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STEVE DeSHAZO: Face it, fans: Redskins need to have Grossman

LANDOVER, Md.—The jokes and the snide remarks won’t disappear completely, but they will dwindle this week. Even the most cynical of Washington Redskins fans now need to understand just how vital Rex Grossman may be to their team’s fortunes in 2013.

When Kirk Cousins took a seat on FedEx Field’s pristine new grass surface late in the second quarter of Monday night’s exhibition game against Pittsburgh, Mike Shanahan’s heart had to be somewhere around ankle level. Cousins has been filling in credibly for Robert Griffin III, who’s reportedly considering petitioning the Supreme Court to force Shanahan to let him play in the preseason.

On a night filled with injuries and turnovers, Cousins limped into the locker room, his night over and his immediate future unclear. Perhaps Shanahan was simply showing the precaution he eschewed with Griffin during the Redskins’ infamous playoff loss to Seattle in their last appearance in their home stadium. X–rays were reportedly negative, but we probably won’t know until Tuesday if Pittsburgh’s Lawrence Timmons merely tweaked Cousins’ right ankle or did more significant damage.

In any case, Cousins’ injury gave Grossman a chance to show that he still has a little left in the tank, and that an experienced third-string quarterback is never a bad insurance policy in the zone-read era, where quarterbacks are fair game.

You might have forgotten that Grossman did play in a Super Bowl, has passed for over 10,000 career yards and has a pretty good grasp of Kyle Shanahan’s offense. If you only monitored talk radio and Internet chat rooms, you might think he studied at the Heath Shuler school of quarterbacking.

Yes, Grossman has thrown more career interceptions (60) than touchdown passes (56). It was his uneven performance as the Redskins’ starter in 2011 (3,511 yards, 16 touchdown passes, 20 interceptions) that convinced Mike Shanahan to mortgage his team’s future to draft Griffin.

Midway through the third period Monday night, as if on cue, Grossman was picked off by Pittsburgh’s Dominique Cromartie–Smith, who looked like the intended receiver. And a few fickle fans even booed Grossman after an incompletion.

Still, Grossman’s second-quarter performance against Pittsburgh’s first-string defense—which happened to rank first in the NFL a year ago—was enough to prove that re-signing him to a cheap one-year contract was a shrewd move by Shanahan and Bruce Allen. Grossman was 7 for 9 for 101 yards and a touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson before halftime, leading the Redskins on two scoring drives.

He was 4 for 5 for 58 yards (with the only incompletion a clock-stopping spike) to set up Kai Forbath’s 38-yard field goal as the first half expired. His final numbers (10 for 16, 133 yards, a touchdown and a pick) were solid, if not spectacular. He knows where the holes are in opposing defenses (even if he doesn’t always exploit them).

The Redskins genuinely hope they don’t need Grossman this season. They’d love to watch Griffin surpass last season’s record-setting performance.

No matter how hard he lobbies, though, Griffin isn’t going to play in the preseason, and although his surgically repaired right knee looks great in practice, no one knows definitively how effective he’ll be when he faces live, angry defenses. Even if the Redskins scale back their game plan to protect their meal ticket, it may take him a while to temper his athletic arrogance and learn the value of discretion. For the rest of Griffin’s career, Redskins fans will hold their breath every time he takes a hard hit.

Cousins is a quality backup, as he proved in his relief appearances last season. But his availability and health are now in question; players have been lost for significant time with less gruesome injuries than his. And despite Pat White’s fourth-quarter heroics against backups in both preseason games, there’s a reason he hasn’t played in the NFL for four years.

Like him or not, Grossman has proven he can succeed in the NFL with a strong defense—and Washington’s front seven has looked dominant in the first two games. He’s not the first choice of anyone outside his own family. But as Grossman showed Monday night, the Redskins’ worst-case scenario isn’t quite as dire as it might be.

 

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

 

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