When it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL, Rex Grossman has just about seen and done it all.
He has experienced the highs of hearing his name called in the first round of the NFL draft, starting games, engaging in shootouts, directing fourth-quarter comebacks and helping pace the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl.
He has also experienced plenty of lows: a blowout loss in Super Bowl XLI, game-killing interceptions, double-digit losses, benchings, and boos, jeers and insults rained down from fans.
Grossman’s 10th NFL season featured an entirely new experience, however. A year after starting 13 games for the Washington Redskins, Grossman accepted a much different role: one of adviser, interpreter and player-coach to rookies Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins.
Grossman, 32, has been in uniform for just two games this season, and he didn’t take a snap in either, the first season in his career that has happened. In practices, he runs the scout team — directing the opposing offense to help Washington’s defense prepare for what it will face the upcoming Sunday. In meetings, he watches, listens and takes notes for a game plan that’s not designed for him.
But the swashbuckler-turned-mentor is fine with all of that. Determined not to become a destructive force, Grossman has tried to find whatever way possible to contribute to the Redskins’ turnaround. The role bestowed upon him this season goes unnoticed by outsiders, but it carries great importance to the Redskins’ players and coaches.
“He’s been an invaluable help and probably as big a reason as the coaches’ work for why Robert has had the success he has,” said Cousins, who added that Grossman deserves credit for having aided Cousins’s successful relief performance for the injured Griffin against Baltimore and for his successful start the following week at Cleveland.
Said Grossman: “I got the message pretty early: ‘You’re to be there to help the young quarterbacks get better.’ I knew that going in. It’s been a pretty easy transition into that, minus my competitive spirit wanting to play. . . . I’ve found myself enjoying it a little bit, and enjoying the process of helping. I want to contribute, so that takes the place of that.”
Grossman didn’t expect to start. Coming off a 5-11 season (5-8 in games he played) in which he threw 16 touchdowns and 20 interceptions and was sacked 25 times, changes were certain.
The Redskins sent three first-round picks and a second-round pick to the St. Louis Rams to get the No. 2 overall pick of the 2011 draft, and everyone knew what they’d do with it.
Even before he signed, Grossman had been told by the Redskins that they wanted him to serve as the veteran backup to their rookie quarterback, who wound up being Griffin as the Indianapolis Colts took Andrew Luck first overall. Grossman didn’t exactly expect the Redskins — who under Coach Mike Shanahan have usually carried just two quarterbacks — to also draft Cousins in the fourth round. But he took that decision in stride and maintained the same team-first mind-set.
“I’ve always felt like we were going to have a great team,” Grossman said. “Coming back here gave me a chance to be a part of what this team should have been.”
Having played under Kyle Shanahan in Houston, and then two seasons in Washington before this year, Grossman was a gold mine of knowledge for Griffin and Cousins. Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur gave both rookies thorough educations in the system. But Grossman helped in other aspects. He gives Griffin and Cousins helpful hints on how to move around in the pocket, how to react to defenses and adjust on the fly — little things that go beyond the coaches’ tutelage.
“Rex has been great,” Kyle Shanahan said. “I think Robert gets along with him well and definitely always has him to ask questions to with the experience he’s been through. He talks about plays, how he sees it, so he always has that opinion of somebody who’s been through it. I think Robert enjoys having him around.”
“Rex has been awesome,” he said. “He helps us interpret what Kyle and Matt are trying to tell us without us taking it literally. He’s good at that stuff because he’s played. He knows how we see it; he knows how the coaches see it.”
Grossman has also tried to help impress upon Griffin the competitive mind-set and even ego that a quarterback should have in the NFL.
In Week 4 against Tampa Bay, the Redskins held a lead, but the Buccaneers were driving. As Griffin and Grossman watched from the sideline, Grossman looked at Griffin and told him, “You want them to score so you can go win the game. . . .You have to start preparing yourself for that drive.”
Tampa Bay did score, taking a 22-21 lead with 1 minute 56 seconds left, and then Griffin delivered the first comeback drive of his NFL career as Washington won, 24-22.
Grossman plays down his influence, however. “I don’t know if it’s helped or not. I’ve tried to stay out of his way because he’s handling it all really well for a rookie, for a veteran. He’s just on it. I understood that after watching him a couple regular season games — this guy’s different. He’s got that ‘it’ factor. He doesn’t need advice. But, some times I can’t help myself.”
Grossman will let his future play out this offseason, when he weighs the pros of re-signing with Washington or entertaining whatever interest other teams direct his way. Grossman has confidence that he can still start for an NFL team.
“There’s no doubt,” he said. “I feel like I’m better now than I was when I did start every game. The only time I did start every game, we were 15-4 and made it to the Super Bowl, and I feel like I’m a better quarterback than I was then.”