Curious to see how John Beck, an unproven quarterback just a couple days shy of 30 years old, will perform when he’s finally handed the keys to the Washington Redskins offense? You’re not the only one.
“We all should be curious,” Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “We haven’t seen him. . . . We know he’s a capable, good quarterback, but it doesn’t matter until the game. We all got to find out what he can do.”
An offseason of chatter and a training camp of speculation have led Beck into the Redskins’ preseason game Friday night at the Indianapolis Colts, where he finally will have a chance to show coaches — and fans — whether he’s ready to take on the job full-time.
Locked in a fierce position battle with Rex Grossman, Beck knows the stakes have only grown since training camp opened last month. Grossman started the team’s first preseason game and performed well, going 19 for 26 passing for 207 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh.
Beck is the unknown. Redskins coaches are familiar with him in meeting rooms and on the practice field, but Friday night marks the first time they’ll get to see him under the bright lights in a competitive environment of any significance.
For all the talk that Beck might be the coaches’ preference heading into the regular season, he still has to earn the job and show that his practice habits translate smoothly to games. Beck didn’t enter a single regular season game last year and during the 2010 preseason saw action only in the team's final game, when he went 11 for 21 for 132 yards with an interception at Arizona.
“I believe that he’ll do well,” Shanahan said. “But this will be my first time really playing with him fully in a game. . . . To actually go in this game as the starter, going with the first team, I’m excited to see what we’ve got.”
Coaches want to have a fair comparison of their quarterbacks, so Beck will start and is expected to play the first half against the Colts with the first-team offense, similar to the opportunity Grossman had last week. The two split reps during practice, and while Grossman is the quarterback with a reputation for inconsistency, Beck also has had his share of struggles.
Coaches praise Beck’s tempo on the field and familiarity with the offense, but in seven-on-seven and full team drills, many of his passes have been off the mark, often trailing receivers or soaring high above their heads. Beck studies tape to improve his wayward throws.
“Sometimes you just force the ball,” Beck said. “That’s just the learning process, and so you go, ‘Okay, I’m not going to do that again.’ So it’s all part of learning.”
Beck’s growth during training camp was interrupted by a groin injury. He actually had a leg up on his rival because Grossman, as a free agent signee, had to sit out the first week of practice. Just as Beck was jelling with the offense, though, he tweaked his groin and was limited for the team’s second week of practices. The missed time interrupted his progress and might be part of the reason he didn’t always look sharp in the days leading up to the Colts game, he said.
Coaches also noticed that the missed practice time took its toll. Beck participated in some position drills and threw with receivers, but when the full offense was working, Beck could only take mental reps and chat with coaches about what he saw.
When he was finally able to fully practice on Sunday, Beck wasn’t exactly picking up where he left off.
“I think his timing, his rhythm wasn’t where he wanted it, wasn’t where it was before he got hurt,” Shanahan said. “But I feel like it has gotten better each day.”
Every day at practice, three cameras are trained on the field, and coaches review every throw their quarterbacks make. Both Beck and Grossman say they aren’t keeping score each day and can’t worry about how the competition fares. Still, it was impossible to ignore last Friday when Grossman set the early tone, running the offense smoothly against the Steelers’ first- and second-team defenses.
“I think it’s human nature to feel pressure,” Shanahan said. “I think Rex did play well, but that doesn’t change anything with John.”
The Redskins spent the first week of training camp installing their offense and the second week reviewing it, so an injured Beck missed valuable reps as the team was honing its system. Still, coaches have no worries about his command of the playbook. The bigger question is whether he can execute it in a game situation.
“These quarterbacks — John and Rex — they’re students of the game,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “They study, and now they have to go out and play. And so we’re going to evaluate them on everything they do. They’ve got a chance to compete against each other and they’re both doing a great job.”