- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

BALTIMORE — Quarterback competitions — like the one the Washington Redskins are staging between John Beck and Rex Grossman — are overrated. They’re overrated because, let’s face it, it’s easier for all concerned if one QB is clearly better than the other. Then the coach doesn’t get second-guessed for his decision, and the team doesn’t risk becoming divided into two camps.

With one preseason game to play, though, it’s hard to say who the Redskins‘ best quarterback is. Beck and Grossman have both had their moments the past three weeks, but there have also been times when they’ve looked like backups — which is how they’ve spent most of their careers. So which is it? Are we looking at two starting-caliber QBs who, after years of bouncing around, are ready to lead an offense, or are we looking at two No. 2 QBs who are vying, by default, for the No. 1 spot?

The latter was Redskins Nation’s greatest fear in the offseason, and it only intensified when Mike Shanahan didn’t draft a quarterback with any of his 12 picks — or, for that matter, sign an available veteran. The result has been a duel to the death between Beck and Grossman, one that may not decided for another few days, when he final tabulations are complete.

Thursday night’s 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium did little to resolve anything. Grossman started, got more opportunity to throw in the first half and completed 8 of 15 passes for 112 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown flip to Santana Moss. Beck, meanwhile, hit on a deep ball to Anthony Armstrong on his first snap, a 33-yarder that set up a Tim Hightower TD run, but did most of his damage in the second half against the Ravens’ reserves. Before turning things over to Kellen Clemens, he drove the Redskins 97 yards, mostly through the air, to a score, which came on a flat pass to Terrence Austin.

To summarize then:

Grossman “won” the first game when Beck was out with a groin injury.

Beck “won” the second game when Grossman played with the second unit.

And they pretty much played to a draw in the third game.

Which leaves us … where? Only Shanahan knows for sure, and he’s not saying much.

“We told ‘em from the start we were going to compete every day — every practice, every 7-on-7,” he said. “At the end of the day, you want to make the right decision, especially if you’ve got two guys you believe in.”

Translation: Check back with me next week, after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been dispensed with.

None of this has stopped folks from speculating about the coach’s intentions. According to one school of thought, his mind is already made up. Unless Beck implodes in the preseason, he’ll be the starter against the New York Giants on Sept. 11. But Shanahan has made a great show of being even-handed in all this — to the extent of alternating the two QBs on Thursday night. (Grossman played the first two series, Beck the next two, etc.)

If it was a moot point, if Shanny had already decided on Beck, why wouldn’t he just give him as much playing time as possible? This is a quarterback, after all, who hasn’t seen any regular-season action since 2007, when he was a rookie in Miami. He needs the reps — desperately. That much is evident when, on occasion, he holds the ball too long and ends up being sacked. We’re not talking about indecisiveness here, we’re talking about rustiness.

Shanahan has taken a lingering look at both QBs, though — as well he should. No matter which of them prevails, there’s a good chance he won’t last 16 games, that injury or inconsistency will force him to the sideline. So the Redskins need their No. 2 man to be ready. And if it turns out to be Grossman, he’ll be a lot better off for having taken so many snaps in the preseason.

Speaking of Rex, he at least has a track record in the NFL (with the Chicago Bears and, late last season, with the Redskins). So we have a fairly good idea what he’s capable of. Beck’s ceiling, on the other hand, is more of a projection — Shanahan’s projection — and the big question is: How much of that projection is rooted in reality? The coach and his offensive-coordinator/son, Kyle, are obviously high on him, but is that faith justified or is it merely wishful thinking?

We’ll know soon enough. In 16 days, the Redskins will be playing real games, and one of these gentlemen will be their starting quarterback. Since training camp began, we’ve been waiting for the best man to win, waiting for somebody to grab the job by the throat, and, well, we’re still waiting. Statistically, Beck (99 passer rating) and Grossman (92.3) aren’t just close, they’re in flip-a-coin territory (though Shanahan will probably use other tiebreakers).

Whichever way Shanny goes, his choice will be a hotly debated. Which just goes back to what I was saying at the beginning: Quarterback competitions are overrated. You’re much better off having somebody like John Elway.