BEREA, Ohio — Defensive tackle Phil Taylor interrupted rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden's chat with reporters Wednesday to warn him that he would find a Baylor University golf shirt hanging in his locker.
On Thursday, the green, 3XL garment was still there, even though Weeden joked about wanting to throw it in the trash.
Taylor's practical joke is one of many signs the Browns (5-8) are still counting on rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III to play through his mildly sprained right knee Sunday when the Washington Redskins (7-6) invade Northeast Ohio. Griffin practiced again Thursday and appears to be on track to play this weekend. And Taylor, Griffin's former teammate at Baylor, wants to make sure Weeden is constantly reminded about the upcoming showdown.
In each of the past two seasons, Weeden led Oklahoma State University to lopsided victories over Griffin and Baylor. Now Weeden, 29, hopes to renew his rivalry with Griffin, the second overall pick in this year's draft whom the Browns tried to obtain in a trade with the St. Louis Rams, only to be outbid by the Redskins.
“You do not want anybody to stay out with injuries,” Weeden said. “Hopefully he's able to bounce back and play.”
In March, the Browns offered the Rams two first-round selections (Nos. 4 and 22 overall) and a first-round pick in 2013 for the right to draft Griffin at No. 2. The Redskins, though, struck a blockbuster deal by giving up their first- and second-round picks in this year's draft (Nos. 6 and 39), plus a first-round choice in 2013 and another in 2014. The Browns reportedly tried to add their 2012 second-round pick (No. 37) with a second proposal, but the Rams had already decided to accept the Redskins' offer.
If the Browns had won the bidding war, they would have Griffin instead of running back Trent Richardson (they used the fourth overall pick to trade up and pick him at No. 3), Weeden (No. 22), right offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz (No. 37) and their first-round pick next year.
“(The Redskins) thought he was worth it,” Weeden said. “He's a good player. That's why I'm not a GM.”
Weeden insists he hasn't thought about the Browns' failed pursuit of Griffin leading to his arrival in Cleveland. And no one will know for sure whether the Browns would be better off if they had won the RG3 sweepstakes until the careers of the aforementioned players unfold in the next three to five years. However, one thing is already evident: Griffin is a special talent.
“He's one of a kind,” strong safety T.J. Ward said. “I don't think I've played anyone like him.
”He can run as good as any quarterback, and he can throw as well as any quarterback. So when you have a hybrid quarterback like that, he makes everything more difficult.“
Griffin sprained the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee Sunday as he absorbed a hit from Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. But Griffin continued to test his knee Thursday while wearing a brace on it. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said Griffin will probably be a game-time decision. If Griffin cannot play, rookie Kirk Cousins, a fourth-round pick, will start at quarterback.
Regardless, the Browns have been preparing for Griffin. They're bracing for his mobility and the read-option plays he runs so effectively.
”We fully anticipate that he'll play,“ defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. ”You'd like to have a lot of eyes on him when he starts to move. No matter how many eyes you have on him, you've got to have eyes and bodies that can catch him. That's a hard thing to do. There aren't a lot of people that move like that really.“
Ward said likes the Browns chances against Griffin because they have athletic defenders who move well. They're placing an emphasis on hitting Griffin in an attempt to discourage him from leaving the pocket.
”If you let him run and don't hit him, then he's going to continue to run without fear,“ Ward said. ”You've got to let him know that there's going to be consequences for leaving the pocket and trying to run down field.“
But Griffin can do damage as a passer, too. He has completed 233-of-351 passes (66.4 percent) for 2,906 yards and 18 touchdowns with four interceptions. He leads the NFL with a passer rating of 104.2.
Weeden's statistics — 264-of-463 passes (57 percent) for 3,037 yards and 13 touchdowns with 15 interceptions for a passer rating of 72.8 — aren't nearly as impressive. But he'll feel much better about his season if he can prevail in a duel against Griffin — like he did in college — and lead the Browns to their fourth consecutive victory.
”You want to play better than the next guy to give your team a chance to win,“ Weeden said. ”It's not focusing on playing better than him but doing what I can to help our team win. I'm sure that's the way most quarterbacks go about it. You want to play well. Everybody's watching. They're making a push. We're playing well. It'll be fun.“
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