The Washington Times - September 2, 2011, 02:26AM

Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 29-24 victory in the preseason finale:

QB John Beck didn’t play like a starter should against a second-string Tampa defense. He was off, and he said as much after the game. It harkened back to what we saw in training camp—inconsistency. Beck was up and down, sometimes from throw to throw.

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One example: on the Redskins’ second series, Beck eluded a blitzer up the middle, reset and completed a 19-yard strike to WR Niles Paul. Great play for a first down.

Three plays later on third-and-6 from the Tampa 47, Beck had WR Terrence Austin open to the right sideline on a quick out. Beck thought he could put the ball in Austin’s chest instead of throwing it out in front of Austin. The defensive back undercut the route and broke it up. That was a mistake that stuck with Beck after the game.

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In this time of reading between the lines and searching for clues, it’s noteworthy that coach Mike Shanahan wasn’t critical of Beck, who played with the first-string line but with reserves at the skill positions.

“It’s a little tough to go out there today, with a lot of people playing a lot of different positions,” Shanahan said. “What I mean by that is any time you don’t go with your first unit and you’re trying to separate people: wide receivers, running backs, offensive linemen, some times it gets a little ugly.”

Is Shanahan making an excuse for Beck? I’ll let you decide. But Beck was much harder on himself.

“Obviously [I] would have liked for it to go a little bit better,” Beck said. “There were definitely some throws out there that I usually don’t miss on, and I was just a little off.”

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It’s probably fair to say QB Rex Grossman outplayed John Beck this preseason. But is that all that matters? I say no. There’s a projection involved with Beck that there isn’t with Grossman because of Beck’s comparative inexperience.

If they’re close, which I believe they are, Shanahan could choose to start Beck because of what he believes Beck will become by Week 4, by Week 8, by Week 12 and so on.

And while we’re talking about projections and production curves, keep in mind that whoever starts this season and plays the best likely will start next season, too. Even if the Redskins draft a quarterback in the first round next April, they’re not going to start the rookie right away. They’ll need the 2011 starter to hold the position down while the rookie gets ready. So you have to keep the big picture in mind, and that benefits Beck.

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I get the sense from talking to players that they’re generally comfortable with whoever Shanahan chooses. Because neither has separated from the other, and because the offense had three good showings in the preseason, players for the most part share Shanahan’s belief that they can succeed with either quarterback.

That said, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the team reacts when a decision finally comes down. Guys can say the right things now, but if Shanahan chooses Beck with a longer-term approach and his upside in mind, could players react negatively because they believe Grossman gives them a better chance to win right now? We’ll see.

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Against Tampa Bay we saw how valuable the running game is to the flow and rhythm of the offense. In the first three preseason games, RB Tim Hightower and the offensive line kept defenses on their heels with cutback runs that picked up big chunks of yardage. That opened up play-action, and things clicked from there.

The Buccaneers’ second-string, however, beat up the Redskins’ starting offensive line. The Bucs dictated the game up front, and it forced QB John Beck to have to make plays. Washington needed six or more yards on three of its five third downs in the first half, excluding the drive that started at Tampa’s 3.

It just hammers home the point that the Redskins are going to try to be a run-first team, and the passing game will have difficulty thriving if the running game isn’t working.

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Can’t let the first-string offensive line get off that easily. They lost the war against Tampa’s second string. Um…that’s not a good sign. The culprits were numerous. Pick a play, and it could be a different lineman. I noted RG Chris Chester, C Will Montgomery and RT Jammal Brown were pushed back in the run game. LG Kory Lichtensteiger gave up pressures on the quarterback. I think he was involved in the pressure up the middle that contributed to Beck’s interception. TE Logan Paulsen wasn’t always stout against the run, and on the edge that alters the running back’s ability to set up his cutback.

The line has to be consistent for the Redskins’ offense to be successful. It depends on that way more than quarterback play.

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Not only do Mike Shanahan and special teams coach Danny Smith love PR/KR Brandon Banks’ explosiveness in the return game, they realize it’s a rare quality. You don’t cut players who can score a touchdown any time they touch the ball. Not many exist. And considering the Redskins’ dearth of playmakers, I can’t see any outcome other than Bank on the 53-man roster.

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RB Ryan Torain reminded us he’s a powerful downhill runner who can withstand contact. He looked a bit out of sorts early but eventually found the flow in the outside zone. His 73 yards and 4.3-yard average should be all Mike Shanahan needed to see.

On the other hand, rookie RB Evan Royster’s fumble on the first series might have been the nail in his coffin. He doesn’t have the burst of Roy Helu, the power of Torain or the all-around skills of RB Tim Hightower. For me, he’s a practice squad candidate.

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I don’t think OLB Rob Jackson was in danger entering tonight’s game, but he abused Tampa Bay’s reserve left tackle. Jackson was way too fast around the edge, and he outplayed the guy with his hands.

Jackson also made a play in pass coverage, too. That’s a question mark with him. He seems to be a solid reserve.

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I’m not sure what to make of seventh-round rookie CB Brandyn Thompson. He played well against Indianapolis and Baltimore, and broke three passes up against Tampa. He can run with receivers in man-to-man, and he appears to have pretty good instincts when the ball is in the air. But he was beaten on the two-point conversion when he didn’t press the receiver in a tight space.

I’m not saying that the two-point play would cost Thompson a job. It’s more of a numbers thing. Thompson, I suppose, could hold down the fifth cornerback spot until Phillip Buchanon comes off the suspended list.

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While we’re in the secondary, safety DeJon Gomes flashed again around the line of scrimmage. He had a tackle for a loss and batted down a pass. The Redskins are backlogged at strong safety, though with LaRon Landry and Reed Doughty. Maybe Gomes makes it because of Landry’s uncertain health. He also lined up in the slot a few times tonight, which bodes well for him. Safeties have to be able to play the slot in multi-receiver sets, and Gomes, a former cornerback, can do that.

…what are you thinking about the quarterback competition, the final roster or anything else? Let me know by leaving a comment, sending me an email at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com or hitting me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.