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Washington Redskins' Mike Shanahan says injuries, conditioning also contributed to Donovan McNabb's benching

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 1:40 AM

Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan, who on Sunday said he benched quarterback Donovan McNabb late in the loss to the Detroit Lions because McNabb had not mastered the two-minute offense, on Monday introduced an additional explanation for his decision. McNabb, Shanahan said, has battled lower-body injuries that have eliminated his practice time in the hurry-up offense and hindered his conditioning.

Shanahan said McNabb's physical problems - strains in both hamstrings, unspecified contusions and a strained quadriceps muscle - had him so concerned that he called McNabb into his office last Tuesday and asked him if he should sit out against the Lions.

Though McNabb, by Shanahan's telling, hadn't been able to practice the two-minute offense in five weeks, and Shanahan was concerned that his leg injuries were affecting his throwing accuracy, the veteran quarterback convinced him he was well enough to play.

"He felt like he wanted to play, that he'd be fine," Shanahan said.

Still, Shanahan said he decided before the game that if the Redskins found themselves trailing with two minutes remaining, no timeouts and a long distance to cover - exactly the situation they faced against the Lions - he would insert backup Rex Grossman because Grossman had played in the same offensive system in 2009 with Houston and was in better physical shape.

"When you deal with a two-minute offense," Shanahan said, "and you don't have any timeouts, and you haven't done it in five weeks, and you're calling sometimes two plays [simultaneously] - you've got to hustle to the line of scrimmage, and you're calling plays that you haven't called in the two-minute attack - and you're actually working on cardiovascular endurance at the same time [you're] working on the clock, it's really hard to do that when you haven't practiced it and you haven't really put yourself in any strenuous activities because of your hamstrings. So I thought it would be in our best interest to go in a different direction."

With that one decision, though, Shanahan sent the Redskins into a bye week with fundamental questions surrounding future of the team's quarterback that were being asked by many of McNabb's teammates as well as a number of prominent NFL analysts.

When team owner Daniel Snyder hired Shanahan in January, and then Shanahan and new general manager Bruce Allen traded for McNabb in April, the conventional wisdom held that the franchise had stabilized itself at its two most important positions: head coach and quarterback. Monday, those two figures found themselves in a situation that not only has ramifications for the rest of the 2010 season but beyond, because McNabb - for whom the Redskins parted with two draft picks - is a free agent at the end of the year.

"It does raise an interesting point," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "After the season, will he be here or not? He has a decision to make, too. It's not strictly up to this organization. It's up to him, too, as well."

Shanahan used some of his regular meeting with the media Monday to say he believed in McNabb for the future. "We all know Donovan's a franchise quarterback," Shanahan said. He added that negotiations on a contract extension for McNabb could continue between Allen and McNabb's representatives.

He also said that, should McNabb heal over the bye week so that he can practice the two-minute drill - and other drills the quarterbacks must perform each week - he would expect McNabb to be the quarterback in a late-game situation when the Redskins return to play Nov. 15 against Philadelphia.

"Without a question," Shanahan said. Shanahan said on Sunday that McNabb would be the starter against the Eagles.

But Shanahan also acknowledged that the Redskins' offensive struggles - they rank 20th in the league in yards per game and 21st in points per game - deeply involve McNabb, who carries a passer rating of 76.0, a rating that ranks 25th in the NFL.

"I'm not happy with where we're at offensively," Shanahan said. "As I told Donovan, I said, 'Hey, you've got a ways to go.' Our offensive line's got a ways to go. Our receivers, I mean, collectively, our coaching staff - we're not happy where we're at."

Sunday night, McNabb said he was surprised by Shanahan's decision, but he did not mention any physical issues. He did not address reporters on Monday.

Grossman, though, said he got the feeling he might be in line for playing time - his first in Washington - as the Redskins prepared to face the Lions last week.

"I was told to make sure to watch a lot of tape and be ready in certain situations," Grossman said. "I didn't really think anything of it. I thought they were getting me ready to play just in case of a situation where they wanted me to play, and it turned out to be that situation."

The decision to sit McNabb was a prominent topic of discussion in the Redskins' locker room and around the league on Monday. Nearly every player on the team who was asked about it said he was surprised or, as Hall said, "shocked."

"I know he's probably extremely upset," said veteran linebacker London Fletcher, the team's defensive captain. "As a competitor, you're not going to be happy to be pulled from a ballgame."

The move befuddled experienced NFL observers outside the Redskins organization.

"If I'm Donovan McNabb, I'm hot," Tony Dungy, a former coach who won the Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, said on NBC's "Football Night in America." "I'm your starting quarterback. As a coach, I can't take you out of the game when we have a chance to win if I believe in you. This tells me they don't believe in him."

The questions weren't just about Shanahan and McNabb, though. Because Grossman has a reputation for committing turnovers - with 36 interceptions against 33 touchdown passes in his career - the fact that he was the player to replace McNabb rankled even further.

"It wasn't just taking Donovan out," Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin said on the NFL Network. "It was bringing Rex Grossman in. All of our eyes have seen enough of Rex Grossman."

Grossman, like McNabb, hadn't practiced in the two-minute offense in five weeks, though Shanahan said Grossman had impressed while simulating the Colts' no-huddle attack as the Redskins prepared to face Indianapolis two weeks ago.

Though Shanahan said he did not tell McNabb of his plans to use Grossman in such a two-minute situation, he said he met with McNabb on Monday morning, and the pair had a "good conversation."

"You've got to address it," Shanahan said. "I know he's getting questions all the time. You've got to answer those questions and hopefully get it cleared up."

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