Fennelly: No sure things in the NFL, just ask RGIII

Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) is seen during a joint practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at One Buc Place in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) is seen during a joint practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at One Buc Place in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016.
Published Aug. 24, 2016

TAMPA — Cleveland starting quarterback and cautionary tale Robert Griffin III wasn't available to media Tuesday after the Bucs and Browns' joint practice in advance of Friday's preseason game. Nothing personal. RG3 will talk today.

So we spoke with RG4.

"That's me," said Bucs third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin, who wears No. 4, as he did with the Saints. "When I was in New Orleans, they started calling me RG4."

RG3 was once the toast of Washington, D.C., the toast of the NFL, a Heisman-winning deliverer as a rookie in 2012. He didn't play in a game last season. Last September, he reportedly played safety on the Washington scout team. Last March, he was released.

Now he's trying to remake his career with one of the bleakest franchises in football. The scorched earth remains from Cleveland's previous quarterback savior, another Heisman winner: Johnny Manziel. First-year head coach Hue Jackson, in charge of massive rebuilding, tabbed Griffin his starter this month.

Now what?

"It's a brutal league," Ryan Griffin said. "It's ruthless. It comes down to, can you get it done? It doesn't matter who you are."

That's important to remember when considering the Bucs and yet another Heisman winner:

Jameis Winston.

He's not out of the woods yet.

Winston might take another leap forward this season. Then again, he might not. There are no guarantees.

Look at RG3.

Winston had a fine rookie season. RG3 had a finer one in 2012. He was a dual-threat sensation, passing for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns, running for 815 yards and seven TDs to lead Washington to the playoffs, all on a bad knee.

Then it fell apart. More injuries. Then battle lines, Washington owner Daniel Snyder, a Griffin loyalist and enabler, against Washington head coach Mike Shanahan, who thought the team spent too much — three first-round picks and a second-round pick — to move up and take Griffin second in the draft behind Andrew Luck. And there were Griffin's problems with his coaches and his teammates. A whole lot of melodrama.

When the Bucs choked at Washington last season, a dizzying 31-30 loss, the Washington comeback was led by starting quarterback Kirk Cousins. Griffin was a spectator, a third-stringer. As dazzling as his ascent was, his fall was just as spectacular.

Take heed, Jameis.

Back to RG3.

"Well, his first year in the league, this guy shows up and I was, 'Golly, the league is changing,' " Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "I remember his Heisman year and how explosive he was, and then he hit the league by storm. Getting injured, man, I know first-hand how injuries can prohibit how well you can play, and it just knocked him off course. He's carrying himself like a vet. From the look of things, he looks good."

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There are a lot of reasons to think Winston won't plummet as Griffin did.

Winston is a pro-style quarterback from a pro-style offense at Florida State, unlike Griffin at Baylor. Winston has the backing from the entire Bucs organization, something Griffin never had. And Winston is a leader who brings teammates together, something Griffin couldn't pull off in Washington when things went bad.

But who's to say Winston won't get injured? He scrambles, doesn't slide. Look where all that running got RG3. Winston gets hit all the time. And who's to say he'll improve at deep balls until he does? He's a growing quarterback, not a great one. His offensive line needs work. His head coach has never won an NFL game.

We have no idea what Winston's second season will be like.

Anything can happen.

Back to RG3.

"You never know," Jackson said. "We haven't played a game. But I'm very comfortable and confident in what he's done so far. He's done a great job. … What we've tried to do since he's been with us, we just put all that behind him. We just move forward. We don't even talk about the past anymore."

A familiar face, Cleveland backup and former Buc Josh McCown, said Griffin is upbeat and doing well.

"Physically, he's recovered from all his injuries. He's ready to take another step."

After all those steps back.

Jameis Winston appears to be the answer for the Bucs.

RG3 was once the answer in Washington.

Important to remember.

Back to RG4.

"I'm just trying to work hard," Ryan Griffin said. "I was undrafted. But look at how many people ahead of me aren't here."

It comes down to can you get it done? It doesn't matter who you are.