|Washington quarterback Rex Grossman shields himself from negative feedback. "He really has no clue when it comes to anything being said about him," says Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. "He doesn't watch SportsCenter and he doesn't know what ProFootballTalk.com is. He watches HBO sitcoms."|
In a rose-colored world where beers cost a dollar and pizza delivery lasted deep into the morning, Rex Grossman and I probably thought we knew a lot more than we actually did. Two typical Gators, ready to conquer it all.
Proof enough: On the last day of his career at Florida in 2002, Grossman responded to a question about what advice he'd give to the younger quarterbacks vying to replace him. From my seat as a college reporter, Grossman's answer seemed to nail it.
"Don't let anyone tell you what you can and can't do," said Grossman, now the starting quarterback for the Redskins. "When they tell you you're great, don't believe it. And when they tell you that you suck, don't believe that, either.
"Have confidence in your own ability because that's all you can control."
Nine years later, on the same day Grossman will attempt to redefine his career with Monday night's game against the Cowboys, I'll also begin my own new chapter as NFL.com's national reporter. And I'll start with a simple question.
Did Grossman really have any idea what he was talking about?
"It probably just sounded good at the time," he joked during our phone conversation Sunday evening as he settled into the team hotel in Dallas.
What did he know about criticism back then? He was the campus hero who dated (and eventually married) the captain of the Gators' cheerleaders. He was the Heisman runner-up who led the nation in efficiency (170.8) and yards per game (354.2).
Now? It's time for Veteran Rex to take Young Rex's advice. And he knows it. Those six seasons in Chicago deformed his legacy. Now, he's the guy trying to make like Shawshank's Andy Dufresne by coming out clean on the other side.
"You can never doubt yourself," he said, reiterating his original advice with much more knowledge to back it up. "I went through a lot of (stuff) to get to this point, but I feel like I'm in my prime as a quarterback."
Grossman will no longer get the benefit of the doubt from the nation's onlookers when it comes to his potential, his ability or anything in between. He's in prove-it mode. So, yes, ignoring the opinions of the outside world is probably a wise move.
"He really has no clue when it comes to anything being said about him," Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Sunday night. "He doesn't watch SportsCenter, and he doesn't know what ProFootballTalk.com is. He watches HBO sitcoms.
"He distances himself from all of it, and I think that's deliberate."
Just because Grossman has managed to ignore those old and ongoing perceptions, it doesn't mean he'd always disagree with them. In fact, particularly as it pertains to his reputation as a gunslinger, Rex 2.0 says he has focused on making smarter decisions.
I asked Grossman if he's ever seen the popular (albeit crude) blog post on KissingSuzyKolber.com known as "Unleash the Dragon." It's a satirical essay that's composed as if Grossman wrote it.
Since he hadn't seen it (proving Shanahan's theory), I read him this excerpt: "What's that? I should throw a quick slant? (Forget) that. This is football... Sexy Rexy's got the arm. The dragon. You gotta unleash the dragon."
Grossman laughed -- and then elaborated.
"Making a bunch of big throws in college made me addicted to that kind of stuff," Grossman said. "So I think I had the same mindset in Chicago. And you know what? I did make a bunch of big plays. But I also made a bunch of plays I shouldn't have."
It doesn't matter that, during his only 16-game season with the Bears, he finished six games with a passer rating above 100 in 2006. It instead matters that those games were often separated by performances of quite the opposite.
Inconsistency plagued him in Chicago, and being a "gunslinger" contributed to it.
When Grossman and the Bears parted ways in 2009, he went to Houston as a backup, learning under Shanahan (then the Texans' offensive coordinator) while witnessing the success of quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw for a whopping 4,770 yards that season.
At best, the lessons might have triggered a turning point in his career, which he says has reached "its second half." Grossman now calls this "a new beginning."
"Watching Matt Schaub put up those numbers with a conservative style, while still making a bunch of big plays, definitely helped me in 2009," Grossman said.
When Shanahan became Washington's offensive coordinator last year, he invited Grossman to join him, leading to a partnership that has provided the quarterback with a chance to rekindle his career.
Shanahan is clear: Although John Beck did a fine job during a "short competition," Grossman undoubtedly won this starting job once training camp began in August. He says there's no talk of a short leash, either.
"It was a tough decision, but Rex definitely beat him out," Shanahan said. "He's a confident guy, and I think the team really feeds off of that, too. No matter what he does, even if he throws a pick, you always feel like you have a chance with him."
His first two games of 2011 have created some cautious optimism, particularly because of a very solid performance (21 of 34 with 304 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions) in the season opener against the New York Giants.
It doesn't mean Grossman has been flawless -- he threw two picks last week. It also doesn't mean he won't still unleash the dragon. But the gambles, he says, are now of a calculated nature.
"I feel like I'm in an offense now that allows me to make the big plays without forcing it," Grossman said. "I now realize we're going to call some deep plays, some fun pass plays. I don't need to create them on my own.
"When it comes to making quick and smart decisions, things I maybe wouldn't have done in the past, I feel as good as I've ever felt."
Grossman, 31, feels like he's preparing more efficiently in this chapter of his career as a starter. Believe it or not, he also feels more physically primed than in any of his eight previous seasons.
But before anyone outside of his circle is willing to buy into the potential resurrection of this career, he'll need to add another big performance Monday night against the rival Cowboys in Dallas. Yes, a massive opportunity. Also a tough one.
It will be a chance to quiet the long-time critics for another week. Or allow them to continue to chirp. Either way, it will be a chance for Grossman to remind himself of the advice that now makes even more sense nine years later.
"It's basically back to the same point we've been talking about: Don't ever doubt yourself," Grossman said. "I might have said that back then, but I probably didn't know what I was talking about.
"But believing in myself has been the key to this point, especially when a lot of people counted me out. I'm peaking right now, and it's time for me to maximize my opportunity."
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington