I hope Mike Shanahan knows what he is doing. That was my first thought when I saw that the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach had benched starting quarterback Donovan McNabb in Week 8.
There are some coaches in the league, including Shanahan, whom I rarely question because of their track record. But in this instance you must wonder if Shanahan really thought about the potential implications of his decision to bench a guy who had led the Washington Redskins to a 4-3 record and was mediocre but not horrible (17-of-31 for 210 yards with a touchdown and an interception) until that point of Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.
As I wrote in September, the quarterback is the guy everybody looks to for leadership in tough situations, and Shanahan's decision to pull McNabb for Rex Grossman, even though it was still only a one-score game, could serve to undermine McNabb's ability to lead. It is imperative that all the players believe wholeheartedly in the signal-caller, and most -- if not all -- of the Skins felt that way about McNabb because of the career he has had. Now, at least some of them will question that, and both McNabb and some of those teammates may be wondering if Shanahan will give his QB the hook should the offense struggle in its first couple of series over the next few games. That's not good.
Making matters worse is Shanahan's reasoning. He has said Grossman has a better grasp of the two-minute terminology than McNabb and made a veiled reference to "cardiovascular endurance." Considering that McNabb was traded to the Skins on Easter Sunday, that is either an indictment of Shanahan's coaching or McNabb's comprehension skills, and it is hard to believe Shanahan would admit publicly that he has failed to properly prepare McNabb. So Shanahan not only benched McNabb, but he essentially called him out in a public forum. That won't go over really well with McNabb and many of his teammates. Nor should it.
It's time, Jerry
There is rampant speculation that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will fire Wade Phillips, and let's hope for everyone involved that he pulls the trigger sooner rather than later. It's clear Phillips will not be coach of this team next year, and it is tremendously unfair to everyone involved to let him walk around the Cowboys' Valley Ranch facility even though he's basically a lame duck.
I was in this situation once, interestingly, in Dallas in 2002, and it is tremendously unpleasant for everyone involved. That was the season when Jones famously met with Bill Parcells in an airplane hangar in New Jersey while Dave Campo was still the head coach. The team facility was a morgue for the rest of the season after that news broke. The accountability immediately vanished for some players because they knew Campo was as good as gone, and as such, a number of players missed curfew the night before the final game in Washington. It was bad.
I hardly ever call for coaches to get fired and almost never during the season, but in this case it must happen. And the sooner the better.
Jones said he has done research into midseason changes and that there is not much to be gained. But what exactly is there to lose at this point? The biggest concern previously had been continuity on the defense, but after the way this team performed on that side of the ball the past two games, that might be the biggest justification for letting Phillips go immediately.
My guess is that even Phillips, if he were truly being honest with himself, would say that it is time to move on. Stop delaying the inevitable and put Phillips out of his misery.
From the inbox
Q: Are there specific numbers players at each position need to reach in order to even be drafted? For example, if you are an offensive lineman, do you need to bench at least 350 pounds? If you could bench only 325, would a team not even bother working you out?
Matt from Florida
A: There are no hard minimums per se, but there are certainly averages across the board (generated at the combine) that give an indication of whether the player's natural physical tools are on par with NFL players'. If a player is from a small school, it is especially important that his numbers reach or exceed the averages at his position. Small-school players already are difficult enough to evaluate because they played against lesser competition.
Q: This question is seemingly as trivial as its subject matter, but I've thought about this my whole life while watching football and I have to ask. How are uniforms chosen for a particular game? In there any rhyme or reason to this process?
Trip from New Orleans
A: Not trivial at all, Trip. I love questions like this because if you have always wondered about this, my guess is a lot of other fans have as well. The home team always gets to pick its uniform first and then the away team must play off that by wearing dark if the home team is white and vice versa. The decision is usually in the hands of management, with some input from the coaching staff if the coaches think there is a competitive advantage to be had.
Q: Can you tell me why players wear what appear to be large specialized rubber bands around their biceps and calves? I don't see that in other sports, but in football they seem to be around a lot. What benefit do they provide and what are they called?
Anne from Morgantown, W.Va.
A: It's just for looks. I think they are called arm bands and it is purely for aesthetic purposes. Call it the "Ultimate Warrior" effect if you are familiar with the former professional wrestler. I actually wore thin wrist bands around my elbows when I played in order to prevent sweat from travelling down to my gloves, give the point of my elbow some added protection, and yes, so that my arms looked a little bigger. At least there was a little practical value to the wrist band. There is none with the arm bands that some guys wear.
Q: If you can pick any NFL kicker, who would you want on your team to take the game-winner? Also, what's your opinion on NFL games played in Europe during the middle of the season?
Roland from Richmond Hill, Ontario
A: I guess I'd still have to say Adam Vinatieri because he has done it in clutch situations so many times, but it would be hard for me to not take Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter given the display he has put on this season, especially over the past two weeks, nailing 10 field goals. As for the London game that took place this past Sunday, I am totally in favor of it. The NFL is a business and must look for new ways to grow that business. International growth is the most obvious way to do that because at some point the NFL's popularity in America will peak.
Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.