- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Maybe I shouldn’t write this column. Maybe Mike Shanahan was just blowing huge, billowing clouds of smoke when he suggested during the draft that John Beck might figure in the Washington Redskins‘ quarterback picture next season. But since the QB is at least as important to a football team as, say, the long snapper, why don’t we take a closer look at Mr. Beck?

As you may have noticed, the Redskins are in a bit of a bind at the position, especially with the lockout messing up their offseason plans. They passed on a quarterback in the draft, even though seven passers went in the first 74 picks, and that gamble has left them — for the time being, anyway — with holdovers Beck and Donovan McNabb (who almost certainly will be traded or released), plus unsigned Rex Grossman.

Naturally, Shanahan didn’t say anything definitive when asked about Beck’s future with the club. He just issued some generic praise, said he was high on Beck when he came out of BYU and likes his mobility and “first to work, last to leave” work ethic. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in John Beck,” he said. “He has not disappointed me since he’s been here.”

But does Shanahan have enough confidence in Beck to hand him the starting job long-term? Or is he just trying to pump the guy up because, depending on how this labor thing turns out, he might be forced to play him?

Let’s face it, we don’t really know what kind of quarterback Beck can be, because he hasn’t had much opportunity to show us. What we do know is that he started four games for a 1-15 Dolphins team as a rookie in 2007, threw for one touchdown in 107 attempts — on what turns out to have been his last regular-season pass — and has spent the past three years in deep freeze as the emergency QB for the Ravens and Redskins.

None of that, of course, is particularly comforting. The Dolphins and Ravens, after all, are run by good football men. Bill Parcells was calling the shots in Miami when Beck was released, and Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh made the decision in Baltimore to trade him — for the low, low price of cornerback Doug Dutch (now back in Washington). How could a quarterback who was so wrong for those clubs be so right for the Redskins?

Then there’s the matter of Beck’s age. He was 25 as a college senior (after going on a mission to Portugal), which might explain why Shanny ranked him at the top of the ‘07 quarterback class. Beck was simply further along in his development, more mature, than most QBs coming into the league. (The same was true, several years earlier, of Chris Weinke. How did he turn out?)

Beck’s late start in the NFL means that, after three seasons of inactivity (following his brief trial as a rookie), he’ll be 30 by September. Let me repeat that: He’ll be 30, and he’ll have negligible game experience in the pros. Has a quarterback ever waited until he was 30 for his big break — hardly played at all in his 20s — and gone on to have a noteworthy career?

Sorry, but I can’t find one. And believe me, I’ve looked.

There have been plenty of late-blooming quarterbacks, don’t get me wrong. Heck, there are plenty of late-blooming quarterbacks who’ve played in Washington. Joe Theismann didn’t start his first game here until he was 27. Trent Green held a clipboard until he was 28. Brad Johnson was the same age when he finally took over the offense in Minnesota. But 27 and 28 aren’t 30.

People talk about Rich Gannon blossoming late (in his mid-30s with Oakland); but Gannon, they tend to forget, threw his first NFL pass at 21 and started for the Vikings from 24 to 26. His career arc was nothing like Beck‘s.

The closest — and most hopeful — parallel to Beck might be Jeff Garcia, who broke in with San Francisco at 29 and went to three Pro Bowls. The difference is that Garcia had spent the previous four seasons tearing up the CFL, not running the scout team like Beck has been doing. Granted, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Cassel and Matt Schaub sat around for three years before being handed the keys to the car, but they weren’t 30 when it happened. (In fact, none was older than 26.)

If Beck, at his advanced age — and with his thin resume — becomes a winning NFL quarterback, it would be pretty much unprecedented. He’d be more than a late bloomer; he’d be like a “sleeper” in a spy novel.

Which isn’t to say he can’t do it. I, personally, would love to write that story. But can John Beck really be Plan A for the Redskins at quarterback? Honestly? Or is this just one of those cases where there’s smoke, but no fire?