Donovan McNabb, coach stories differ

Updated: November 3, 2010, 2:01 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

ASHBURN, Va. -- On Day 3 of the Washington Redskins' attempt to explain the benching of Donovan McNabb, the head coach's son gave it a try. He was doing a decent job -- until he threw in a new wrinkle that only added to the confusion.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Tuesday that McNabb was told in advance of the possibility of getting pulled from the game if coaches felt the veteran quarterback was struggling.

Russell
McNabb
McNabb

McNabb went on the radio and immediately claimed otherwise, saying: "I didn't hear that part."

And, by the way, this just happened to be the day the Redskins decided to bring in JaMarcus Russell for a workout. The former Oakland Raiders quarterback was one of many out-of-work players getting a look from the coaching staff.

The best news for the Redskins was everyone then skedaddled out of town for an off-week vacation. The five-day break is exactly what's needed to settle things down after a dizzying 72 hours of quarterback drama that began when McNabb was pulled in the final two minutes of Sunday's 37-25 loss to the Detroit Lions.

To recap: Mike Shanahan said immediately after Sunday's game that McNabb was yanked because backup Rex Grossman had a better understanding of the team's two-minute offense. On Monday, the coach shifted his focus, saying nagging hamstring injuries have kept McNabb from practicing at full speed and therefore created doubts as to whether the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback had the "cardiovascular endurance" to run a two-minute drill with no timeouts.

On Tuesday, Kyle Shanahan said perhaps his father's words "came off wrong." The son gave his play-by-play of how it all shook out.

"It came down to last week, when on Monday and Tuesday, because of his hamstring issues, we were deciding, that 'Hey, this guy's hurting, we know he won't take himself out. We don't think he should play. We've got to rest him up and get him better for the rest of the year,'" Kyle Shanahan said. "Donovan being the competitor that he is, came in and said 'I will rise to the occasion. I will play.' And he talked us into it. And we said, 'Hey, we understand, we're going to let you go. If we do feel you're struggling in the game -- which we think it's possible because you can't practice full speed -- then we'll have to go in a different direction.'"

But wait a minute. Both Mike Shanahan and McNabb have indicated that McNabb wasn't tipped off that he could be taken out. McNabb even said he wouldn't want to know something like that because it would be just one more thing to weigh on his mind.

McNabb, making his weekly appearance on ESPN980, was asked to respond to Kyle Shanahan's version of events.

"I didn't hear that part. ... We had a conversation of just the injuries that I have, being a little banged up," McNabb said. "Maybe getting an opportunity to rest up for the long haul. But I didn't hear the word 'benching' or anything to that effect."

Otherwise, McNabb did his best to bite his tongue and keep his sense of humor about the whole affair. When he limped into the locker room -- yes, those 33-year-old hamstrings are noticeably bothering him -- he jokingly interrupted an interview with rookie receiver Anthony Armstrong by asking: "How's your cardiovascular endurance?"

Earlier, McNabb told reporters he could have finished the game and was upset that he was pulled. He was asked about playing hurt.

"My team relies on me being there. I want to be there for my team," McNabb said. "If I can't walk, then I can't go. That's just the way I play, no matter if you're banged up or what, you've got to be in there."

McNabb declined to criticize Mike Shanahan, saying: "Coach makes his decisions."

McNabb's struggles in his first year under a new offense have been greater than expected -- he's having his worst season statistically since becoming a full-season starter in 2000 -- but he said he finds it insulting to answer questions about his work ethic.

"You can ask these guys how I work and my work ethic," McNabb said. "My work ethic has never been a question. My tempo has never been a question."

Indeed, Kyle Shanahan said McNabb has "perfect work habits."

"He's what I expected," Kyle Shanahan said. "Now, us as a whole offense, we're not playing like I expected. That starts with me. It's him. It's the other 10 guys on the field. I would like us to get better. I would like him to get better."

McNabb has seven touchdown passes, eight interceptions and a 76.0 rating -- subpar numbers through eight games. He's also been sacked 22 times, second most in the league, and his contract expires at the end of the season.

On his radio show, McNabb said there was a "100 percent" chance he would be quarterbacking the Redskins next season, but it was really the only answer he could give.

"If I would have said 75 or 60," McNabb said, "it would have been another big story."

Russell was one of about 20 players getting a Redskins tryout. The team also worked out quarterback J.P. Losman.

"We'll evaluate [Russell] and everyone else out there," Kyle Shanahan said.

The Redskins routinely invite out-of-work players for workouts on Tuesdays, but the timing of Russell's visit only added to the team's quarterback drama of the past few days. Washington had been looking at and planning workouts for Russell and Losman long before the McNabb benching, a Redskins front-office source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Russell was released by the Raiders in May, and an Alabama grand jury declined to indict Russell last week on a felony drug possession charge related to a drink containing codeine syrup found at his home.

Russell was 7-18 in three seasons as the starting quarterback in Oakland.

"I don't think you consider anyone just based off of talent," Kyle Shanahan said after Russell's workout. "Everyone in the NFL's pretty talented. [It's] other stuff that really separates you. He is very talented, so I think he can overcome some of the stuff that he struggled with. I don't really know that personally, but if he looks like he's in good shape out here and he's working, that's all you can evaluate. Sometimes when guys do get a second opportunity, they can change their stripes."

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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