Grossman is no longer a leaguewide punching bag

LANDOVER, Md. – There is no reason to believe in Rex Grossman(notes). He barely stands taller than the equipment men. His throws don’t have that crisp crackle that top quarterbacks can always make. And when he stands in the locker room and pulls off his shoulder pads, he reveals a doughy, almost shoulder-less frame that makes you ask: “THIS is the quarterback?”

Certainly the NFL doesn’t think much of him given the way he’s been kicked around like some football vagabond, lingering on rosters presumably because he knows things and knowledge is always good to have in a meeting room. Maybe it would have been easier for the Washington Redskins to write him off if it wasn’t for this lone intangible that is non-measurable in any other way but to a coach who has seen a player fall and step back up.

“He’s got nuts,” one Redskins assistant said Sunday night after Grossman threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-14 victory over the New York Giants. “How else do you explain it?”

Few quarterbacks have endured the eye rolls and the mocking chuckles more than Grossman. Perhaps this is a condition of playing in Chicago, where the fans seem to think every player, regardless of position, should look and sound like Iron Mike Ditka. It never seemed to matter that Grossman actually led the Bears to a Super Bowl. He never fit the prescribed mold, never threw for tons of yards and wasn’t the superstar Chicago may never get to play the position.

He is, however, a survivor, and sometimes those are the most dangerous players of all. Because here on the Redskins, where Mike Shanahan runs a rigid system and everyone seems tired of the shiny new thing, Grossman might be the perfect leader. He’s someone who understands the offense, who accepts its confines and finds a way to make everyone else in the locker room think they can actually win something.

“You know he HAS been to a Super Bowl,” Redskins right tackle Jammal Brown(notes) said.

Ultimately a quarterback has to win over his offensive line since these are the players who are blocking for him. Often it is these linemen who sniff out fear before the rest of the players and make judgments about whether the man is fit for the position. If the quarterback lacks confidence, a dread runs through them too and this is where things start to fall apart.

But here was Brown, all 6-foot-6 of him, with seven years in the NFL, standing in the locker room calling Grossman “an O-line’s quarterback.”

It comes from the way Grossman walked back into the Redskins’ camp after re-signing a few days following the lockout. The position had presumably been bequeathed to John Beck(notes) and a shell of a competition was set up. Yet Grossman stalked into the huddles like he was the true starter. He barked out plays. He showed the other players the finer aspects of Mike Shanahan’s complicated offense. He took control.

Rex Grossman has thrown for 300-plus yards in three of his four starts for the Redskins.
(Getty Images)

This is why Brown calls him “an O-lineman’s quarterback.”

On Sunday the Giants came hard for Rex Grossman, thinking they could break him. They came in a flood of blue and white jerseys, first only four but then five and then six. On the sideline, after each series, the Redskins linemen looked around wondering what was happening.

“They’re bringing extra guys,” the coaches said.

And Grossman stared at the defenders streaming in, glanced downfield and fired away. He got six passes to Santana Moss(notes) and five to tight end Fred Davis(notes) and another three to Jabar Gaffney(notes) and two more to Anthony Armstrong(notes). Six players in all. Whatever the Giants figured they could do to him clearly didn’t work.

“That stuff people say about Rex it’s all [expletive],” Gaffney said. “He can play. He willed us to a victory [Sunday].”

Something is different about this Redskins team. There’s been so much chaos, so many controversies in the past it’s been a long time since Washington looked like a serviceable NFL franchise. But Albert Haynesworth(notes) is gone. Donovan McNabb(notes) had 39 yards passing for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. There are new players here, younger players. Gone is running back Clinton Portis(notes), injured for years, replaced with Tim Hightower(notes), who is healthy. Those around the Redskins say Hightower’s health is an overlooked but vital aspect of this offense.

They are comfortable with Shanahan’s system which is built heavily on a complicated blocking scheme. There is an optimism that has been missing here for years.

But any optimism is only as good as the quarterback and until now no one much has been overwhelmed by Rex Grossman. One game a Super Bowl does not make. Yet maybe it’s time people believed in Rex Grossman a little.

Sometimes, in the NFL, guts can go a long way.

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Les Carpenter is a feature writer and columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Les a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Sep 11, 2011