Jay Glazer, Chris Mortensen and other media types are reporting that the Washington Redskins might start back-up quarterback Rex Grossman against the Dallas Cowboys. The team denies it, but it’s the talk of the town. On first blush, you would think that Grossman for Donovan McNabb is a bad idea. Well, hold your horses, cowboy.
Joe Gibbs taught me a lesson about starting quarterbacks, although he didn’t intend to at the time. Turn on the WABAC Machine to December 2007. The 5-7 Washington Redskins, still reeling from the shock of Sean Taylor‘s death, loses starting quarterback Jason Campbell in the first half of the game against the Chicago Bears.
Gibbs bypassed Mark Brunell and went with Todd Collins to replace Campbell. After a shaky start, Collins passed for 224 yards and two touchdowns for the 24-16 decision over Da Bears. The win ignited a four-game streak that ended with a playoff appearance.
Brunell was Gibbs’ handpicked choice as quarterback for the return to glory. Campbell won the starter spot in the winter of 2006 when Washington’s prospects fell with the temperature.
That was a disappointment to Collins, who followed offensive coordinator Al Saunders to Washington in a last gasp hope of winning a starting job. Saunders was an offensive thought leader from the Don Coryell coaching tree. His notorious playbook was so complex that it was said to take three years to learn it.
To Gibbs, that was Collins’s role, to mentor Brunell and Campbell through the learning curve. Nobody had a clear picture of how that offense was supposed to work until Collins ran it in the Bears game and thereafter.
It was a tactical error on Gibbs part not to have given Collins a shot to start in that offense. Brunell had a marvelous career, in Jacksonville, but was an aged 37. Campbell was the team’s hot prospect as a first round draft choice. It would have been extraordinary if Gibbs did not to go with either of them over Collins who only had 27 attempts in five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. But Collins was the ticket in 2007.
If that was true of Collins, who had scant playing time in the five seasons before 2007, then what does that mean for Grossman, who led a team to a Super Bowl?
Pro football is more about precision than athleticism. Every pro is an elite athlete. That’s why just “throwing a player out there to see what you’ve got” rarely works with the pros, unless you jump the precision factor. The lesson for Gibbs and me and you too, brother, is that a quarterback’s knowledge of the scheme can trump talent. That’s can, not will.
Three seasons later, Mike Shanahan faces the same choice as Gibbs. The offense is struggling to pick up a playbook that could take two or three years to learn. In a game where precision counts, maybe Rex Grossman can get better results. That’s can, not will.
With contract decisions to be made about Grossman, who is on a one-year deal, and McNabb, who hasn’t made the case to stay, we may have to throw Grossman out there to see if the offense is more precise with someone more familiar with the scheme.
I want you to know I clinched every bodily orifice as I wrote that.
Points after: Life can take you funny paths. Rex Grossman was the starting quarterback on the 2007 Bears. Now, Grossman is the back-up in Washington while Collins is the back-up in Chicago.
Interesting factoid from the Detroit Lions game–Donovan McNabb’s QB rating – 75.7; Rex Grossman’s QB rating – 75.9.
Grossman wears jersey No. 8, the name number as Mark Brunell. Players, not their jerseys, play. There is no reason to stress over Grossman’s success while wearing Brunell’s number unless you are superstitious. Which I am about football. Grossman starting can’t end well.
Failure at pro football precision is why Devin Thomas is no longer on the team. Thomas’ and Malcolm Kelly’s failure to develop as pro wide receivers is half the reason Washington’s offense is ineffective, no matter who is at quarterback.
Thomas is a marvelous athlete who hasn’t figured out how to make anyone’s starting line-up. Kelly’s body may not be rugged enough for the pros.
Oh yeah, it’s DALLAS WEEK!