Welcome to notes, quotes and observations from John Beck Day at Redskins Park. Seat belts on…
First, let’s get the injury updates out of the way.
FS Oshiomogho Atogwe (knee) and LT Trent Williams (right ankle) did not practice. Williams is expected to miss Sunday’s game against Carolina. Coach Mike Shanahan didn’t mention Atogwe’s injury to reporters. We found out when the injury report was released after Shanahan’s daily news conference.
CB Byron Westbrook (hamstring) was limited. That injury was previously undisclosed, too.
WR Anthony Armstrong (hamstring), RB Tim Hightower (left shoulder) and CB Phillip Buchanon (neck) fully participated in practice.
TE Chris Cooley had surgery on his broken left index finger Wednesday. He is scheduled to meet with orthopedist Dr. James Andrews after Sunday’s game about his ailing left knee. After that meeting and after the team reviews the details of Cooley’s hand surgery, a timetable for his return will be established, Shanahan said.
OK, on to the main event. Coach Mike Shanahan seemed in an upbeat mood, excited even, when he met with reporters to explain his decision to promote QB John Beck over Rex Grossman. He spoke openly about a variety of topics, including the Redskins’ ongoing search for a franchise quarterback, the “mistake” (his word) of trading for QB Donovan McNabb last year and the unrelenting truth that turnovers cost quarterbacks their jobs. On a day that marked Grossman’s failure, Shanahan had already moved on.
Does that mean that Shanahan wanted Beck to win the job in camp but ultimately couldn’t give it to him because Beck played his way out it? Hard to say. But Shanahan definitely is eager to see what he has in Beck.
“It’s not like [franchise quarterbacks] fall out of trees, so you have to take a look and see what guy fits your system,” Shanahan said. “I like what I see.”
Beck’s mobility factored significantly in Shanahan’s decision, especially considering the offensive line will consist of three second-stringers for the foreseeable future.
“He’s a 4.7 guy, he can make plays with his feet, and he has a good command of the offense right now,” Shanahan said.
“Two times in that [touchdown] drive [Sunday] he was able to show his speed, get out. One time he made a run. Another time he stepped up in the pocket got away from the rush and made a couple plays.”
Beck’s mobility will be a helpful addition to a slumping offense that’s averaging 2.7 turnovers and only 15.3 points over the last three games. Beck’s mobility will allow Mike and Kyle Shanahan to use the whole playbook and operate at full capacity. Keepers and bootlegs were too infrequent with Grossman under center. Beck will stretch defenses sideline to sideline, attacking from different points behind the line of scrimmage, in addition to salvaging some broken down plays.
“John has got some certain talents that we’re going to utilize,” Shanahan said. “I’m not going to go through our game plan, but he can do some things that were evident in that [Eagles] game. When you scramble, you can make some plays that some guys can’t make. That time he got to the outside and got the first down on the first drive, I thought that was pretty impressive.”
In addition to his mobility, Beck also swayed Shanahan by how he generally moved the offense in relief of Grossman against the Eagles. Decision making and execution were key elements.
“It was a situation where he had to go get it done in the fourth quarter,” Shanahan said. “We had nine first downs in the fourth quarter. That’s pretty impressive for a guy just coming off the bench.”
Shanahan offered a glimpse of how his mind works in these situations by rehashing his decision to replace Jake Plummer with Jay Cutler in November 2006 despite Denver’s 7-4 record.
“If you’re in this league long enough, you make a lot of decisions,” Shanahan said. “The toughest one I ever made was the one with Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler. It was tough. Jake won 72, 73 percent of his games. He lost the championship game to Pittsburgh [in 2005]. I thought that was as good as we could play with Jake Plummer. I thought Jay Cutler was a guy for the future. I believed he had a chance to take us to the next level, and the next year  we were [third] in offense in the National Football League with a young team.
The move was bold. Denver ended up missing the playoffs with a 9-7 record that season. In other words, Shanahan is not afraid to take risks. Perhaps when you have two Super Bowl championships on your resume, you’re able to risk failing in ways that less-accomplished coaches can’t afford to. For more evidence of Shanahan’s aggressive approach, look at last year’s trade for Donovan McNabb.
“We don’t mind going to bat, taking a shot at a guy that was very talented,” Shanahan said. “I watched Donovan through the years. One of the things I thought really made Donovan was his great arm strength, his ability to make plays running the football. We brought him in here to see if it would work out. It didn’t work out.
“But there’s nothing wrong with admitting you made a mistake or that guy is not the future of your organization. The mistakes I think you make is when you try to justify something that you did and you don’t believe it’s going to work out.
“Are we going to make mistakes? Sure we are. But with those mistakes obviously we’ll go through the little things so we can eliminate them, but we will make them from time to time.”
Let’s flash back to July 29. Shanahan uttered the words that, to this point, define this season.
“I believe in the…guys,” he said about Grossman and Beck. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’m putting my reputation on these guys that they can play.”
Does Grossman’s benching mean we’re halfway there? I say it doesn’t matter.
I remember wondering that day why Shanahan would make such an unnecessary statement. There was no need to drum up that sort of accountability on his own. There are plenty of other ways to express confidence in players.
But ultimately I believe Shanahan’s words are hollow. There is no real accountability there. If Grossman and Beck flop, they aren’t going to take away Shanahan’s two Super Bowl rings. Now, if he had said he’d exclude himself from any Hall of Fame consideration if the two quarterbacks failed, that would have been different. Those are true consequences. But there’s only one person that can hold Shanahan accountable for the Redskins’ ongoing quarterback search, and that’s the owner.
If Beck flops, the Redskins likely will select a quarterback early in next year’s draft. Even if Beck doesn’t, it’s a strong possibility. For me, the development of that prospect will be Shanahan’s legacy in Washington.
The McNabb failure is in place right now, but in Shanahan’s mind he recouped the loss of the second- and fourth-round picks by trading back in April’s first round and by trading Jason Campbell to the Raiders.
More than anything, I think the events of the last four days simply reinforce the fact that the building project at Redskins Park is still very much a work in progress. Shanahan spent last offseason addressing the deficiencies on defense, and those moves have been overwhelmingly successful on the whole. The offense, though, still needs a quarterback and other playmakers. Shanahan knows this. Those will be added next offseason. Until then, we see what John Beck has to offer.
As a parting gift, some other links from a busy day:
For Thursday’s paper, I discuss the Redskins’ prospects for minimizing turnovers with Beck under center.
Carla Peay looks at Wednesday’s decision through Rex Grossman’s eyes. He seemed dejected and defeated, as you’d expect, when he met with reporters in the morning.
Dan Daly’s column analyzes the Redskins’ endless search for a quarterback.
I discussed the quarterback decision on ESPN980 with my guys Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro. Listen to the segment: here.