Cousins Ready If RGIII Can't Go

The other rookie QB is ready to step up

Good news: Quarterback Robert Griffin III practiced Wednesday, three days after suffering a concussion in the Falcons loss, and the hope is that he will be cleared to play against the Vikings this Sunday in FedEx Field.

Bad news: There's the possibility that the Redskins' dynamic rookie won't be able to go and that responsibility will fall to either rookie fourth-rounder Kirk Cousins, or last season's opening-week starter, Rex Grossman.

"You have to look at both ends of it," coach Mike Shanahan said regarding preparations at the quarterback situation.

RGIII took fewer practice reps than usual Wednesday but Shanahan didn't indicate how the remaining reps were split between Cousins and Grossman. And while most of us are familiar with Grossman's game -- rare moments of brilliance sandwiched around long stretches of mediocrity -- all we've seen from Cousins came in the quarter-and-a-half of work he got in Griffin's absence last Sunday.

There were highs (the 77-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss to give the 'Skins a 17-14 third-quarter lead) and lows (the two interceptions on Washington's final two drives), results not uncommon for either a rookie or a backup.

But what happens if doctors don't give RGIII the green-light to play, then what can we expect from Cousins?

“I said in week one what my approach would be and that doesn’t change -- prepare as if I’m going to start the game and whether or not I do, feel good about my preparation,” Cousins told the Washington Post Wednesday.

Translation: He has a firm grasp of the playbook and this week's game plan. But there's a difference between classroom retention and on-field recall when bodies are flying all over the place and the quarterback not only has to decipher information quickly, but make the right decision with that information.

Recent history suggests that Cousins should hold his own. Since 2002, four rookie quarterbacks taken in the fourth round were forced into the starting lineup. Here's how their first start worked out:

2010 - Stephen McGee, Cowboys. McGee started the Week 16 game against the Eagles, completed 11 of 27 passes for 127 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs and helped Dallas to a 14-13 win to finish the season 6-10. That was the only start of his NFL career. The Cowboys released him before the 2012 season.

2005 - Kyle Orton, Bears. Orton took over for Rex Grossman, who was injured in the preseason. He faced the Redskins in Week 1, a 9-7 loss, and completed 15 of 28 passes for 141 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT. He'd start 14 more times that season, Chicago finished 11-5 mostly because of their defense, and the team would eventually lose to the Panthers in the divisional round of the playoffs. Orton currently serves as Tony Romo's backup in Dallas, but was a starter for most of his career with the Bears, Broncos and Chiefs.

2004 - Luke McCown, Browns. McCown started four games as a rookie, all losses (hey, it's Cleveland). His first start came against the Super Bowl-bound Patriots and McCown finished a respectable 20 of 34 for 277 yards, with 2 TDs and 2 INTs in the 42-15 loss. He's currently the No. 2 in Atlanta behind Matt Ryan.

2002 - David Garrard, Jaguars. Jacksonville didn't draft Byron Leftwich until 2003 so this was still Mark Brunell's team (known in DC as "that old guy Joe Gibbs traded for for reasons that still remain a mystery"). The Jags finished 6-10 in '02 and Garrard got his first start in the season finale, an otherwise meaningless games against the Colts. He completed 13 of 26 passes for 135 yards (0 TDs, 0 INTs), and ran for another 44 yards. Garrard went on to a solid career with the Jags (he was their primary starter from 2006-2010) before ending up with the Dolphins this offseason. He was released in training camp after suffering a knee injury.

So what's the takeaway for Cousins and the Redskins? Rookie backup quarterbacks taken late in the draft thrust into the starting lineup have been average or slightly better. We mocked Washington this spring for wasting a pick on another quarterback but Shanahan looks pretty smart five weeks into the season.

If Cousins does get the nod, the Redskins' offense will be less option-oriented and more conventional, something Cousins doesn't consider an issue.

“I don’t know if it’s a problem,” he told the Post. “I think that we both have different skill sets. You guys know that. So certainly the plays that are called that are going to put Robert in a good position to be successful are different at times than the plays that will be called that are going to put me in a position to be successful. There are some differences. But at the end of the day, our base offense is still our base offense. To be a quarterback in the NFL, you have to still be able to be accurate, make good decisions, and those are the things that both of us are working on.”

And that's the thing. At the end of the day, the team that makes the fewest mistakes has the best chance of winning -- whether it's RGIII or Cousins under center.

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