The Washington Times - August 20, 2011, 01:28AM

Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins beat the Indianapolis Colts, 16-3, in the second preseason game.

QB John Beck was thrilled with how his night went. He was ecstatic just to get back into a game situation, and he knows he established a foundation for bigger things.

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His optimism is justified. Some of his throws were superb: The 19-yarder to WR Jabar Gaffney down to the Colts’ 1-yard line; the slant to WR Terrence Austin on third down in the second quarter. Those passes were in-rhythm and accurate.

From our vantage point at the highest level of Lucas Oil Stadium, Beck appeared to take advantage of auspicious matchups and coverages. On third-and-8 in the first quarter, he recognized man-to-man coverage against WR Anthony Armstrong, who was isolated wide right. Hitting Armstrong on time for a first down looked easy.

Beck’s mobility clearly gives him an advantage over Rex Grossman. He can get outside the pocket in a way that Grossman can’t. Defenses will have to respect his ability to run on those rollouts and bootlegs.

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Now, the negatives. Beck appeared to hold the ball too long at times. He’ll have to get better at anticipating receivers getting open. It’s fair to expect that to come as he builds game experience. I wonder if he relied on his mobility a bit too much in those situations. He’s not always going to be able to extend plays with his legs.

There appeared to be plays on which Beck didn’t throw to open receivers down field. We had a pretty good view of the entire field from the top level of the stadium, but we don’t always know what Beck is supposed to be looking for on a play.

I asked Beck about the first-and-10 play from Indy’s 18 in the second quarter. He rolled right, and instead of throwing to TE Fred Davis, who looked to be open for a potential touchdown, he ran for 6 yards. Beck can exploit open space by tucking and running on those rollouts, but he might have left points on the board there. Beck didn’t recall the play in the locker room, so it’s worth re-visiting after he watches the film.

Beck was salty about his low throw to WR Terrence Austin on third-and-4 from the 12. He said the offense got to the line of scrimmage late, and he rushed.

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I know a lot of you saw this tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter during the third quarter. It read: “Washington’s John Beck looked and played like a QB who wrapped up a starting job tonight.”

Schefter’s close connection to coach Mike Shanahan is well documented, and the tweet has to be interpreted in that context.

The tweet was brought up to Beck after the game, and he brushed it off. He’s wary of what a talented Baltimore Ravens defense could do to his stock next week. He’s not taking anything for granted, at least.

I initially disagreed with Schefter’s statement. Beck wasn’t close to perfect, nor did he play that much better than Rex Grossman did last week.

But as I thought about it more, Schefter’s point became clear: The job is Beck’s to lose, and he showed tonight that he’s good enough not to lose it over the final two preseason games. I’ll buy that.

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What a spark the running game is. There were gaping holes on RB Tim Hightower’s 58-yarder. Linemen consistently got to the second level. Receivers were involved blocking, as well. Beck raved after the game about how the successful runs open up the play-action. I’m looking forward to watching the TV broadcast on Saturday to get a clearer idea of who played well up front.

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RB Roy Helu is consistently making defenders miss. He said that comes from a mix of athleticism and reflexes.

“The big thing is practice,” he said. “I try to practice those things in the open field. When I got in the open field, I didn’t go for a touchdown, and that’s something I’m going to work on because there’s a part where you absolutely have it, and there’s a part where endurance comes in and that’s what I need to build.”

Helu is looking like a very solid backup. I’m not buying that Ryan Torain’s roster spot is in jeopardy at this point. You can never have too many good running backs.

Oh, and Helu’s review of his pass protection Friday: “I need to attack more, and I’ve got to be fit, and that will help me in my reads and staying focused.”

I suspect we’ll see Helu doing extra conditioning work after practice this week.

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It’s tough to draw conclusions about the Redskins’ first-string defense holding a Manning-less Colts’ offense to 41 yards in the first half. As NT Barry Cofield put it: “The Colts without Peyton Manning is like a car without a steering wheel. You don’t get excited about stopping the Colts without Peyton Manning.”

The biggest takeaway from Friday, though, is how the defensive line collapsed the pocket. That disrupted QB Curtis Painter in ways unseen last season.

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OLB Ryan Kerrigan looked more comfortable tonight. He played faster because he ascended the learning curve during practice last week.

“I was more sure of myself this week,” he said. “I knew my assignments better, and I was able to see things before they happened. That’s what really helped me tonight.”

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WR Terrence Austin is making it very hard on coaches to cut him. Wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell raved last week about Austin’s consistency as a receiver, and we saw why Friday. Austin gets open because he’s fast and his quick-twitch movements are explosive. His consistency gives him a major advantage over a rookie like WR Leonard Hankerson, who dropped another pass. I’m not saying the Redskins would keep Austin over Hankerson, but there’s a lot to like.

Austin made potential tacklers miss on his 29-yard punt return, but he doesn’t have the speed to the edge like Brandon Banks does.

The receiver competition has quickly become the Redskins’ most intriguing position battle.

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I’d like to see K Graham Gano attempt some longer field goals. There’s no suspense with his kicks shorter than 30 yards.

I felt happy for him after the game. He showed off a cell phone picture of his 2-day-old son, Bryson, wearing a Redskins outfit. He couldn’t wait to get home after another 3-for-3 night at the office.

Gano was reminded that he has an extra mouth to feed now.

“Yeah, I know, right? I’ve got to keep making the kicks,” he said.

…that’s all for now. I’ll have a much more detailed review after I re-watch the game. Until then, let me know your thoughts. Leave a comment, shoot me an email at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.