Grossman embraces elder statesman role with Redskins

Now a third-stringer, former Bears QB proud of his longevity, looks back fondly on time in Chicago

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Of the 13 quarterbacks selected in the 2003 NFL draft, only three remain active — No. 1 pick Carson Palmer, Packers backup Seneca Wallace and the guy Chicago loved and loathed with equal passion, depending on the week.

The guy once booed during Family Night at Soldier Field despite being the only quarterback besides Jim McMahon to lead the Bears to the Super Bowl. The guy who went 21-14 as a starter from 2003 to '08 and won one more playoff game with the Bears — two — than Jay Cutler has. The guy who as a young, go-for-broke quarterback never envisioned playing the role of elder statesman he now embraces as a 33-year-old still brimming with confidence.

As Lovie Smith might say, Rex Grossman is the Redskins' third quarterback. Yet Washington's other RG3 — Rex Daniel Grossman III — still thinks like a first-rounder 11 seasons after the Bears drafted him 22nd overall out of Florida.

"I always had higher goals set for myself than longevity, but you can look at things in my career I am proud of and that would be one of them,'' Grossman said Wednesday on the phone. "I've always believed in my ability and talent but never quite met my expectations. But I've always landed on my feet. Ironically, I feel like I'm as good as I've ever been. I know my arm is.''

Grossman would get a chance to prove it Sunday at FedEx Field only in the event of injuries to Robert Griffin III and backup Kirk Cousins that would create a different kind of Washington shutdown. Coach Mike Shanahan and son Kyle, the Redskins offensive coordinator, brought Grossman back for a fourth season more for his football intellect than his ability, for his experience more than his potential.

"Rex is a great guy, a natural leader,'' Mike Shanahan said.

Instead of leading with actions, Grossman uses words — but sparingly. When offering Griffin advice, Grossman often finds himself reading the star's complex personality like a safety's alignment and reacting.

"I try not to talk too much and gauge whether he's in the mood to hear it,'' Grossman said. "He's a good person and I want to see him succeed, so I try to be there for him as much as I can.''

Such as in the fourth quarter against the Buccaneers last season, when Grossman approached Griffin even before Tampa Bay took a one-point lead with 2 minutes left. Grossman instilled the proper mindset by telling RG3 he should want the Bucs to score to set up a game-winning drive — which Griffin produced.

Veteran backups such as Grossman lead on weekdays more than Sundays through the example of mental preparation. Remember when Grossman got criticized for not studying photos on the sideline between series? On Wednesday, Griffin praised Grossman as "a great meeting-room guy.''

Was he referring to the same No. 8?

"I'm more understanding of what it takes to be consistent and how much work you have to put in,'' Grossman said. "Not that I wasn't a hard worker, I just didn't quite know how. Now I understand how to prepare. It's not the amount of hours you put in, it's being able to whittle it down to certain things you need to look at and manage yourself as an NFL quarterback.''

The maturation obvious in Grossman extends to memories of his maddeningly erratic Bears tenure. Asked whether Chicago treated him unfairly, the guy who called the media ignorant at Super Bowl XLI expressed an understanding of the Good Rex/Bad Rex phenomenon that dogged him. Ex-teammate Patrick Mannelly, the most senior Bear, called Grossman's treatment locally "a little harsh,'' which was further than Grossman was willing to go.

"I gave people reason to root for me and criticize me too, plenty of ammunition,'' Grossman said. "When you're inconsistent, it's easier to criticize. I get it. To have longevity with one city and one team, you have to be a lot more consistent than I was.

"Maybe I put too much on myself instead of just learning the plays, moving the chains and letting the game come to me rather than always trying to make something happen.''

Too much good happened to the Bears when Grossman was their quarterback to dwell on the bad after all these years. So Rex doesn't.

"I had some of the best times of my life in Chicago, ups and downs,'' Grossman said. "As time passes, you start to remember more of the great times and funny stories. There are some regrets and bittersweet feelings. But for the most part, when I think of my six years there, how much fun it was definitely makes me smile.''

He shouldn't be the only one.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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