It’s the John Beck-Rex Grossman show as Redskins preseason commences

Mike Wise
August 11, 2011

Neither a summer-long lockout nor the frenzied shopping spree that followed, basically the Oklahoma land rush of free agency, could stop its on-time arrival. Practice games have arrived; a season is to be had.

As the cymbals from the NFL Films musical score collide in the background, all together now, in your best John Facenda baritone: Beneath a humid August sky, the road to Indianapolis, the path to raising the Lombardi Trophy, starts here, in the searing summer heat.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Well, not literally here, in Washington. Not now. I really just meant the NFL preseason, which for the Redskins begins Friday night in Landover against a team that almost won the Super Bowl last year and whose fans regard FedEx Field as their second home.

This is the first preseason since 2004 that is at least worth paying attention to in Washington, because the most important position on the field is up for grabs.

Not since Mark Brunell beat out Patrick Ramsey seven Augusts ago has there been a true open competition for starting quarterback.

Brunell entered camp as the unquestioned starter in 2005 and 2006. Jason Campbell, after taking over for Brunell six games into 2006, had the job heading into the preseason between 2007 and 2009. And Donovan McNabb was the anointed starter last season because no one actually believed Rex Grossman or John Beck could run Kyle Shanahan’s offense better than a six-time Pro Bowler. (Okay, Kyle did. But that’s another story.)

So who’s it going to be a month from today, Rex or Becks? Who gets the nod in what less than two weeks into training camp is already a too-close-to-call battle, Everybody’s Favorite Former Chicago Bear to Pick On (Grossman)? Or the Stormin’ Mormon Who Can’t Believe Someone Other Than John Beck Finally Believes In Him?

The case for Beck, who may not play Friday night because he’s trying to mend a groin pull, can be made by his lone two NFL benefactors. If you trust Mike and Kyle Shanahan, then you have to take them for their word that they had Beck as the top-rated quarterback in college football when he came out of BYU in 2007.

When we talk about some of the quarterbacks coached by the Shanahans, we talk Joe Montana, Steve Young and John Elway for Mike and Matt Schaub for Kyle.

So as hard as it is to imagine, Beck, a player who has not taken a regular season snap in three years, actually could be starting on Sept. 11 against the New York Giants. Beck has the confidence of his head coach and offensive coordinator, who have a pretty strong track record when it comes to the quarterback position.

The case for Grossman is his experience. Regardless of the times he hasn’t hung on to the ball or played well in the crucible of a playoff game, Grossman quarterbacked his team to a Super Bowl as many times as Dan Marino did. That’s a fact.

Grossman knows Kyle’s system, having learned it in Houston, and — this is key and almost forgotten — believes in himself as a starter in the NFL as much as Beck.

How many veterans who most teams view as a backup for their roster would sign a one-year deal when a team is offering more money and years, as the Redskins were with Grossman? A player who doesn’t want a retooling team to control his right to earn more money or move on should he have a better-than-decent season.

Grossman believes to his core that he can still start for a very good team, given his bizarre, cocksure prediction of the Redskins winning the NFC East despite everyone and their mother having picked them to finish in the cellar.

Who says those kind of wacky things? The same kind of guy who believes he is the starter before training camp began.

Rex-Becks promises to be good theater for the next month, receiving top billing over some of the other exhibition season questions that need answering:

Can Mike Sellers, once a starting fullback and an invaluable special-teams player, survive cut-down day on grit alone in this his 14th year in the league?

Will LaRon Landry be healthy enough to get on the field in a month? Will Chris Cooley’s swollen knee be a long-term concern?

Is Trent Williams going to be a dominant left tackle or just a serviceable one? Will the 3-4 defense, exposed badly after it was implemented last season, work for Jim Haslett in Year 2? Does Ryan Kerrigan show some resemblance at linebacker to Clay Matthews? Will Brandon Banks be a one-hit wonder as a return specialist?

But nothing is bigger than this one the next four weeks: Who starts at quarterback, the veteran with scars to prove it or the clipboard holder who just wants the coach to put him in the game?

It’s worth watching the next month to find out.

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