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Robert Griffin III embarks on Season II with Redskins

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III throws a

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III throws a pass before an NFL preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Aug. 29, 2013) Credit: AP

ASHBURN, Va. - The future of Robert Griffin III and his rehabilitated right knee prompt as much discussion in Washington as immigration reform, the debt crisis and global warming.

Should the Redskins order their second-year franchise quarterback to spend more time in the pocket of their pistol offense or let him continue to scamper -- as he did for 815 yards last season -- despite the risk of injury?

At one point, Griffin's father chimed in, suggesting his son should pass more and run less. There was speculation of a rift between the star player and coach Mike Shanahan, a matter adamantly denied by Griffin. Then came denials about Griffin's doctor, James Andrews, having "concerns'' related to the quarterback's immediate return to action.

At least for now, those matters are on the back burner. The only confrontation that counts is Monday night's game against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles, when the important questions begin to be addressed.

Can Griffin survive if he's asked to carry the ball 120 times again? Will he thrive with a full year of experience under his belt and a now-healthy complement of linemen and receivers? Or will Redskins fans be in for a watered-down version of Griffin?

Shanahan is keeping everything close to the vest when it comes to how he plans to use Griffin in what he and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, his son, call their East Coast offense.

"You're going to have to come to the game,'' the head coach joked after pronouncing Griffin fit and ready for the season opener. "You're going to have to decide [for] yourself what we're doing.''

Last season, the Shanahans featured a read-option attack with their quarterback in pistol formation. On a typical play, RG3 would place the ball in the gut of his running back (often rookie Alfred Morris, second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards), while reading the defensive pursuit. At that point Griffin would release the ball to Morris, run the ball himself or have the option of passing on the run.

To watch Griffin on the practice field the past week, few would suspect he hasn't seen game action since being injured in Washington's playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, necessitating surgery in January to repair his anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments. He moves freely, runs laterally without hesitation and delivers his passes with precision and zip.

The only telltale sign: That black, lightweight brace on his right knee, a reminder of how fragile life in the NFL can be.

"You can't worry about it,'' Griffin said. "Football is football. You're going to get hit when you play the game. I'm not afraid about it -- not really anxious about it.''

In the past week, Mike Shanahan and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick -- who has made a career out of scrambling -- discussed what it takes for quarterbacks to play more wisely. "Usually a couple of pretty good hits,'' Shanahan said. "That will get you to slide a little bit quicker.

"Most quarterbacks I've been with are great athletes. They find ways to make plays. I'm talking about the Steve Youngs and John Elways. They had a great feel for when to scramble. Most of them don't have a great feel for when to get down, but they learn that in time.''

Vick said he's just this season accepting as truth that protecting himself by sliding or throwing a ball out of bounds can be just as valuable as an extra yard or two.

"What I've learned is you have to be cautious because these guys in the league hit us so hard and we only weigh 210, 215 pounds,'' he said. "These guys are taking all sorts of angles on us and we don't even see them sometimes. So it's important to protect ourselves and be conscious of where we are on the field and, most important, how much we mean to our football team.''

But, Vick added, "At the end of the day, you have to be the best football player you can be. [Running the read option] is one of Robert's strengths.''

Griffin, the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2012 on his way to NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. His 815 rushing yards more than doubled the NFL record for a rookie quarterback and his seven rushing TDs were the most ever by a Redskins quarterback.

"As a receiver, we know how much he meant to us and how much he meant to this offense,'' said Santana Moss, who led the Redskins with eight touchdown catches in 2012.

RG3 said he doesn't "necessarily have to run.'' But in doing so, he makes the Redskins a completely different, more unpredictable team.

Backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, who directed the Redskins to a vital victory at Cleveland after Griffin suffered an initial injury, threw 48 passes last season but rushed the ball only three times for 22 yards.

Griffin said he "learned a lot of lessons'' in his rookie year. "I learned how to protect myself. I've said it time and time again, I'm going to protect myself. I'll do a better job of that.''

Neither Griffin nor Mike Shanahan will speculate on the number of times Griffin might be asked to run the ball this season.

"Whatever that number ends up being, I just want to make sure I go out there and play tough, play hard, play fearless and at the same time, play smart,'' Griffin said. "I'm not going to go out there and play scared.''

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