- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The quarterback position figured to be the least of the Washington Redskins‘ worries when Mike Shanahan took over as coach 21 months ago. Shanahan, after all, is a connoisseur of quarterbacks. He’s renowned for getting the most out of them — from John Elway to Steve Young to Jake Plummer to Jay Cutler. Heck, he played the position himself at Eastern Illinois.

No matter what else happened to the Redskins on his watch, the team was expected to have quality quarterbacking. And that would have been a huge thing for the franchise, since the QBs in recent years haven’t exactly been — how shall I put this? — Jurgensenesque. But here we are, five games into Year 2, and the club is still searching for a passer who’s more than a place-holder.

On Wednesday, Shanahan announced he was taking the car keys away from Rex Grossman and handing them to John Beck. This came three days after Grossman threw four interceptions — Nos. 7, 8 and 9 on the season — in a 20-13 home loss to Philadelphia that dropped the Redskins out of first place in the NFC East. It also came five weeks after Shanahan declared Grossman the winner of the training camp quarterback derby, Survivor: Ashburn (and by a margin that, to most observers, was considerably more than a nose).

A little more than a month ago, in other words, Grossman was the Redskins‘ best bet, according to their coach. And now Beck, the 30-year-old mystery man, is. If he doesn’t work out, the team will really be in trouble, because I don’t see a third quarterback on the roster. Anybody got a number for Kellen Clemens?

Only the delusional thought Shanahan — or Vince Lombardi, for that matter — could turn the Redskins around quickly. Vinny Cerrato (and his co-conspirator, Dan Snyder) left too big a mess to be cleaned up. But it’s truly stunning that, at this point, Shanny hasn’t gotten the quarterbacking squared away, doesn’t at least have an identifiable QB of the future. All he has, from the look of it, is a QB of the week or a QB of the month. It’s Steve Spurrier all over again. The nightmare continues.

It all goes back, of course, to Shanahan’s first swing-and-miss: His decision, a year ago, to trade a second-round pick to the Eagles for Donovan McNabb. When that move backfired — McNabb lasted only 13 games as the starter — it completely screwed up the master plan. The Redskins didn’t have a viable option to turn to; they just had Grossman, gutsy but flawed, and Beck, virtually uncharted territory.

And when Shanahan refused to deviate from his grand design and take a quarterback in this year’s draft, he merely compounded the problem. Because, again, it’s not just that the Redskins are stuck with Grossman and Beck at QB for the short term, it’s that they don’t have anybody in the pipeline for the long term (unless you’re high on practice squadder Jonathan Crompton).

Let’s play the what-if game here. What if the Redskins draft a quarterback next year? How soon can Shanahan get him playing at an acceptable level? By the kid’s second season? By his third? The latter would be Shanny’s fifth year as coach — one year longer than a presidential term. Which raises the question: Would he still be in office by then?

Actually, being a coach is a lot like being a quarterback. As Beck put it Wednesday, “There are a lot of plays that happen in the NFL where quarterbacks take chances, and sometimes it works for you and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s the quarterback position. Because the windows are so small in this league, you have to be aggressive.”

Coaches take risks, too. And with QBs especially, the stakes are extremely high. McNabb was a risk — a bigger one, it turned out, than anyone imagined. (As the Eagles correctly surmised, he had little left in the tank.) Grossman and Beck are also risks, because no one else in the league seems to share Shanahan’s opinion of them.

It’s going to be hard on everybody, the coach in particular, if the Redskins look back on this season when it’s over and say: “You know, we made a lot of progress this year. Our defense was, by any measure, playoff-caliber, and our running game and special teams were real strengths. But our quarterbacking just killed us.”

Unless Beck comes through, though — starting Sunday at Carolina — that could be the road the team is going down.

And that’s troubling, because, as a certified quarterback guru, Shanahan is supposed to be more discriminating than his peers in his evaluation of passers. It’s troubling, too, that he’d offer the following (flimsy) excuses for his actions:

“It’s not like [quarterbacks] fall out of trees.”

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