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Shanahan Shakes Up Quarterback Position


Three years ago, Rex Grossman lost his position as the Chicago Bears' starting quarterback after a game against the Dallas Cowboys.

No touchdown passes. Three interceptions. Out. That happened the season after he threw for 3,193 yards, second best in Bears' history, as the team rolled to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl appearance against the Indianapolis Colts.

Now he'll start for the Redskins … against the Dallas Cowboys. He's in. Donovan McNabb is out.

"It's a big opportunity for me to go out and play well and lead this team to victory. It's pretty obvious what's at stake," Grossman said. "It is an unbelievable opportunity go down to Dallas in a rivalry game and show what I can do in this offense. I'm very excited about it."

It's a "What have you done for me lately?" league and sadly, McNabb did not do enough. The Redskins are 5-8, inefficient in the red zone, a low-scoring team with a quarterback ranked 25th in the NFL in passer rating, sporting a career-high 15 interception and only 14 touchdown passes.

His passer rating of 77.1 is his lowest since his rookie year (60.1) when he only started six of the 12 games in which he played. It's lower than the rating (77.8) he achieved in 2000, his second NFL season and his first as the full-time starter for the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I think Rex deserves a chance to show us what he can do. I've been impressed with Rex since day one, the way he's been handling our practices, the way he's run our offense, but until a guy actually plays in a game, you don't know for sure," coach Mike Shanahan said Friday in announcing the switch. "I believe he deserves the right to show us what he can do. I believe in him whole-heartedly. Now, everybody believes in the second-team quarterback. Can he go out there and get it done? We'll find out."

The smoke was there. It wafted upwards a week ago with various media reports that Grossman and McNabb split practice snaps more evenly before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, a 17-16 loss. It grew denser this week with predictions of this very change and coach Mike Shanahan's unwillingness to discuss starters at any position.

Shanahan has said repeatedly it can take two to three years to learn his offense. Grossman got a head start last year when he backed up Matt Schaub with the Houston Texans, under Kyle Shanahan, then the Texans' offensive coordinator and now the Redskins'. Now the Redskins find out what sort of grasp of it Grossman actually possesses, whether he knows its nuances and can lead the Redskins out of their scoring funk, whether he warrants a look as the permanent starter.

"What I would like to be able to do at the end of the season is evaluate where we're at at our quarterback position," Mike Shanahan said. "I told Donovan that there's nothing he could do in the three games (remaining) that would influence me over what he's done in the last 13 games."

Look at the Redskins this season. No offensive touchdown in the opening-day win versus Dallas. One in the win against the Green Bay Packers. One in the defeat of the Chicago Bears. One in the win over the Tennessee Titans. One in losing to the New York Giants. One is the loneliest number.

Let's not forget that the Redskins hold the NFL's second-worst efficiency mark on third downs, a down on which Shanahan pointedly said earlier this season that quarterbacks "earn their money."

With 10 possessions against the Bucs, the Redskins scored two touchdowns, one on the final drive. Five trips inside the red zone, two touchdowns, one field goal, two missed field goals. Go back to that blowout loss to the 31-7 loss to the Giants a couple of weeks back and study the last five possessions. Interception, punt, two lost fumbles (one by McNabb), an interception.


That's been the pattern.

The last five drives of the Tennessee game? Punt. Field goal. Punt. Missed field goal. Field goal in overtime.

The last five of the 17-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings? Punt. Interception. Field goal. Field goal. Punt.

"We're out of the playoffs. We haven't scored a lot of points in the past few weeks. It's a great opportunity for Rex and we'll go from there," tight end Chris Cooley said.

Go where? Open question. Shanahan raised the possibility of drafting a quarterback if he could find "a young Donovan McNabb, maybe a Sam Bradford." He said he told McNabb he couldn't guarantee him a roster spot next year. Would McNabb want to stay under those conditions? McNabb, a six-time Pro Bowl pick with the Philadelphia Eagles, will be the No. 2 quarterback against the Cowboys and the No. 3 – a game-day inactive – for the final two, Shanahan said.

"This is part of the evaluation process, seeing if Rex Grossman can win a game or he can't," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "If Rex Grossman goes out there and stinks it up, Donovan's back to being the best guy since sliced bread. Is that a situation he can be comfortable with? I don't know."

Shanahan benched McNabb at the end of the loss to the Detroit Lions on Oct. 31, unwilling to see him run the two-minute offense. Grossman came in cold, got sacked and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown on his first snap. He threw seven passes in that game, nine last year.

Grossman came into the NFL as a No.1 pick. Granted, his record didn't always sparkle. In '06 with the Bears, he didn't complete a high percentage of his passes (54.6) and his touchdown throws (23) narrowly exceeded his interceptions (20). His passer rating of 73.9 was lower than McNabb's right now.

He knows what critics said then and say now. Silence, or praise, comes only with performance.

"I think everyone has doubters. In any situation, until you prove yourself on a consistent basis, you're going to have doubters," Grossman said. "I'm human. How could you not be motivated to show everyone who's mocking this or talking on the radio or TV, thinking they're smart? I'm totally motivated to prove not only to them but to myself and my teammates that I'm a bona fide starter in this league and can lead this team to a championship one day."

Is he the answer? We'll find out. We'll see, in the short term, if familiarity with this offense provides some spark. Spark, in fact, won't be enough. A fire must be lit.

Something had to change.

Today, it did.

Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at and follow him on

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