John Beck begins battle to win Washington Redskins quarterback job

July 29, 2011

Coach Mike Shanahan will likely wait until the end of preseason to decide on the Washington Redskins’ starting quarterback. But during the team’s first practice of training camp Friday, it was clear that John Beck tops the current depth chart.

“John’s done a good job in his first day of practice. I wouldn’t put him in the Pro Bowl yet,” Shanahan said, “but he’s close.”

“That's a joke,” the coach quickly added, well aware of the attention that’s been showered on the team’s former third-stringer in recent weeks.

Beck is the current top quarterback by default. Shanahan expects the Redskins to re-sign Rex Grossman in the coming days, but only two quarterbacks were present at the start of training camp, and the other one — Ben Chappell from Indiana University — was an undrafted rookie. That means Beck had an especially busy morning, running the first-team offense and handling the vast majority of the plays.

“I’m loving it,” he said. “I want all those reps. Reps for me equals experience and experience helps me learn.”

NFL teams are allowed up to 90 players in camp but the Redskins took the field Friday with only 63 under contract, including all 12 of their draft picks. That means the team will be busy in the next week scouring the free agent market and adding more pieces.

The ones that are already in place are largely an anonymous bunch. Unlike last year, there is no Clinton Portis, Albert Haynesworth or Donovan McNabb in the locker room.

Instead, the first-strong offense featured Beck taking snaps from Will Montgomery, a guard who will now play center. He was handing off to running back Ryan Torain, who began last season on the practice squad, and throwing to a receiving corps that featured six players with a season or less of experience.

At quarterback, Beck knows the competition for the job will soon heat up. Both Shanahan and Beck expect Grossman, who started the Redskins’ final three games last season, to agree to a contract in the coming days. But no matter when he signs, Grossman can’t practice with the team until at least Thursday.

That’s also when Kellen Clemens, a newly signed quarterback who spent the past five seasons as backup with the New York Jets, will arrive and start splitting snaps with Beck.

Shanahan would not rule out adding another veteran quarterback, but it seems likely the Redskins are prepared to carry both Beck and Grossman into the regular season.

“I'm not going to go into our game plan. . . there’s a number of options that we could go,” Shanahan said. “I brought Clemens in — very happy about that addition. The rest, obviously, I can't get into detail.”

The Redskins went the veteran route last year, acquiring McNabb from Philadelphia, and it resulted in a disappointing 6-10 season. Speaking for the first time since the team traded McNabb to Minnesota on Wednesday, Shanahan was complimentary of the six-time Pro Bowler, saying McNabb handled himself “in a class manner,” also noting he had no place in the organization going forward.

“I thought if he did fit within our system and did the right things, he could be a top-notch player for us,” Shanahan said. “At the end of the day, it just didn’t work out quite the way we wanted it to.”

McNabb was benched toward the end of last season and his relationship with the organization deteriorated quickly. Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator, said there’s a sense of relief attached to the quarterback’s departure. “For him and for us,” he said.

McNabb also spoke for the first time since the trade on a conference call with Vikings reporters. He didn’t get into details of his Redskins’ tenure — “everything is a blur” — and said, “Sometimes you have a down year.”

Neither Grossman nor Beck is as heralded as most teams’ quarterbacks. Shanahan doesn’t care.

He wants someone who fits his system, not someone with a rich resume, and he seems to think either Beck or Grossman are capable of leading the Redskins’ offense.

“I’m putting my reputation on these guys that they can play,” Shanahan said.

At Redskins Park, coaches have turned their attention to Beck, who has wasted no time trying to show coaches he’s different than last year’s starter. One of the chief complaints about McNabb last season was the pace at which he practiced and the ran the offense.

“I’m trying to do the very best I can to start by example, just try to be the guy who’s the first one out, trying to do things right,” Beck said. “I think the biggest thing that we’re trying to do also is just have a good tempo in practice, to execute out plays at a high level and to get a lot done.”

While Beck won’t be handed the reins to the offense quite yet, he has made a strong impression on coaches.

“As far as his attention to detail, everything he does, John’s the type of guy that I’ve got to tell him to leave me alone,” Kyle Shanahan said. “He can’t do any more. He does as much as he possibly can, and he’s on it. It’s his first day out there and I don’t have to correct him on anything.”

“That’s what everyone wants. That’s what you need,” he continued. “Look at the top guys in the league: [Tom] Brady and [Peyton] Manning and then it goes to [Drew] Brees and tell me which one of those guys doesn’t have an A-type personality and demands perfection. The guys that are like that usually do.”

While they’ve heaped plenty of praise on the fifth-year quarterback, they’ve also made clear that there will be a competition for the starting quarterback job and the winner won’t be anointed early in training camp.

“It is going to take a while. . . . It's going to be a great battle,” Kyle Shanahan said. “They’re both capable. Rex showed he’s capable last year, John has shown he is capable in practice and off his college tape and the few opportunities he has had in the NFL and I’m excited for them to get a shot together.”

Staff writer Mike Jones contributed to this report.

Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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