Grossman and Spurrier get reacquainted today

Ex-Florida quarterback taking on former coach as Bears meet Redskins

NFL Week 16

December 21, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Rex Grossman was a mere "yes" away from leaving college and going to the NFL with Steve Spurrier.

In spring 2002, Grossman, a quarterback at the University of Florida, was nearing the end of his sophomore year - a season that included 3,896 passing yards and 34 touchdowns and a runner-up finish to Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

The earlier departure - in January - of Spurrier from the Gators to the Washington Redskins had Grossman contemplating a jump to the NFL. All he needed to hear from Spurrier was a pledge that Washington would draft him.

"I never got a clear answer from him," Grossman said of his phone conversations with his former coach before the 2002 NFL draft. "I think he liked me a lot as a quarterback, and I liked him as a coach. I respected him."

And now Grossman, a rookie this season, will face Spurrier as the Chicago Bears (6-8) play host to the Redskins (5-9) today at Soldier Field at 1 p.m.

Grossman, who made his NFL debut last week by pacing the Bears to a 13-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, is expected to make his second straight start today.

In a game of little significance, the relationship between Spurrier and Grossman is the biggest story line.

Grossman, Chicago's 22nd pick in the first round of the 2003 draft, credits his transition from college to the NFL to Spurrier, who coached the quarterback for two years at Florida.

Blessed with a strong, accurate arm and a quick release, Grossman learned from Spurrier how to refine his footwork and how to read defenses.

Under Spurrier's guidance, Grossman and the Gators went 20-5 in two seasons and won the Southeastern Conference championship in 2000.

That is the reason Grossman is a little mystified as to why the Redskins haven't enjoyed similar success under Spurrier.

"Especially after the preseason in his first year [Washington went 4-1], I thought he was going to win the Super Bowl and then things kind of went south," Grossman said. "And then this year, it's been kind of the same. But I'd love to see him stick it out and make it work because I know it can."

"It" is Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun offense, a pass-heavy system that has resulted in only 12 wins in 30 games in Spurrier's two seasons as coach.

"I know that offense can work," Grossman said. "It just needs to have everyone on the same page to understand what he wants."

Grossman was serviceable in his debut, completing 13 of 30 passes for 157 yards and avoiding interceptions. The win was Chicago's third in its past four games.

The Vikings did not blitz often, but Washington likely will rush Grossman early and often.

"I hope that's the plan," Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey said. "I mean, why not? He's definitely not comfortable yet. ... This is only his second game. So hopefully, we can rattle him a bit."

Spurrier is one of Grossman's biggest supporters, but he won't be cheering for him today. The Redskins have just two wins in their past 10 games, and Spurrier will take any positives, even at Grossman's expense.

"He's a good player, and I look forward to seeing him up there," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, we can slow him down and beat the Bears. We need a victory bad."

Grossman said he doesn't view today's game as a grudge match.

"I'm prepared to play Washington's defense," Grossman said. "If he was coaching the defense, it would be highly competitive, at least from my point of view. But he's doing his thing on offense, and I'm going to try to do my thing on offense."


1. Defend the run

Five running backs have rushed for at least 100 yards against the Redskins this season, and three more have surpassed the 90-yard mark. The league's 27th-ranked rush defense (138.8 yards allowed a contest) will have its hands full against the Bears' Anthony Thomas, who has three 100-yard games this season and likely will get the ball often to relieve the pressure on rookie quarterback Rex Grossman.

2. Get the running game on track

No one has passed for 300 yards against Chicago, and the cold, windy weather forecast could make Soldier Field a no-fly zone. Washington, which has 100-yard rushing totals in five of its past six games, should be able to pound the ball against a Bears run defense that is ranked 21st, having given up 123.9 yards a contest.

3. Special teams

After the Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago owns perhaps the next-best return units in the league. Jerry Azumah leads all kick returners with a 30.3-yard average, and R.W. McQuarters' 12.7-yard punt-return average is third in the NFL.

Redskins today

Matchup: Washington Redskins (5-9) vs. Chicago Bears (6-8)

Site: Soldier Field, Chicago

Time: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Bears by 4 1/2

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