Mike Shanahan says Redskins' Rex Grossman has room to improve after beating Jaguars

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 28, 2010; 12:53 AM

Mike Shanahan has been with the Redskins just two weeks shy of a year, but he seems to grasp the rocky relationship the fickle franchise always seems to have with its quarterback.

"It's kind of like a soap opera," he said Monday.

Actually, Shanahan was only talking about the past week of "QB-said-coach-said" that has played out at Redskins Park. But uncertainty has marked the quarterback spot since Mark Rypien was hoisting the Super Bowl trophy.

With Donovan McNabb relegated to the third string and running scout team plays in practice, his understudy, Rex Grossman, is the latest to try out for the coveted role. After an impressive debut, Grossman's follow-up performance in Sunday's 20-17 overtime win at Jacksonville was less convincing. He's essentially been given three games to sell himself to coaches - not to mention Redskins fans - which means for Grossman, there could be a lot riding on this Sunday's season finale against the New York Giants.

Shanahan was frank in assessing Grossman's performance against the Jaguars and made clear that he felt Grossman had room for improvement.

"You work through those learning experiences," he said. "Hopefully, next time that he's out, he takes advantage of those opportunities."

After throwing four touchdowns a week earlier at Dallas, Grossman was 19 of 39 passing for 182 yards, a touchdown and an interception in Jacksonville Sunday. His quarterback rating of 60.0 was worse than 12 of McNabb's 13 totals this season.

Grossman's eight-year career has been marked by inconsistency, turnovers and a failure to bounce back from poor decisions. While Shanahan obviously wasn't happy with Sunday's turnover, he seemed more disappointed in what followed.

"I thought he played extremely well up until the interception," Shanahan said. "Then he had the interception, he looked like he lost a little focus and missed some of the reads that he normally would make."

Late in the first quarter, the Redskins held a 10-7 lead and had reached the red zone. Grossman's first-down throw to the end zone was intercepted by Jacksonville cornerback Derek Cox. After reviewing the play, officials determined that Cox had planted both feet inbounds and the Jaguars took possession of the ball.

"Probably should've threw it a little bit quicker to get the timing," Shanahan said of Grossman's throw. He "had a chance to get the touchdown on that play. That was disappointing. It shouldn't have been an interception to start with."

Grossman was eight of 16 passing for 80 yards before the interception. He played only one more series in the first half after Cox spoiled the Redskins' drive. On that final possession, the Redskins ran a hurry-up offense and went three-and-out. Grossman threw consecutive incompletions to Chris Cooley, Keiland Williams and Terrence Austin.

In the second half, Grossman was 11 of 23 for 102 yards. He had no turnovers and didn't take a sack, as the Redskins forced an overtime period. Place kicker Graham Gano quickly sealed the sixth win of the season with a field goal.

Eliminated from the playoff hunt two weeks ago, Shanahan has designated these final games of the season as an evaluation period. In explaining their comfort with Grossman, coaches had said previously that the eight-year veteran is familiar with the offensive system because he was part of it last year in Houston. On Monday, though, Shanahan said game reps matter more, so seeing how Grossman responded from a bad interception is important for coaches.

"That's why you try to put people in game situations to see how they'd react," he said. "Up until that time, I thought he was playing very well. You've got to know when to throw it away, when to take your chances. But some of the things that he normally does right, sometimes you lose a little focus after an INT. I thought that got to him a little bit."

Shanahan confirmed that Grossman will start Sunday against the Giants, the second straight game he will face a foe fighting for a playoff spot. Even though the Redskins won't make the postseason, this Sunday's contest will provide a backdrop that will help coaches study players such as Grossman.

"It's an evaluation process. You look at everything," Shanahan said. "You take a look at sacks, you take look at touchdowns, you take a look at interceptions, you take a look at dropped passes. So when you evaluate an offense, you're evaluating everybody."

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