RICHMOND, Va. -- It was like watching a gazelle run across a field. A gazelle that was so fluid and fast with a stride that seemed like perfection. It was something Michelangelo would have sculpted.
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III ran freely during practice July 28, turning a draw play into a 50-yard gain. The crowd cheered at the sight. It was the old Griffin of 2012 that led Washington to the playoffs, not the brace-wearing 2013 version that couldn't get around the edge.
It was a sign of better times to come.
The Redskins will only fare well if Griffin plays well. And he only plays well if his legs let him create gains on the run. Last year, Griffin donned a brace while recovering from torn right knee ligaments, which restricted him as well as the team's play calling. He couldn't be risked in the open too often, so the zone read that worked so well was curtailed. It takes a year to truly recover from knee surgery, and Griffin played at less than full speed in 2013.
But that's all in the past. This time Griffin was laughing with teammates after the long run. Everyone suddenly saw what he could truly do, and it's enough to send shivers down defensive coordinators.
But coach Jay Gruden is not unleashing Griffin completely. Not with a fistful of receivers and running back Alfred Morris. The Redskins will be selective, but at least know Griffin can be a runner once more.
"It's play dependent," Gruden said. "Every play is its own entity and sometimes [Griffin] feels pressure. Sometimes the defense does a good job of taking away his first two options and there's pressure and he has to run.
"Every play is its own entity and how the quarterback handles pressure, how he handles coverage in the secondary and the decisions that he makes as far as running, throwing the ball away, are going to be the difference in us being an average team and a great team."
Griffin ran freely in 2012 as the team's much-hyped first-round pick. The Heisman Trophy winner seemed capable of making all the plays. While throwing for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns, he also ran 120 times for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. Linebackers were often frozen, unsure what Griffin would do while scrambling.
But Griffin was also injured three times during runs, the last in a playoff loss to Seattle. The first-half injury just before throwing a touchdown for a 14-0 lead left him immobile after intermission before finally crumbling to the ground when not even hit.
The torn ligaments created a mistrust between Griffin and coach Mike Shanahan. Both wanted to blame others for the injury and never reconciled. Eventually, it was the reason Shanahan was fired in January after a 3-13 season.
Griffin has gained Gruden's trust and the coach who was once a quarterback understands his star player's potential. Griffin will certainly run more often this season, but not as much as 2012.
But after seeing him race downfield during practice like an Olympic sprinter, it's awfully hard not to want Griffin do it more.