As the curtain rises on a new football season, Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman will get the opportunity to resume a starting role in the NFL and rewrite a legacy that has been dominated by criticism.
Four years have passed since he was last tabbed to start an NFL season, and Grossman is convinced he’s a better quarterback. But analysts have the same concerns now as they did then.
“He turns the ball over too much,” said ESPN’s Tom Jackson. “It’s weird because Rex obviously has the skills when it comes to throwing the football. I think he’s a smart kid. He seems to really understand what he wants to do when he’s out there taking snaps. But when you watch a guy over a period of seven, eight, nine years do the exact same thing, it becomes hard to take.”
Grossman knows the knocks against him. His teammates do, too. But they also know Grossman led an offense that scored the second-most points in the NFL in 2006 and took the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl. They see Grossman perform well in practice and are confident he can change opinions.
“He’s ready to show everybody that he's a better quarterback than what people think,” said tight end Fred Davis.
This season marks Grossman’s third in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system. After struggling with Donovan McNabb a year ago, coaches feel they’ll do better with someone who can simply execute their offense, rather than a superstar who doubles as a playmaker.
Analysts say the fact that Coach Mike Shanahan settled on Grossman rather than John Beck, a more mobile quarterback who has less game experience, could signify the team’s refocused priorities. Last year, the Redskins ranked 30th in the league running the ball. To field a better offense, Jackson says Washington needs to focus on at least two things. The first is feeding the ball to running back Tim Hightower.
“And get Rex Grossman to change his DNA from a guy who just drops the ball,” Jackson said. “I’m as concerned with dropping the ball as I am throwing it to other people. He just turns the ball over too much to win games. I think the criticism has been warranted, and I think Mike must think he can turn that around.”
In his ninth season, Grossman has started 34 career games. In those starts, he threw 35 interceptions and fumbled the ball 20 times (losing 11 of them). He has come off the bench in an additional seven games, throwing five picks and losing three of four fumbles.
Like Grossman, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth is a Florida product. He likes Grossman’s game experience and hopes he does well. But he thought the Redskins would side with Beck as a safer pick.
“The more I watch quarterback play, the more I like guys who don’t give up the big plays going the other way, that don’t take sacks, that don’t fall off the back foot and throw interceptions, that know where the check down is, that sort of believe there’s nothing wrong sometimes with a punt,” Collinsworth said last week. “Just don’t give them the ball on our side of the field and give them a chance.”
Grossman’s poor decision-making ability has been under the microscope since he permanently took over the Bears’ starting job in 2006. Critics say it’s not just that he fails to avoid trouble, but often stumbles into it. In addition to his turnover numbers, Grossman took 64 sacks in those 34 starts.
Shanahan said he chose Grossman over Beck after the team’s final preseason game last Thursday. He took into account what he saw on film, in practice, in games and in meeting rooms. He didn’t give a lot of weight to outside opinions.
"I don't really worry about what people say about other people,” Shanahan said. “I just know what they do with me.
“There’s a lot of rumors, lot of speculation that goes on,” he continued. “I try to evaluate people with how they perform with me, not what they’ve done in the past or the rumors that I hear. He’s done a good job since he’s been here.”
In four games last year, Grossman had four interceptions and lost four fumbles. He also took nine sacks. Though there were bright spots in his late season stint as starter, he looked more consistent this preseason. Grossman looked better than Beck in practice and put up better numbers in games. Appearing in parts of three preseason games, the 31-year-old Grossman had one interception and no fumbles.
According to Jerry Rice, the Hall of Fame wide receiver who is now an ESPN analyst, Grossman’s problems don’t revolve solely around committing an error. The bigger issue is often how he responds to it.
“I would love to see some emotion from this guy,” Rice said. “The worst thing is to see a quarterback on the sideline, just completely has this look on his face like, ‘Hey, look, I don’t care.’ That’s really what I saw from him. Hopefully he can turn that around.
“The thing is, if anybody can do this, I firmly believe in Mike Shanahan. He’s an exceptional coach,” continued Rice, who played three seasons under Shanahan when the veteran coach was an offensive coordinator in San Francisco. “It’s going to boil down to this guy really making good decisions on the football field.”