It has been 3½ months since Mike Shanahan emerged from the Washington Redskins' draft war room and said of John Beck: "I think the world of him." That sentence was enough to shift the NFL hype machine into overdrive, and when that happens during a lockout, a few weeks seem like an eternity.
After the Redskins decided not to draft a quarterback in late April, we heard from Beck, Rex Grossman, coaches, players, analysts — just about everyone except Beck's high school librarian, really — on whether this forgotten collegiate star can blossom into a productive player at age 30. On Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, we'll finally get the main component missing from the debate: hard evidence.
Beck is scheduled to start against the Colts and play about two quarters. It's his first start in any type of game since his forgettable rookie season with Miami in 2007.
For Beck, it's the most important step to date in his quest to salvage his NFL career. For those who have soaked up Beck-mania since April, it should provide something concrete on which start basing conclusions.
"We all should be curious," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "We haven't seen him. We're definitely confident in what he does out here because we know he's a capable, good quarterback, but it doesn't matter until the game."
Beck takes center stage a week after watching Grossman complete 19 of 26 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown in one half against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Beck's strained groin delayed the in-game portion of their quarterback competition until this week.
"I'm just excited to play because I missed an opportunity," Beck said.
Those around Beck expect success. He laid the groundwork in the spring by helping to organize players-only practices during the lockout. He flew to Northern Virginia from his offseason home in San Diego several times to throw to receivers and foster chemistry.
He had to make up for lost time somehow. The Redskins acquired him in a trade last August, so he barely had time to learn the offense before spending the regular season on the scout team.
His recent groin injury kept him out of team drills for a week and stunted his rhythm on the field when he returned. But he has been a dedicated student of the offense since joining the Redskins. Every missed throw — and there were more than a few during training camp this summer — was a learning opportunity.
"Sometimes it's getting on the same page," Beck said. "Sometimes it's, 'OK, now I know that that's what he's going to do.' Or, 'OK, now I know I can throw this ball here.' And sometimes you just force a ball. Part of that is the learning process."
Beck and Grossman played similarly during training camp, which is to say inconsistently. Both know the offense better than quarterback Donovan McNabb did last year, some players and coaches said. The execution, however, hasn't always been precise.
Both passers have mixed moments of brilliance with overthrows or interceptions. Grossman, however, was effective in last week's game. His timing was evident in how fluidly he dropped back and got rid of the ball. Although he got the Redskins into the end zone only once on five drives, Beck has a considerable standard to match.
"Rex did play well, but that doesn't change anything with John," Kyle Shanahan said. "I think it's human nature to feel that, but it has nothing to do with John's play. He's got to go out there and ignore that and just worry about himself and play the best he can."
There are a couple of indicators worth watching in addition to the timing of throws. Beck is more mobile than Grossman, so watch how he uses his legs to extend the play when pressured. Also, in an offense that includes rollouts and misdirection, Beck's athleticism should be an advantage.
Most importantly, if Beck finishes his drives with touchdowns, he's doing the right things.
"I want him to relax and just have fun with it," receiver Santana Moss said. "This offense is a fun offense, and when you know it and when you get going and making plays with it, we all should be able to have fun.
"I'm looking forward to him going out and playing it like we're in practice. Just enjoy it and hit the open guy, and we should have a good time."
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