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Heaven Can Wait

As this 2011 version of our Washington Redskins, the 'Under the Hill Gang’, prepare to wage NFL warfare, one question among countless resounds.

Who the hell IS John Beck?

In the vernacular of late 70’s movies, I’m worried John Beck is more Leo Farnsworth than Joe Pendleton.

Although Beck, selected in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft by Miami, is no NFL neophyte, he might as well be. Beyond a 50 mile radius from Ashburn, Virginia, he’s got about as much name recognition as new Redskins punter Sav Rocca.

Mike Shanahan can’t stop gushing about Farnsworth…errr….Beck. He has 'all the confidence in the world in him’. Shanahan simultaneously expresses the same sentiments for Rex Grossman, perhaps an indication he’s hedging his bets should Beck prove to be more fool’s gold than hidden gem. Everyone knows who Rex Grossman is. Erstwhile head-case from Chicago. Chock full of potential, low on consistency, capable of streaky effectiveness and mind-numbingly bad decisions, sometimes in the same game. Perhaps an older, more mature Grossman is ready to turn the performance corner. There were hints of such possibility during his 4 game stretch as starter to close the 2010 campaign. Regardless – Redskins fans know what they’ve currently got in Grossman. But Beck is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

60. That’s the number of NFL game passes John Beck has completed. 1. That’s the number of NFL touchdown passes Beck has thrown. 0. That’s the number of NFL game victories Beck has notched on his belt in his sum total 4 NFL starts. John Beck may be Tom Brady before he was Tom Brady. And Ben Chappel may be the next Peyton Manning. The cases for each are about equally compelling.

Maybe Beck’s career at BYU might give us some clues as what to expect? Beck took over at QB for the Cougars as a freshman in 2003, starting 4 games, and never looked back. Beck’s career BYU stats are solid. In 3+ years, he threw for over 11,000 yards, completing 62.4% of his passes with 79 touchdowns and only 34 interceptions. With Beck under center, the Cougars improved from 5-6 and 3rd in the Mountain West Conference his sophomore year, to 11-2 and the conference title in his final season. By his senior year, some analysts had Beck the 2nd-rated QB in the nation, mostly on the strength of his 173 QB rating.

Beck’s pre-draft NFL scouting report in 2007 summarized the soon-to-be 2nd rounder as follows:

’ Very intelligent player who has no problem executing a complicated game plan ... Student of the game who breaks down opposing film and does a good job of making adjustments on the field ... Plays through pain and shows very good poise in the pocket and confidence in his protection, as it is rare to see him bolt too early, as he will stand tall and take some shots under pressure ... Has good throwing mechanics and sets his feet with agility and solid base ... Even with just average timed speed, his feet appear light when forced to move out of the pocket ... In 2006, he received much better pocket protection, allowing him to take his time making reads to locate secondary targets ... Displays awareness to anticipate when the receiver is coming out of the breaks ... With his three-quarters delivery and natural hands, Beck is very effective at getting the ball out quickly ... Shows very good arm whip to get the ball out in time to hit the receivers coming out of their breaks ... In the short-to-intermediate area, Beck's tosses show good zip and velocity.’

Despite that fairly glowing appraisal, most NFL scouts had concerns about Beck’s less than prototypical size (6’2”, 215 lbs or so) and borderline arm strength. Whether Beck’s NFL success will be limited by either of those two perceived weaknesses remains to be seen. If there’s one guy who believes in John Beck, it’s John Beck. Asked about his arm strength after being drafted by the Dolphins, Beck responded ’You can call up my receivers at BYU and ask them about my arm strength.’ Beck insisted that he could "gun it in there" at will but that he was taught if you don't have to gun it, then don't – the ball being easier to catch and more accurate if you don't throw rockets when you don't have to. Beck’s got one intangible common to all successful NFL QBs. Confidence.

Beck never had a chance in Miami. Thrown into action (along with fellow NFL footnote Cleo Lemon) after Trent Green went down with a season-ending injury in 2007, Beck was hapless and ineffective, as you’d reasonably expect an NFL rookie thrust into action to be. After serving as 3rd stringer the following year, he was released at season’s end, and picked up by the Ravens to ride the pine for a year before finally landing in DC.

As John Beck takes his first snaps under center as presumed Redskin starter, questions will continue. Skins fans won’t have to wait long for answers. It’s hard to know if Mike Shanahan just wants a smart, coachable placeholder in place until he finds his eventual quarterbacking dreamboat, or whether he really believes mystery date Beck is a diamond in the rough, an NFL starter who just hasn’t been in the right situation to succeed and shine.

Shanahan loves Beck. And who can blame him? After a year contending with a pouty, selfish, and resistant-to-coaching Donovan McNabb, Shanahan’s got to be absolutely giddy at the prospect of grooming a QB who’ll listen, has some fire in his belly, and can stick to the positive, upbeat script. Beck isn’t just figuratively a boy scout, he’s literally an Eagle scout. But can he play?

We just don’t know.

What happens if, as I predict, Grossman clearly outperforms the kid in training camp and pre-season? Does Shanahan stick to his guns and hand over the starting reigns to Beck anyway? What happens if the Redskins start 0-6 with Beck leading the way? With arguably only two sure-fire 'should win’ games on the schedule (vs. Arizona and at Carolina), and a completely overhauled and largely inexperienced roster, that kind of start is a distinct possibility. What kind of leash would starting QB John Beck be on?

I suspect a short one.

I hope I’m wrong. Shanahan could be right about John Beck. Stranger things have happened. But even if Mike Shanahan really is smarter than all of his NFL coaching counterparts, and has found in Beck something real and promising that can be nurtured and grown, it’s going to take time and probably some pain to evolve. For almost 20 years, the Redskins have alternated between trying to draft a franchise QB and trading for one. Neither approach has worked. Maybe going 'homegrown’ will have better results. If Mike Shanahan believes John Beck is a future NFL starting QB in the making, let’s hope he has the courage of his convictions, and the stomach to endure what it’ll take to get him there.

It’s possible Farnsworth….errrr….Beck, previously lying unresponsive and forgotten might just pop-up off that NFL turf and rise reincarnated as a talented, capable NFL starting QB. How beautiful and sweet might it be if the Redskins actually had their future answer at QB already on the roster? It’s not likely. But that’s the kind of story that makes Hollywood, and the NFL, so captivating.

Redskins fans seem to have embraced a new paradigm this year. It’s called 'realism’. We know this team, now one of the youngest in the NFL, has growing pains and an uphill battle ahead. Success won’t come overnight for Beck or his teammates. Some really awful clarinet music may be in our immediate future. And we’re down with that.

Heaven can wait.
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