Redskins’ John Beck can’t buy a break, unless it’s an injury

Jason Reid
Columnist October 29, 2011

With the way John Beck’s career has gone, it figures the Washington Redskins would collapse again now.

The bad timing the quarterback experienced elsewhere has continued with Washington, which is struggling after a promising start. The Redskins’ injuries on offense are making Beck’s job tougher at a moment when he’s finally getting his shot — and also providing him with a great opportunity.

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

As a new starter, the former longtime backup has the chance to help solve problems and prove his worth. Washington’s adversity gives Beck a platform to lead.

If he succeeds, and the team’s weakened offense responds well at his direction, Beck would provide short-term stability at the game’s most important position, something the Redskins have lacked under Coach Mike Shanahan, while also solidifying his standing entering the offseason.

Shanahan has a lot riding on Beck, considering he staked his reputation on Beck and Rex Grossman, whose typically poor decisions with the football reflected poorly on Shanahan and his offensive coordinator son, Kyle. Washington is still trying to get it right at quarterback for the long haul, and Beck’s ongoing audition, which continues Sunday against Buffalo in Toronto, will answer some questions one way or another.

Although Beck is focused on facing the Bills, he has big-picture goals, and being productive in difficult times “is how people stake a claim for themselves,” he said after practice Wednesday at Redskins Park. “This is how young guys step up and make their name an important one.”

There are holes to fill on offense for Washington, which has lost consecutive games and three of its past four.

During the past few weeks, three starters — running back Tim Hightower, tight end Chris Cooley and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger — were lost for the season to injuries. Top wide receiver Santana Moss and left tackle Trent Williams are out for a while, too.

Redskins critics may argue that some of the losses actually aren’t that big. Fred Davis had already surpassed Cooley, slowed since training camp because of a knee problem, as Washington’s No. 1 tight end. In his first three seasons with Arizona, Hightower never rushed for more than 736 yards in a season. And in his 11th NFL season, Moss, 32, is a slot receiver.

Even during their surprising 3-1 start, the Redskins’ offense was mediocre at best, averaging just 19 points. Grossman’s turnover problems at times derailed the group, opening the door for Beck, whose start in Week 7 against Carolina was his first since the 2007 season.

That’s not exactly a collection of superstars, “but the guys we’ve lost were important for us, for what we do,” said Davis, an emerging standout.

“You look at it now, and he [Beck] doesn’t have all the tools you would like to have at all the positions when you’re trying to prove yourself. So if he is [effective], it would definitely say something about him.”

Against the Panthers, Beck performed better than I thought he would. He was very good at times in the second half, passing for 226 yards with a touchdown and rushing for another. He made some fine throws and did some good things with his feet.

Also, relying on backups may be easier for Beck than other quarterbacks because he’s used to working with them. The five-year veteran spent most of his time running scout teams for Washington, Miami and Baltimore. That’s what Beck had to do to remain in the league.

But the Redskins need Beck to shine under pressure while working with understudies. It’s about combining for big plays with receivers who, like him, have played little in the regular season. He’ll have to make it happen behind a reshuffled offensive line.

Second-year wideout Terrence Austin and rookie Niles Paul may be faster than Moss at this late stage of his career. Perhaps they’re more athletic. Moss, though, is dependable. For many years, Redskins quarterbacks have relied on Moss being where he’s supposed to be on routes.

Beck would benefit greatly from having Moss in the lineup as he tries to establish himself, and he knows it, but “we believe in the guys that we have,” he said. “We feel we can play very good football. That’s our plan.”

That’s Beck doing the leadership thing. He’s trying to instill confidence in the Redskins’ young receivers. It’s smart.

Beck shouldered responsibility for an interception he threw late in the fourth quarter at Carolina, but it was obvious that rookie wideout Leonard Hankerson — playing his first play all season — made a mistake on the route. After Hankerson was blasted on Twitter and sports-talk radio, Beck requested to speak with reporters, emphasizing the turnover was on him.

From a team-building standpoint, Beck made a good move, albeit a see-through one. It played well in the locker room.

“Nobody thinks he’s a world-beater,” special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said. “But as long as he can go out there, manage the game, not create any turnovers, which has kind of been our downfall, he’ll be just fine. . . . He’s capable.”

The Redskins are hoping to determine just how much Beck can do. The next two months will tell them a lot. Beck has much to overcome — and potentially much to gain if he can.

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