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Redskins disperse for bye week, but controversy over Donovan McNabb's benching lingers

By Barry Svrluga and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 11:19 PM

The Washington Redskins practiced Tuesday and then scattered for their bye week, ostensibly the lone peaceful time in a hectic season, with little sign that the controversy surrounding the late-game benching of quarterback Donovan McNabb was subsiding.

Coach Mike Shanahan explained, for the third consecutive day, why he sat McNabb in the waning moments of Sunday's loss to Detroit. McNabb said he and Shanahan had put the issue behind them, though he acknowledged he "absolutely" was insulted by having to answer questions about his work habits and conditioning.

Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator and head coach's son, sought to clarify his father's explanations for his decision, playing down that McNabb's poor conditioning was a factor in the benching. But he also injected an additional twist to the story, saying for the first time that McNabb had been told there might be a chance he could be benched in favor of backup Rex Grossman if the Redskins needed to run their two-minute offense.

"Uh, I didn't hear that part," McNabb said during his weekly appearance on ESPN980's "The Sports Fix" when asked about the offensive coordinator's remarks.

On the field at Redskins Park, meantime, he team worked out quarterback JaMarcus Russell - a former No. 1 overall draft pick who was cut by Oakland in May - along with several other players.

Though it was unclear whether the Redskins intend to sign Russell - the workout included other quarterbacks, and such tryouts are commonplace on Tuesdays in the NFL - the timing added another unexpected element to what has been one of the most turbulent 48-hour periods in McNabb's 12-year NFL career.

"At this point, I'm just at ease with it," McNabb said of the benching on his radio show. "At this point, I'm just ready to move on, focus on what I have to do coming back after the bye week."

Last week, Mike Shanahan said he hoped to have the three quarterbacks currently on his roster - McNabb, Grossman and John Beck - with the team in 2011.

Russell started 25 games over three seasons with the Raiders, completing 52.1 percent of his passes, throwing 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. The NFL Network reported that former Buffalo Bills starter J.P. Losman - who has thrown just one pass since 2008 and was cut by Seattle in preseason - was among the others who worked out Tuesday.

"We will evaluate him today - and everyone else out there," Kyle Shanahan said of Russell.

Mike Shanahan has said that McNabb would be the starter when the Redskins face the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 15. But McNabb said he understood that the sorting out from the past few days had, in some ways, just begun.

On Tuesday morning, ESPN reported that the Shanahans had issues with McNabb's practice habits, particularly with the tempo at which he runs the offense.

"My work ethic has never been a question," McNabb told reporters at Redskins Park. "My tempo has never been a question. But I think there's a lot of digging going on right now, miscellaneous digging. I think when situations happen like this, people start to reach for stuff that's really not there."

Both Mike Shanahan ("I'm pleased with" McNabb's tempo and work habits) and Kyle Shanahan ("I think Donovan has perfect work habits") dismissed the ESPN report.

Still, McNabb's inability to practice regularly over the past several weeks - a situation that arose because he is dealing with strained hamstrings, a strained quadriceps muscle and unspecified bruises on his legs - contributed to the entire situation, coaches and players agreed.

Kyle Shanahan reiterated Tuesday what his father had said Monday: That the coaches believed the injuries were bad enough that McNabb should have sat out against Detroit and given himself time to heal for the remaining eight games in the season.

"He talked us into it and we said, 'We understand,' " Kyle Shanahan said. " 'We will let you go, but if we do feel you are struggling in the game and we think it's possible - because when you can't practice full speed it is hard to be as good as you are - if we do see you struggling, we do have to go in a different direction.'"

McNabb, who played in all 16 regular season games just once in his final six seasons in Philadelphia because of a variety of injuries, clearly didn't hear those words as an indication that he could be pulled in a two-minute drill.

Mike Shanahan said the hurry-up offense at the end of a close game requires better conditioning , especially when the offense is out of timeouts.

McNabb said he never considered sitting out against the Lions. "If I can't walk, then I can't go," he said. "That's just the way I play."

As the Redskins players dispersed, the coaches began evaluating the first half of an uneven season.

Kyle Shanahan called the offense "the weak link," and he, his father and McNabb all agreed that the Redskins' level of offensive production thus far - they have 13 offensive touchdowns, ranking 22nd in the NFL - is unacceptable.

But they headed to the break knowing that the time off will only temporarily put the McNabb issue on hold. They return to practice Monday, and the Eagles game is on national television.

"We'll be hearing about this all throughout the bye week leading up to the Monday night game that just so happens we'll be playing against the Philadelphia Eagles," McNabb said. "How about that?"

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