Rex Grossman battles for backup QB spot, works with starter Robert Griffin III

July 29, 2012

Last year about this time, Rex Grossman was battling John Beck for the Washington Redskins’ starting quarterback spot and making spirited proclamations about the team winning the NFC East.

A year later, after Washington managed five wins under Grossman’s stewardship and missed the playoffs for a fourth straight year, the 2003 first-round draft pick is again fighting it out with another quarterback, this time for the backup spots behind Robert Griffin III, who already has been named the team’s starter by Coach Mike Shanahan.

It’s not even a given that Grossman will be first off the bench behind Griffin, who was selected No. 2 overall in April’s NFL draft. In the fourth round, the Redskins added Kirk Cousins, the Michigan State quarterback lauded by scouts for his leadership. Cousins and Grossman are competing to be the top reserve.

“I’m just trying to do what my role is, do the best I can,” Grossman said the other afternoon on his way out of the practice bubble at Redskins Park. “The situation is we’ve got a new, young guy that’s going to be a great talent. He’s the future of this franchise, and I’m here to help him out and be ready to play at a moment’s notice and keep the offense going.”

Entering his 10th season in the NFL with a vast knowledge of the playbook, Grossman’s assignment is more than simply ensuring that Griffin is comfortable with the offense. He also is advising the Heisman Trophy winner about managing the countless outside distractions that come with being the Redskins’ highest draft pick in a dozen years.

Griffin is never too far from Grossman during practice. The two speak either during breaks or when they’re waiting to get back into drills. Grossman said he hasn’t been overloading Griffin with information, preferring to let the coaches do most of the tutoring.

But if the Heisman Trophy winner fancies another perspective about a specific play or formation, Grossman is there to provide insight.

“We’ve got a lot of veteran players who want to help younger players,” Shanahan said of the relationship between Grossman and Griffin. “. . . These veterans are here to help our football team win and improve the mental preparation for some of these young guys.”

It wasn’t so long ago that Grossman was the centerpiece of the Redskins’ offense, elevated to starter with three games left in the 2010 season when coaches gave up on veteran Donovan McNabb.

Earlier that season, there was some indication that Shanahan had been contemplating the move to Grossman well before he made it official. During a 37-25 loss at the Detroit Lions on Oct. 31, Shanahan pulled McNabb and inserted Grossman, telling reporters in the postgame news conference that Grossman was more versed in the Redskins’ two-minute offense.

Washington later dealt McNabb to the Minnesota Vikings for a sixth-round pick.

Last season, it was Grossman who endured a downgrade to second string. Shanahan yanked the veteran late in the third quarter of a 20-13 loss to the Eagles on Oct. 16 when Grossman threw four interceptions, three to safety Kurt Coleman. Beck finished the game and started the next three.

When it became obvious that experiment had gone horribly awry, Shanahan went back to Grossman for the second half of the season. Grossman went 2-6 and finished with 20 interceptions, the second-most in the NFC and tied for fourth most in Redskins history.

“I think Rex has been doing a great job adjusting,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “I think his role has been made very clear by our staff, and I think they did an excellent job in laying out exactly what they want from him. Sometimes it’s hard when you think, ‘Am I competing? Am I doing this?’ Rex knows exactly what’s required of him.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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