In the Shanahans’ eyes, John Beck is the Washington Redskins starting quarterback


Quarterback John Beck, left, talks with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan at training camp. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist August 15, 2011

The Washington Redskins’ supposed quarterback competition between Rex Grossman and John Beck isn’t a fair fight. The winner is predetermined. The fix is in.

All along, the job has been Beck’s to lose.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

That’s what Redskins people have been saying privately for months, insisting Coach Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle, the team’s offensive coordinator, have already selected their guy. That for better or worse, the Shanahans are rolling with Beck.

Obviously, plans can change. Beck’s groin injury was an unexpected setback. An abysmal preseason performance from Beck could prompt a reevaluation. Ultimately, Mike and Kyle could still decide Grossman gives them the best chance to win this season.

Barring further unforeseen developments, however, the Beck period in Washington is already underway. All that’s left, apparently, is making the move official.

How long it lasts depends on whether the Shanahans are correct about their inexperienced protégé. But if they’re truly set on Beck as the starter, you’ve got to admire their conviction.

After failing spectacularly with Donovan McNabb, the father-son coaching tandem could have taken a safer route. They could have pursued an accomplished veteran to challenge Beck despite potential difficulties a newcomer may have experienced in their complex offensive system. They could have named Grossman the starter at the outset of training camp and given Beck, who has only one season in their offense, more time.

     Instead, they’re all in on Beck. The Redskins have added lower-tier quarterbacks who pose no threat to him. That leaves Grossman as the only obstacle between Beck and Washington’s top spot, and the judges who matter are rooting for Beck.

     By now, it’s widely known Mike and Kyle were enamored of Beck during his college days at Brigham Young University. They continued to admire him from afar throughout his first three nondescript NFL seasons, during which he played in only five regular season games — none since 2007.

      At Mike’s insistence, Washington traded for Beck before last season and rewarded him with a contract extension. The Shanahans’ plan was in motion before Beck’s nameplate was dry on his Redskins Park dressing stall.

       What’s not common knowledge is that Mike and Kyle and their coaching underlings regularly praise Beck in the team’s Ashburn training complex. That Beck quickly grasped the offense and usually shines in film review. And that Beck has done much in a short period of time to impress Mike, who doesn’t impress easily.

      Fact is, the Shanahans see something special in Beck. To them, he’s not simply the best option. They believe he’s someone who could lead a perennial winner.

      Mike and Kyle don’t care if Beck is viewed less favorably throughout the rest of the NFL. They’re confident they know what they have.

     All of this, though, begs the question: If the Shanahans are so sure about Beck, why not have named him the starter once the lockout ended?

      Because that’s not the way Mike works, Redskins employees say. In the Alpha male world of the NFL, Shanahan is second to none in his competitiveness. On Shanahan-coached teams, players earn their starting positions. Especially at quarterback, the position upon which Shanahan has built his professional reputation.

     Shanahan enjoys observing Beck perform with the added pressure of competition. He’s interested in how Beck leads. For Shanahan, the evaluation process never stops, and he’s hoping Beck continues to make the right moves.

    After McNabb was benched late last season, Grossman started and Beck, for the final two games, became the second-string quarterback. Wisely, the Shanahans kept Beck on the bench during the final stages of an awful 6-10 season, protecting him until they had time to improve Washington’s roster.

   Presumably, Beck should have a better chance to succeed this season because the Redskins have better parts.

   With Beck watching from the sidelines in 2010, Grossman didn’t do enough with his big opportunity. He mostly directed the offense well in his first start against Dallas, but had two interceptions in a loss.

  Although the Redskins defeated Jacksonville in Grossman’s second start, he played poorly, completing less than 50 percent of his passes. Grossman passed for a season-high 336 yards in a season-ending loss to the New York Giants.

  Statistics aren’t most important to the Shanahans. The offense Mike designed and Kyle began learning shortly after birth will produce big results, they believe, as long as players execute.

   The key is efficiency. The Shanahans expect quarterbacks to seize the scoring chances they’re confident their offense will present. The moment one is wasted, Mike and Kyle see it, even if it’s not apparent to anyone else.

    Grossman was strong statistically in Friday’s preseason victory over Pittsburgh, completing 19 of 26 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown. He also has much more experience than Beck.

   Unfortunately for Grossman, his shortcomings have been repeatedly exposed over time. The Shanahans know what to expect from Grossman. His best rarely has been good enough.

   Mike and Kyle think Beck has a higher ceiling. The Shanahans are eager for a fresh start. They’ve already shaken up a lot. No need to stop now.

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