JOSEPH WHITE, AP Sports Writer
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Rookie NFL head coach Jay Gruden pulled a veteran move Thursday, saying he won’t absolutely, positively rule out Robert Griffin III’s return for the Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys until just before kickoff.
Gruden nevertheless gave every indication that McCoy will make a first start in nearly three years. The coach said he was “tinkering on thin ice” at practice to give both quarterbacks sufficient first-team snaps so that McCoy will be ready to play and so that Griffin can back in the flow after idle weeks recovering from a dislocated left ankle.
“Colt’s the starter. We’re preparing for Colt to be the starter,” Gruden said. “But we’re trying to get Robert some reps, get him ready. But right now it looks like odds are Colt will be the starter, but we’re trying to work Robert into the lineup and trying to get him reps to get him ready to go because ultimately, when it’s all said and done, when Robert’s healthy, Robert’s the starter.
“We just don’t know when that ‘healthy’ will be.”
Gruden previously said he wanted to declare a starter by end of Thursday’s practice, but maintaining the suspense of even a remote chance of a Griffin return is a classic move to keep the opponent guessing. The Cowboys, at least nominally, will have to prepare for two very different quarterbacks.
“We will try to keep an eye on what they are doing throughout the week,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “But we certainly have to be ready for both of them.”
Griffin was again listed as “limited” in practice Thursday and “has been cleared to do just about everything” by the trainers, according to Gruden. McCoy, however, needs all the work he can get because he began the season as the third-stringer and has practiced very little with the starters. Center Kory Lichtensteiger, for example, said he had made “probably zero” snaps to McCoy in any sort of 11-on-11 practice drill until this week.
“We’re really tinkering here on thin ice, you know, as far as who we’re giving the reps to,” Gruden said. “Every time we take Colt out of the game getting ready for Monday night, we’re taking away from his progression. We have to give Colt the reps right now, but we also have to make sure that we’re bringing Robert along at a good rate so that when he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go.”
The Redskins again declined to make Griffin available to reporters. He is scheduled to make a statement Friday but is not expected to take questions.
“He wants to play, no question,” Gruden said. “He’s a great competitor, but he also knows he has to go through the process, and he understands that. He’s still got to get out there and throw these balls in the team drills to the wide receivers to get himself back in game form. It’s not so much the injury now as it is more about getting himself ready from a mental-physical standpoint playing football.”
McCoy’s last start came on Dec. 8, 2011, with the Cleveland Browns. He made his Redskins debut on Sunday when he led a come-from-behind win over the Tennessee Titans after Kirk Cousins was benched at halftime.
If McCoy does get the call, he will become the 24th Redskins starting quarterback in 22 seasons, an run of instability that has seen everyone from Heath Shuler to Donovan McNabb come and go without sustained success. Accordingly, Washington has missed the playoff in all but four of those seasons.
Notes: Two other starting jobs for Monday’s game are still up for grabs, according to Gruden. Tom Compton could get the nod at right tackle ahead of Tyler Polumbus, who was benched for parts of the Titans game. Also, LB Perry Riley is set to return from a sprained left knee, but Gruden said both Riley and Will Compton could get playing time. … LB Keenan Robinson was chosen by the league as the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week, an honor that usually goes to someone who makes a highlight play or two. Robinson quietly had a career-high 14 tackles against the Titans. “I didn’t do anything special,” he said. “I ran the play-calls and happened to be there for 14 times on tackles.” … Ahead of his first “Dallas week,” Gruden showed his players a video of highlights from the rivalry. “A lot of guys haven’t been in this organization, myself included,” Gruden said. “It’s always good to see the history of this rivalry and how important it is to the fans, the ex-players, the alumni and this organization in general.”