- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2011

The list is 20 names long. Way too long, really. Reading them might depress you or anger you or make you laugh, depending on your level of disenchantment.

No matter the nature of your immediate reaction, though, chronicling each of the Washington Redskins‘ starting quarterbacks since the franchise last won the Super Bowl 20 years ago is sure to be a sobering reminder of why the drought has lasted so long.

On Sunday, John Beck’s name will be etched at the top of the list, No. 21. How long it stays there, and the frequency at which others are added in the future, will be the leading indicator of whether coach Mike Shanahan’s building project ultimately is successful.

“I think everybody is looking for stability at that position. Everybody,” Shanahan said. “You’re hoping that whoever it may be stays there for a long length of time.”

The quarterback position is generally regarded as the most important on a football team because he runs the offense. The ball is in his hands on every play.

The Redskins still are searching for theirs, and Shanahan has increased the pace. He’s on his fourth first-string passer in less than two years in charge.

To say the Redskins have a revolving door at the position would be an insult to that reliable and efficient passageway. The only thing reliable about Washington’s quarterbacks for the last two decades has been mediocre play and instability.

And the Redskins have looked in just about every way possible. Their list of starters since 1992 covers all types of NFL pedigrees. There are first-round picks Heath Shuler, Patrick Ramsey and Jason Campbell. There are high-profile busts Donovan McNabb and Jeff George.

Some passers left town and enjoyed greater success elsewhere, such as Brad Johnson and Trent Green. And there are a few names that make you ask: Really? Danny Wuerffel, Cary Conklin and Tim Hasselbeck.

Redskins tight end Chris Cooley has been around for six of them. Beck will be No. 7. It’s not a coincidence Cooley has won only one playoff game since Washington drafted him in 2004.

Does he ever wonder what it would be like to have a stable quarterback situation?

“Yep, I have,” he said rather enthusiastically on Friday. Just the thought of it put a smile on his face.

“It’s not just that we’ve changed quarterbacks every year,” he said. “We’ve changed offenses every two years since I’ve been here, as well. There’s a time it takes people to grow as a team, to grow as an offense, to trust each other, to understand what were trying to accomplish. And in my opinion you can do it in a year and a half, but that’s not the optimal deal.”

Cooley and the entire Redskins organization could get a glimpse of the prize by looking across the field Sunday to the opposite sideline.

The Carolina Panthers, after a 1-15 season, selected Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton to be their franchise quarterback. And while it will take time for Newton to prove himself in the NFL, he’s on pace to pass for almost 5,000 yards as a rookie.

At the very least, there’s no question who the Panthers’ quarterback is now and for the foreseeable future.

“That’s huge,” Carolina first-year coach Ron Rivera said. “He’ll be a stabilizing force for us at that position for years to come, hopefully. We can focus and concentrate on other things like finding and keeping playmakers to be around him, building our lines, building the offensive and defensive sides of the ball without constantly having to worry and focus on the quarterback position.”

That Washington doesn’t have a proven, elite quarterback at this point in Shanahan’s tenure, though, doesn’t necessarily mean his plan has gone awry. Acquiring the quarterback requires some good fortune in the draft or other opportunities.

The Panthers had the chance to draft Newton, and they did. The Redskins weren’t enamored with any of the quarterbacks taken after him, so they decided to build their undermanned defense instead. So far, that side of the ball is much improved.

Of course, Shanahan hoped to have installed the franchise quarterback by trading for McNabb two springs ago, but McNabb did not meet coaches’ expectations and was traded.

“We thought it was in the best interest of our team not to have him but to have somebody else,” Shanahan said. “We’ll try out a lot of guys to give them chances, but for them to be here long-term and be the guy, they have to prove to us that they prepare the right way and work the right way.”

Shanahan gave Rex Grossman five games to prove himself before moving on to Beck.

The Miami Dolphins drafted him 40th overall in 2007. After more than 15 seasons of stability provided by Hall of Famer Dan Marino, the Dolphins’ search for Marino’s successor led them to him.

That Beck will start for Washington on Sunday tells you how that worked out.

Shanahan, however, believes the Redskins could strike gold with him.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 30 [years old]. How much is your body bruised up? He has some experience, he still has speed. I like what I see.”

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