On the Washington Redskins' Rex Grossman as backup: We've seen worse

By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 7, 2010; 3:40 PM

Rex Grossman was not brought to Washington to hold a clipboard. We might not have known it when he signed last March as a free agent, but we knew it when the Redskins acquired Donovan McNabb in April from the Eagles. We certainly know it now, after McNabb suffered a sprained ankle against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2 of the preseason.

No one really believes McNabb will miss the season opener against Dallas on Sunday night at FedEx Field, but few believe McNabb will play a 16-game season either. He's in tremendous shape, but he's 33 and in the past six seasons, he's played all 16 games once, two years ago.

So Grossman is less than a starter but more than a backup. The Redskins signed him in March as a free agent because he played for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan last season in Houston, although "played" is a bit of a stretch; he got into just one game. But he knows the system and he's been a starter before, with the Bears, and he seemed like the smart option.

Can Grossman deliver? He was spotty playing in the first three games of the preseason. His best performance was in the first game, a 42-17 victory over Buffalo, when he completed 11 of 18 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns, including a 44-yarder to Devin Thomas. His quarterback rating was 122.5

Against the Ravens, he was 14 for 21 for 195 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and two fumbles lost. His rating dropped to 76.5. Then came the Jets game. Grossman got to work with the first-team offense and completed half of his 16 passes. He had no touchdowns and one sack, yet he proved that playing with the best of the offense, he could move the ball against a well-regarded defensive team.

That will be the biggest challenge for the 30-year-old Grossman: to take the offense down the field if - when - McNabb is sidelined. Jason Campbell struggled to do it as the starter last season, dumping the ball off many times behind an offensive line replete with too many injuries and not enough talent. Campbell averaged 10.8 yards per completion last season; Grossman averaged 13.5 in three preseason games. Early days, of course, but the improved line - think potbellied pigs, not Hogs - have given him a little more time to maneuver.

It won't be a thing of beauty. The fumble of the shotgun snap in the end zone against the Jets, the kind of gaffe that was all too common last season, will be rarer this fall, but not extinct. Not yet.

One positive about Grossman: His presence on the bench shouldn't create a quarterback controversy. That's almost unheard of in a town that has gone from Sonny vs. Billy to Trent vs. Gus and Mark vs. Patrick and every other kind of fussing in between.

That speaks to a quieter autumn on the message boards and the airwaves - Albert Haynesworth notwithstanding - but it is also a comment on the Redskins' roster building of the past few seasons. GM Bruce Allen and Coach Mike Shanahan apparently thought the cupboard was pretty bare when they arrived in January. That's led to a lack of depth at some of the offensive skill positions, with the notable exception of tight end.

Of the four quarterbacks on the training camp roster, three weren't here last year. The lone holdover from a 4-12 season in 2009 was Richard Bartel, who was cut when the roster was reduced to 53.

At wide receiver, Santana Moss and Devin Thomas return, although Thomas was no shoo-in to make the roster. Malcolm Kelly, like Thomas a second-round draft pick, will sit out the entire season with an injury. Anthony Armstrong was with the Redskins last fall, but on the practice squad.

So Allen and Shanahan went shopping at Receivers 'R' Us. They signed free agent veterans Joey Galloway, Roydell Williams and Bobby Wade. They drafted Terrence Austin out of UCLA in the seventh round. They signed undrafted free agents Brandon Banks and Shay Hodge.

The results were mixed. Of that group, only Galloway, Williams and Banks stuck, with Austin heading to the practice squad, and Banks will likely play mostly on special teams. Overall, this group is not going to lead the Redskins to an NFC championship, but if Thomas finally lives up to expectations and Armstrong can continue his preseason sparkle and someone can draw coverage away from Moss . . . well, that's a lot of ifs.

The backfield also was uncertain. Shanahan has liked what he's seen of Mike Sellers, so fullback seems settled for now. Clinton Portis has bought into Shanahan's program and his attitude seems fresh. But are his legs?

Again, Allen and Shanahan went shopping, bringing in veterans Larry Johnson and Willie Parker and signing former Broncos back Ryan Torain, 24, and undrafted rookie Keiland Williams out of LSU. Johnson and Williams made the 53-man roster and Torain the practice squad, but again, these are minor upgrades.

As is Grossman from, say, Todd Collins a year ago. A good roster isn't built overnight, as the Redskins have yearly proven. Grossman will do a respectable job as McNabb's backup, most of the time. Many of the Shanallen additions will do a respectable job as well. In fact, respectable may be the most achievable goal of the 2010 season. Which seems sad until you remember the 2009 season. Then guys like Rex Grossman start to look pretty good.

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