Those who have been around Mike Shanahan shouldn’t be stunned with the Washington Redskins head coach’s decision to swap quarterbacks on a winning football team after only five games.
Bubby Brister, Brian Griese and Jake Plummer can attest to that.
“I think the toughest one I’ve ever made was with Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler,” Shanahan said Wednesday hours after it was announced John Beck would get the start over Rex Grossman when the 3-2 Redskins face the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. “Jake won 72 or 73 percent of his games, and we lost in the (AFC) championship game to Pittsburgh. I thought Jay Cutler was the guy for the future. I really believed in his ability, and I think he had a chance to take us to the next level.”
That swap, made while Shanahan was coaching the Denver Broncos in 2006, came late in the season. He wasn’t nearly as patient with Grossman, and probably justifiably so after his four-interception performance in a 20-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday. Beck will be the third new starting quarterback around the NFL in Week 7 as he joins Tim Tebow (Denver Broncos) and Christian Ponder (Minnesota Vikings). Newly Oakland Raiders acquisition Carson Palmer could join the list.
“I have a lot of confidence in John Beck because he does have a lot of mobility and a strong arm,” Shanahan said. “I’m not going to put him in the Hall of Fame yet, but I really do believe he’s got a lot of talent as he showed us in the fourth quarter. Hopefully, he can keep on doing that.”
Beck, who was hobbled by a groin injury that forced him to miss several practices in training camp and one preseason game, was beaten out by Grossman for the starting position. Mike Shanahan and his offensive coordinator son, Kyle, however, remained believers in Beck, who was 0-4 in his only starts in the NFL with an abysmal Miami Dolphins team in 2007 — so much so the Redskins passed on other options in the draft, free agency and via trades.
Beck came into Sunday’s game at the start of the fourth quarter and went 8-for-15 for 177 yards. He also used his legs, rushing for 14 yards, including a touchdown to cap an 80-yard, fourth-quarter drive.
“I’m definitely excited,” Beck said. “There’s been a lot of hard work that’s gone into this, and you never know when your opportunity is going to come, so you always have to stay ready. I’ve tried to do that, and I just want to go out there and do my best.”
Shanahan said that Beck’s ability to scramble was a factor in the decision to switch, especially with the Redskins’ hobbled offensive line that will be without starters Trent Williams (out indefinitely with a high ankle sprain) and Kory Lichtensteiger (out for the season with ACL and MCL tears). Tight end Chris Cooley is also out after he underwent hand surgery Wednesday.
“It’s going to be tough, but I feel strongly about the guys that we are bringing in,” Beck said. “Those are the guys that played at the end of the game when I was in. Those are the guys that we’re going to go out and try to win with. That’s just the way this league goes.”
Beck is the third Redskins starting quarterback in less than two seasons under Shanahan. The ‘Skins dealt for Donovan McNabb — who coincidentally was replaced this week by Ponder — and stuck with McNabb until Week 14, when Grossman assumed the starting role in 2010.
Shanahan also didn’t hesitate in similar decisions as coach of the Broncos in the post-John Elway era. Griese, not Brister, took over in 1999 as the starter when Elway retired after the Broncos won their second consecutive championship. Griese eventually gave way to Plummer in 2003, and Plummer was supplanted by Cutler in Week 13 of the 2006 season. The moves were all at least somewhat controversial at the time.
“When you do pick somebody and you give a guy every opportunity you can to prove what he can do, then you have to make a decision,” Shanahan said. “Do you want to move forward? Will I have him for two years, three years? Do you want him to be the quarterback of your future? Those are the decisions that I have to make as a head football coach.”
Redskins receiver Santana Moss said earlier in the week he’d like Grossman to get another crack at starting despite "Bad Rex" making an appearance against the Eagles.
“I just stated my opinion to you all,” Moss told reporters Wednesday. “You all asked me the question, and I stated my opinion. I feel like everybody has an opinion, whether you get heard or not. I feel like Mike felt the same way when it comes down to those decisions about our team. That’s where he comes in. He has to make the right decisions for the team. Therefore, whatever decisions he makes, it’s going to be the right decision for the team.”
Grossman, in spite of his mediocre 66.5 passer rating, nine interceptions and two fumbles lost through five games, said he thought he had played well overall.
“It doesn’t matter at this point,” Grossman said when asked about the assessment of his play.
Shanahan has insisted for a while now that Beck, even at age 30, remains an unknown quantity in this league as he bounced from the Dolphins to a backup role with the Baltimore Ravens before he was dealt to the Redskins before the start of last season.
He didn’t come off that point Wednesday, even hinting that Beck could become one of the game’s elite, like another discarded QB who led the New Orleans Saints to their first Super Bowl title two seasons ago.
“Everybody’s looking for a difference-maker,” Shanahan said. “Everybody knows that. All of the sudden, you take a look at a guy like Drew Brees. He was released by San Diego. Who was going to pick him up? Miami? Nobody knew he was a difference-maker. I’m amazed every time I watch him, so there are people like that that get the opportunity to take advantage of it.”