On Monday afternoon, Jay Gruden walked toward his weekly news conference with hands in his pockets, a cap on his head and a small smirk on his face. He stopped at the base of the podium, gazed into the lights, pursed his lips and softly began to whistle.

The whistle had no specific tune, and it didn’t appear to be part of a song. It was something spontaneous, almost a way to break the tension of a crumbling season. His Washington Redskins team is 0-4 with many of its key players hurt, the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are visiting this weekend, and team owner Daniel Snyder has considered firing him as the team has gotten off to its poor start, two people with knowledge of the situation have said.

But Snyder was not around the team’s practice facility Monday, and Gruden was still the head coach, left with his staff of assistants to find the answers to pressing issues — such as who will be the starting quarterback.

Among all the other things that have gone wrong this season, the Redskins suddenly have a three-man competition at quarterback — just as they did at the start of training camp. Gruden hadn’t anticipated this before the season began. When Case Keenum emerged as the No. 1 quarterback coming out of camp, the choice seemed obvious. Gruden’s longest-tenured quarterback, Colt McCoy, had stopped practicing as he struggled to recover from three offseason leg surgeries, and first-round draft pick Dwayne Haskins didn’t appear ready.

But then Keenum injured his foot in the loss to Chicago and was ineffective early during Sunday’s 24-3 loss to the Giants, forcing Gruden to play Haskins sooner than he had hoped. The rookie struggled, leaving Gruden with a decision to make — just as McCoy is set to make a full return to practice Wednesday.

At first, Gruden said he plans to watch all three Wednesday and Thursday before picking one to start against New England. The last thing he wanted to do, he said, was name one the starter on Wednesday only to find out he can’t play on Friday. He wants to see how Keenum’s foot reacts to two days of practice and if McCoy can move enough to be effective. He also wonders how Haskins will come back after an unimpressive first game in which the rookie was intercepted three times and threw for just 107 yards.

“I will absolutely play the person who I think will give us the best chance to win,” he said.

Then, he said: “I can make the decision now. I might have already made a decision.”

He would not reveal that choice, because doing so would make Wednesday and Thursday less of a competition.

“I’m going to let it play out, because I want to see these guys perform,” he said.

Gruden has long favored McCoy and even appeared close to naming McCoy the starter early in training camp, before McCoy’s leg began to ache and he had to stop practicing in mid-August. He wouldn’t suggest McCoy will start against New England, but when asked for the reasons he might want to play McCoy, he gave one of his longest answers of the afternoon.

“He’s been here six years. He knows the system, he’s experienced and has a live arm and is a great competitor,” Gruden said. “From an experience standpoint in this offense — I know he hasn’t played a whole lot — but it does help that when I call a play that we’ve been running for five or six years that you know where to look and what side of the field to read as opposed to seeing it for the first time like Case and Dwayne.”

His answer wasn’t meant to be a criticism of Keenum or Haskins but rather praise of a quarterback who has been with him his entire time in Washington.

When asked about how he thought Haskins played Sunday, Gruden said he liked the way Haskins moved the team on his first drive, especially when Haskins was able to scramble for a first down. After that, he seemed to think Haskins’s performance went down, but he admitted that most of the offensive players were struggling as they tried to make up for the loss of five starters, including two-fifths of his offensive line.

“We just weren’t on the same page,” Gruden said. “We weren’t in sync for whatever reason, and that’s unfortunate. We do have a lot of new guys playing in this game. … Still, we should have been a lot better than we were.”

He shrugged. There are so many problems with his Redskins right now, not just who will play quarterback. He jammed his hands into his pants pockets and stared into the television lights. This time, he didn’t whistle.

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