The Washington Redskins’ quarterback situation might be the butt of jokes on ESPN, sports talk radio and football Web sites, but at least two people — both named Shanahan — believe Rex Grossman and John Beck are capable of starting in the NFL.
While it’s not clear if anyone else does, the first bits of hard evidence should be on display Friday night when the Redskins open the preseason against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FedEx Field. Grossman is expected to see the bulk of the action with the first-team unit, as Beck continues to heal from a groin injury he suffered last Saturday in practice. Coaches said Beck won’t take any snaps unless he’s 100 percent healthy.
Regardless, the battle for the team’s starting quarterback spot picks up speed with the preseason opener.
“Unless you’re a perennial starter, this is your chance to prove you deserve it,” Grossman said. “It’s your chance to show you can execute at a high level. In this situation, it’s obviously a competition, so it’s ramped up even more.”
For both Grossman and Beck, the position battle represents a second chance. Each has been a starter in the NFL whose early struggles fuel doubters who didn’t think either would start again. But Grossman and Beck both say they never lost faith.
Beck entered the league in 2007 as Miami’s second-round draft pick out of Brigham Young. He says Dolphins coaches told him he’d spend his rookie season as the team’s No. 3 quarterback, behind Trent Green and Cleo Lemon.
But Green went down with a concussion and Lemon struggled, so Beck was given the reins to a then-winless Dolphins team in Week 11. He didn’t fare much better, failing to throw for more than 180 yards and never finding the end zone. He was benched just two passes into his fourth game.
“I think my mind-set is a little different,” Beck said. “This entire time I’ve been preparing differently. Although it was a tough situation in Miami, I also learned a lot of things.”
Beck has no doubts he can lead a team and even though the Dolphins gave up on him and the Baltimore Ravens never really gave him a chance, he says he knew the opportunity would arise again.
“That’s what really drove me, was just saying, ‘I know it’s going to come some time,’ ” Beck said. “ ‘I don’t know when, but just keep working.’ That’s why I’m really grateful for this opportunity.”
He says he’s been envisioning this game against the Steelers for months, knowing it would mark the curtain rising on his second act. He spent the past several days uncertain if he’d even be able to play in it, though. Beck was limited in practice all week.
“It’s not fun to have to watch practice. I want to be the guy who’s out there practicing, who’s out there taking reps,” he said. “I don’t want to miss any of my reps. It’s tough. I’m trying to be as smart as I can. I don’t want to let my competitiveness get in the way and me make a dumb decision, one that could then cost me longer."
The Redskins have only four preseason games, so missing just one could seriously hinder Beck’s chances of winning the job. “It sure doesn’t help,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said.
“He doesn’t have a lot of experience," added Kyle Shanahan, the team’s offensive coordinator, “and the more experience he can get, the better chance he has.”
Grossman stands to benefit. He should get the first crack at showing coaches what he can do with the first-team offense. But conditions are hardly ideal for him. Because he re-signed as a free agent, Grossman wasn’t able to practice with the team until last Thursday, which means he had all of seven full practices to prepare for Friday’s game.
Neither quarterback has appeared to be at the top of his game in the early stages of training camp. Both reported without the benefit of offseason workouts and organized team activities. The entire offense takes the field against the Steelers still trying to digest the playbook and still learning to play together.
“He has been up and down,” Kyle Shanahan said of Grossman. “I think any time we take this time off, it hurts the guys a little bit. Trying to get back to where he was at the end of last year. Hopefully by the end of camp, we can get him past that point.”
Coaches have been complimentary of both, and if there’s a favorite in the race, they haven’t offered any clues.
Grossman is more familiar with the offense. Beck is more mobile in the pocket. Grossman has struggled with consistency his entire career. Beck lacks substantive game experience. Grossman needs to improve his decision-making, and Beck has to show he can throw accurately in live action.
“I feel like I have a good understanding of the offense and what Kyle is asking me to do,” Grossman said. “I fully understand the verbiage and all that. It’s just getting my body and my mind to go through the progressions.”