The Washington Times - October 21, 2011, 08:06AM

Notes, quotes and observations from Thursday at Redskins Park:

Part of the blame for QB Rex Grossman’s demotion is shared by the entire offense. Receivers sometimes ran incorrect routes and dropped passes. Protection breakdowns occasionally rattled Grossman and forced hasty decision making. That’s important to remember when considering John Beck’s prospects of turning things around. If anything, the quality of his supporting cast has decreased because three-fifths of the offensive line is now comprised of backups.

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Coach Mike Shanahan has taken special care the last few weeks to remind media that turnovers aren’t exclusively the quarterback’s fault. Take this quote from Wednesday:

“If you want to be great in the National Football League, you better have an excellent supporting cast,” Shanahan said. “I think we all know that. The better off your supporting cast, the better off you’re going to be.”

It’s a great quote because it not only sheds light on Shanahan’s feelings about the 2011 offense, but also the direction in which he’s taking the Redskins’ building effort in the grand scheme.

I’m convinced the Redskins’ would have traded up and drafted QB Sam Bradford in 2009 if St. Louis were willing to do the deal. But the Rams’ need for a quarterback was just as great as Washington’s, and they saw the same potential in Bradford that Shanahan did. And Rule No. 1 of the draft is take the franchise quarterback if you believe a certain passer is your guy.

Without being able to get his guy that year, Shanahan resorted to building the supporting cast first. Yes, Shanahan had Donovan McNabb on board at that point, but he knew McNabb wasn’t a sure thing after Philadelphia had reasons to effectively release him.

The plan, after two drafts, is showing signs of development. Left tackle, a major need in 2009, is in place. The defense is significantly improved. Those are Steps 1 and 2. There obviously are a few steps remaining on offense: playmaking receivers, offensive line depth. Whether Beck ends up being the quarterback of the future or, perhaps more likely, a 2012 draft pick, the offensive roster is not a finished product. That doesn’t meant they can’t win more games this season. It’s just imperative to keep the big picture in mind as Beck takes over this week.

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TE Fred Davis, for one, couldn’t help but feel some responsibility for QB Rex Grossman’s demotion this week. Two of Grossman’s four interceptions in Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia were intended for him.

“I felt like I could have probably saved him,” Davis said. “Don’t you think if he didn’t have those two interceptions?”

Possibly. Grossman almost certainly wouldn’t have been benched if he had thrown only two interceptions. He threw that many in games against Arizona and St. Louis earlier this season, at least, and Mike Shanahan stuck with him.

But four was the magic number, apparently. On the first, Grossman tried to connect with Davis deep down the middle of the field. He threw the ball up near the goal line for Davis to make a play on, but the throw needed to be lower and away from safety Kurt Coleman. Coleman jumped over Davis to intercept the pass.

 “It’s one of them plays that would be great if you made,” Davis said. “It would be a great play.”

Davis said Grossman’s third interception was “definitely” his fault. He stopped his crossing route near the goal line, and Coleman drove in front of him and picked off the pass.

“Usually I cross [the safety’s] face that deep in the open field, but I don’t what I was thinking in the red zone,” Davis said. “I was supposed to cross earlier and I didn’t.”

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New starting C Erik Cook is now the tallest player in the league at his position. He’s 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds. That’s great for dunking a basketball, which he can do with two hands, but it can be problematic in the trenches.

“I know I have to be low,” Cook said. “The D-linemen and the nose guards I’ll be going up against, they definitely have an advantage of getting under me.”

Leverage was an issue for Cook in the preseason and after he entered Sunday’s game against the Eagles. He also has a tendency to bend at the waist, which saps power, instead of bending his knees and establishing a stronger base. Staying low is one of his top priorities, but it’s not his main focus.

“For me, I think I’ve got pretty good hands,” Cook said. “It’s all about my hand placement for me. Usually, 95 percent of the time, the guy with the better hand placement is going to win. I’m trying to stay low, but if my hands are there, I think I’ll be all right.”

Cook’s play was uneven in Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, as was LT Sean Locklear’s and Will Montgomery’s after he shifted from center to left guard.

OL coach Chris Foerster preferred to speak about the line collectively on Thursday instead of individual players’ performances. How he felt about it was obvious.

“We obviously didn’t perform up to standard and we need to keep working to improve,” Foerster said. “We didn’t execute as well overall as a group.”

For a more thorough analysis of the patchwork offensive line, read the story in Friday’s paper.

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Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton, this year’s first-overall pick, has validated that choice and quieted many of his doubters through his first six NFL games. He’s on pace for almost 5,000 passing yards and has helped revive an offense that was among the worst in the NFL last season.

 “It’s right along the lines of what we expected of him — just not this early,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said in a teleconference. “I mean he really has done a tremendous job. The hard part for him is having been in a situation where he hadn’t lost a lot. Now he’s trying to adapt and grow into this role of having to develop and manage our expectations and go through this process as a team.”

Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett compared Newton, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, to Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger because of his size (6-foot-5, 248) and how difficult it is to tackle him.

The Panthers have exploited his athleticism by designing running plays for him. He has six rushing touchdowns and is tied for second on the team with 210 yards.

 “With Cam being an option to run the ball, it adds another feature, but, also, this offense is night and day,” receiver Steve Smith said. “Just to be plain and simple, no disrespect to anybody, but it’s night and day as far as the numbers that our offense - not me or one guy - is putting up, remarkable with no offseason [and] with a rookie quarterback. It kind of shows.”

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Carolina is averaging 6.45 yards per play, sixth-best in the NFL. But Cam Newton also has thrown nine interceptions, tied for most in the NFL with deposed Redskins QB Rex Grossman.

“He’s coming from college to pro,” Panthers receiver Steve Smith said. “When you’re coming from college to the real world, this business of football or whatever business that is, it’s a growing process that everybody experiences.”

It will be interesting to see how many times the Redskins show Newton and 8-man front on Sunday. Mike Shanahan really likes to try to confuse quarterbacks and dictate the game with that look, regardless of how many defenders actually blitz.

The 8-man front was effective against Philadelphia last week, at least. Washington showed it on eight plays, six of which were passes. Philadelphia was 2-of-6 for 6 yards and a touchdown on those plays. The Redskins blitzed all eight defenders only once, though. They rushed four once, five twice, six once and seven once. Still, the alignment forced the Eagles to burn a time out in the first half, and QB Michael Vick hurried multiple throws against it, resulting in some inaccurate throws.

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TE Chris Cooley had successful surgery on his fractured left hand Wednesday, coach Mike Shanahan said, but Shanahan did not know details of the surgery.

LG Kory Lichtensteiger will have right knee ligament reconstruction surgery on Tuesday, his wife said on her Twitter account.

FS Oshiomogho Atogwe (knee) missed his second straight practice. Reed Doughty would start in his place if he can’t play. Shanahan said there’s no chance FS Kareem Moore (knee) would be activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list in time to play Sunday against Carolina.

CB Byron Westbrook (hamstring) missed practice. CB DeAngelo Hall (toe) was limited. That’s an unsettling amount of injuries in the secondary three days before playing a quarterback who’s on pace for almost 5,000 yards.

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I chatted Thursday with Andy Pollin, Steve Czaban and Chris Knoche on ESPN980. Listen to the segment here.