form — to cause a longing for him to reclaim his stardom.

There’s an easy motivation for onlookers: The reemergence of a franchise quarterback is the most direct and painless route to stability for the fallen franchise. And then there’s a complex emotional pull, which includes the power of nostalgia and the need to understand what happened to the dynamic rookie who was destined to redefine his position.

Nothing about the Griffin story is tidy. His descent from electric to mediocre to lousy confounds to no end. He has been felled by his injuries and his ego, by leadership instability and by too much initial success. Yet there he was Thursday afternoon, wearing a bucket hat, gray T-shirt and burgundy shorts, commanding a room, looking relaxed and confident. He had neither a football in hand nor a ferocious pass rusher in his face, so it would’ve been foolish to draw any conclusions. Nevertheless, the sight of a poised Griffin, in any setting, makes the mind wander back to that dreamy place when the quarterback seemed like a video game phenomenon.

“I’m great mentally,” Griffin said, shunning any notion of fragility after two years of struggle. “I don’t know what you guys are talking about.”

Despite a few moments in which he was clearly annoyed with the line of questioning, Griffin didn’t sound aloof, selfish or spoiled. He didn’t make headlines because of some ill-thought remark. In fact, his most significant comment left hope — that word again — that he andCoach Jay Gruden will have a harmonious second season.

“I can tell you now, whatever Jay wants to run, we’re going to run, and that’s what we’re going to be successful at,” Griffin said. “I’ve bought in. The guys have bought in.”

Of course, that’s easy to say on the first day of practice. Let’s wait until something goes wrong in a game and see if Griffin will believe in the system.

Whether Griffin realizes it, the system is his path to salvation. It’s time to believe in something, to supplement his ability with a plan to which he’s willing to stake his reputation. Resistance won’t spur progress. It will just lead to more frustrating results, and ultimately, an uncertain future with another franchise.

You yearn for the return of RGIII, the superstar. However, in truth, he must redeem himself in a different way, by using the harsh lessons of his young career and turning into a wiser player.

This wisdom can still be thrilling at times. The Griffin criticism often comes with the acknowledgment that he’s not the explosive, track athlete of a quarterback he once was. He doesn’t have to be, though. He’s plenty fast, even after the injuries. Now he must move with greater purpose, and if he does, his legs can remain a formidable asset.

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But his mind must evolve the most, and that’s where the cynicism takes over. Can he make faster reads? Can he leave fewer plays on the field? Can he regain trust and command a huddle the way he still commands an interview room?

Instead of bristling at these questions, Griffin must answer them. Otherwise, the uneven start of his professional career will remain an unsolved mystery, and the team will rescind his $16.1 million fifth-year option for 2016 (guaranteed for injury only), and Griffin will have to start over elsewhere.

Asked about rookie running back Matt Jones, rookie wide receiver Jamison Crowder and the infusion of young talent on offense, Griffin sounded like a veteran when he said, “It’s not a matter of talent. It’s a matter of knowledge.”

His words apply perfectly to his situation. For all the hardships and humbling moments, what has Griffin learned?

Since arriving here, I’ve received the same question repeatedly: What’s the difference between Griffin and 2012 draft classmate Russell Wilson, who was less heralded but has enjoyed remarkable success? The answer isn’t that Wilson is more mature, a better leader or cares more about the game. It’s that Wilson, because he dealt with the height issue, is more aware of his limitations and he’s adamant about transcending any perceived weaknesses. He is defined by what he isn’t, and he’s overbearing about changing the narrative.

In that sense, Griffin came into the league with almost too much talent — and a superhero fascination to go with it. The recognition of mortality is the biggest step he can take toward reclamation.

In this defining season, with everyone standing in confusion about how this story will end, Griffin has the diverse experiences to evolve. The game, and the franchise’s fortunes, still go through him. Does he still have some brilliance left?

You want to believe. You really do.

But Griffin needs to complement this nostalgic pull with signs of growth.

Source: MSN Sports

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