Robert Griffin III was in the midst of his usual post-practice news conference when Rex Grossman trotted off the practice field.
Surrounded by a sea of cameras and microphones, RG3 was questioned on every nuance of the day, from his growing understanding of the playbook to his relationship with the offensive line. Regular RG was greeted by two tape recorders.
At 31, Grossman has come to accept his role in Washington. He signed a one-year deal in mid-March knowing that the team almost certainly would select a quarterback with the second overall pick in the April draft. But that doesn’t make it any easier to watch a 22-year-old rookie take your job.
“Roles change every day,” Grossman said. “Some are more secure than others, but bottom line: You’ve got to go out and prove yourself every day and every year. There’s no guarantees in the NFL, I don’t care who you are. I think the quarterback position is no different than any other position on our team right now.”
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan declared Griffin the starter before the team began its organized team activities four weeks ago. Grossman has been splitting second-team reps with another rookie, Michigan State product Kirk Cousins, but knows that it is important to practice and prepare like the starter.
After all, he’s only one ill-advised scramble away from a return to the lineup.
“[My situation now] isn’t that much different from maybe 2010,” Grossman said. “Donovan [McNabb] was here, and I had to be ready to play and I had to play. So for whatever reason, I’ll be ready to go. And when I do get an opportunity, then it’s on me to play well.”
Grossman had a forgettable 2011 season, completing just 58 percent of his passes and throwing more interceptions (20) than touchdowns (16). He was benched in favor of John Beck in Week 6 and went just 2-6 after reclaiming the starting job three weeks later.
While he has never been considered one of the game’s elite, Grossman still has proved to be a capable quarterback during his nine-year career. He is one of only two Redskins quarterbacks since 2001 to lead a team to the Super Bowl (2006 Bears). McNabb, whom Grossman replaced late in the 2010 season, is the other.
“Rex has been tremendous. I’m not just saying that, and it’s not just lip service,” Cousins said. “I’ll be the first one to tell you I have a lot to learn, so to have a guy like that in our meeting room is a big help and something I need to take full advantage of.”
Being a backup is nothing new to Grossman; he was brought in for that reason. But serving as a veteran mentor is something Grossman has never done before. Among Griffin, Cousins and second-year quarterback Jonathan Crompton, Grossman is the only quarterback on the Redskins’ roster with an NFL start.
Learning a new offense is like learning a new language. It takes hours of practice to grasp the terminology alone, not to mention the schemes, philosophy, defensive tendencies and footwork. Shanahan called it “the hardest class [Griffin and Cousins] have ever had.” Grossman is their tutor.
“When it’s not your turn to get a rep, you’re there helping out, telling them some certain things about routes or how you read them, going through some things,” he said. “Everything’s so new right now that I don’t want to overload them, but every once in a while I’ll say something.”
Grossman must strike a delicate balance between coach and competitor, mentoring two rookie quarterbacks while also making sure that he is ready to go on game day. It sounds like a difficult situation, but in his mind it’s pretty clear.
“You’d like to be the editor of the paper,” Grossman told one reporter, “but you’re not, so you do what your role is and you do it the best you can.”