No clear choice: Shanahan again mulls QB decision
Even before training camp began, starting quarterback looked like a placeholder job for the Washington Redskins, who opted this year to address many other holes in the roster after a third consecutive last-place finish.
Coach Mike Shanahan begged to differ, saying he would stake his Super Bowl-winning reputation on Rex Grossman and John Beck.
Five games into the season, Shanahan isn't backing down, even after Grossman's four-interception performance in Sunday's 20-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Grossman was benched for Beck, who took over in the fourth quarter and led the Redskins' only touchdown drive in his first regular season game since 2007.
Now Shanahan must decide who starts next week against the Carolina Panthers as the Redskins (3-2), having been knocked out of first place in the NFC East, try to regain the momentum that made them one of the NFL's early season surprises.
Shanahan said Monday he had yet to make up his mind and had solicited opinions from the coaching staff. An announcement will come when practice resumes Wednesday, making for a mini-version of the Rex-vs.-Becks duel that played out during the preseason.
Whoever it is, the winner will not be lacking for the coach's public vote of confidence.
''I believe in Rex, and I believe in John Beck,'' Shanahan said. ''I told you that from Day One. Both guys, I'm hoping, are going to be here for a long time. ... I've been around quarterbacks in the National Football League for a long time, and I know these guys have got what it takes.''
Shanahan was his usual cagey self, trying his best not to drop any hints as to which way he was leaning. In Grossman's favor, the coach recalled a five-interception game by John Elway in 1985 and also noted: ''We know a pretty good quarterback this year that threw four interceptions in a game,'' an obvious reference to the Eagles' Michael Vick.
But Shanahan's most candid moment, one that could speak for coaches league-wide, came when he was asked how much Grossman's won-loss record would factor into the decision.
''First of all, I'm going to use facts whichever way I want to, based on what story I want to throw out there,'' he said, causing the reporters in the auditorium to erupt with laughter.
The arguments for either quarterback revolve around the other's deficiencies. Go with Beck because Grossman remains a turnover machine, with 18 giveaways in eight Redskins starts. Go with Grossman because Beck is a 30-year-old journeyman who couldn't beat out Grossman during training camp.
Grossman did get the Redskins this far - a winning record and a half-game out of first - and a switch to Beck might cost a game or two while he finds his groove, assuming he has one. On the other hand, Beck might be the spark that keeps the season from slipping away.
Grossman's quarterback rating has been on a slide since the 110.5 he posted in the season-opening win over the New York Giants. Since then, he's put up 74.9, 77.5, 48.5 and then the paltry 23.7 on Sunday. His 66.5 overall rating ranks 32nd of 33 quarterbacks in the league, with only Kerry Collins (65.9) trailing him.
One person firmly in Grossman's camp is Santana Moss. Asked if Grossman should keep the job, the veteran receiver and offensive team captain said: ''No question. That's not even something that should be asked.''
''I just feel like as an offense, what we've been doing so far this year, Rex has held it down,'' Moss said. ''You just can't give up on him after one game.''
Moss, though, doesn't get a vote.
''First of all, you want your players to support ALL your players - regardless, 1st, 2nd, 3rd-teamers,'' Moss said. ''But we're going to do what we think is best.''
Shanahan and Moss both pointed out that not all interceptions are the quarterback's fault. While there might be some blame to share for one or two of Grossman's on Sunday, the most egregious was No. 4. By then, he had already thrown three and should have been ball-conscious to the extreme, yet he scrambled to his left and let it fly along the sideline on the premise that receiver Jabar Gaffney might come back for the ball. Gaffney didn't; safety Kurt Coleman did.
Beck took over on the next possession and looked understandably rusty, but he led a late touchdown drive that made the final score respectable. He completed 8 of 15 passes for 117 yards.
Whoever starts will have his work cut out for him. The Redskins lost left guard Kory Lichtensteiger for the season with torn knee ligaments and will likely be without left tackle Trent Williams (sprained right ankle) for at least two weeks. Tight end Chris Cooley might be done for the season after breaking his left index finger; he's already fighting a sore knee.
Staying upright could be a challenge behind a shuffled line that could have different starters at four of five positions. That's where the more mobile Beck could have the edge as Shanahan mulls the options.
''Things that Rex had did with those interceptions and whatnot, guys were kind of down,'' right tackle Jammal Brown said. ''Not saying it was his fault, but anytime you're on a drive and you turn the ball over, it kind of takes the air out of you. So when John came in running around, doing what he does, it felt real good.''
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP