Reporting David Elfin
Nine months ago, Rex Grossman had to be on top of the world almost as much as he was when he directed the Chicago Bears to the 2006 NFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl XLI. Grossman had taken advantage of a feud between the much more accomplished Donovan McNabb and the Shanahans to regain his position as one of only 32 NFL starting quarterbacks.
With McNabb virtually given away to the Minnesota Vikings, Grossman’s only competition to play for Washington was never-was John Beck, whom he had beaten out in preseason, and practice squad rookie Jonathan Crompton. And at 31, Grossman was on the top of his game, starting the 2011 season by leading the Redskins past the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals while completing 60 percent of his passes for 596 yards, four touchdowns and just two interceptions.
However, Grossman returned to his “Rex as in wrecks” form the rest of the way, going 3-8 with 18 interceptions, 12 touchdowns and being benched in favor of the winless Beck for three weeks.
So it certainly made sense that Washington traded with St. Louis for the right to take Robert Griffin III, Baylor’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, second overall in April’s draft.
And it would have been understandable if Grossman, whose contract expired after last season, went looking for another team to call home, even if he would be a backup there, too.
However, Grossman opted to re-sign with the Redskins on Mar. 21, nine days after the swap with the Rams.
“Everybody wants to play and I’m no different, but you also gotta know the situation,” said Grossman, who barely played behind Matt Schaub in Houston in 2009 and didn’t figure to get off the sideline in 2010 until the McNabb vs. Shanahans tension began rising. “If I have to play for whatever reason, I’ll be ready to go. It’s not that much different from 2010 when Donovan was here. I had to be ready to play and I had to play eventually. I’ll be ready to go and when I do get an opportunity, it’s on me to play well.”
Although he’s competing with fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins to back up Griffin, who’s 10 years his junior, Grossman plans to be a resource for both rookie quarterbacks.
“I am (a coach on the field), but at the beginning stages, I don’t want to take over, talk too much because it’s all new for them right now,” he explained. “Everything has to come from the top down. I’m there for little nuances. As you would get into the season, start watching tape with them, talk about defenses, I’ll definitely be there to coach both of them.”
Grossman has been such a good sport that he hasn’t publicly flinched about Griffin being handed the starting job before the start of organized team activities in May or the rookie being anointed the face of the franchise without having taken an NFL snap.
As Beck learned briefly last fall, the backup quarterback is always one of the most popular Redskins with Washington fans. But it would be stunning if that’s the case this season as the burgundy and gold faithful have fallen hard for Griffin — whose smiling visage already looms larger than life on the side of buses — and won’t be at all pleased if Grossman winds up playing for some reason. But the latter soldiers on in quest of an improved self in his 10th season.
“My mindset is always coming out here and proving that I’m getting better and can take my game to the next level, work on the things I did well last year and improve those and obviously the turnovers last year I can improve on,” Grossman said after a recent practice. “There’s a lot to improve, but there’s a lot I did well and I’m going to maintain that and fix a few things. I’m getting a lot of reps out here and getting a chance to get better. That’s the only mindset you can have.”
Of course, making $1.3 million eases some of the hurt as does the knowledge that he might be just one play away again in 2012 even if so many Washingtonians’ reaction to that possibility would be: perish the thought.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin