For John Beck to succeed as the Washington Redskins' new starting quarterback, he must be wary of why the job became available to him in the first place. And soon after his promotion was publicized Wednesday, it became clear he already has conquered that important first step.
"Now," he said, "it's on my shoulders to take care of the football."
That was part of coach Mike Shanahan's directive when he informed Beck on Tuesday of his decision to bench Rex Grossman. Four interceptions in Sunday's loss to Philadelphia brought Grossman's season total to nine, most in the league.
"If you keep on making those mistakes, you lose your job," Shanahan said.
Grossman did, so Shanahan hit the reset button on the Redskins' quarterback competition after only five games. A 3-2 record was not enough for Grossman to keep the job he won last month after battling Beck through training camp and the preseason.
Instead, Shanahan appointed Beck to jumpstart an offense that has averaged 2.7 turnovers and only 15.3 points in the past three games. Ball security is paramount, and Beck has to navigate the risks involved in attacking opposing defenses better than Grossman did.
"That's the tricky part of the quarterback position," Beck, 30, said. "There's a lot of plays that happen in the NFL where quarterbacks take chances. Sometimes it works for you, sometimes it doesn't. Because the windows are so small in this league, you have to be aggressive. I'm just going to go out there and try to do the very best that I can."
The Redskins' recent turnover problems, however, extend beyond the quarterback position. Inside the locker room at Redskins Park, some players interpreted Grossman's benching as an indictment of the entire offense.
Grossman's third interception against Philadelphia, for example, occurred when tight end Fred Davis did not continue his route in front of the charging safety. Against St. Louis, receiver Santana Moss dropped a pass that was intercepted.
"If some of those guys make plays, that stuff doesn't happen," running back Tim Hightower said. "So we've got to take more pride, myself included, in stepping up and making plays. Guys who are so-called playmakers on this offense got to make plays and got to help make this transition for Beck a lot easier."
Protecting the ball, though, ultimately is Beck's responsibility. And in the preseason, the only game situations in which Shanahan could evaluate Beck before Sunday's fourth quarter, Beck was as inconsistent as Grossman has been. He threw two interceptions in three games, one of which was an ill-advised throw into the end zone in the preseason finale.
Since losing the job Sept. 5, Beck has practiced almost exclusively with the scout team. He believes his improvement over the past six weeks will be noticeable.
"I've been able to learn the offense a little bit more," he said. "Now when I watched Rex at practice and in the games, my knowledge is greater. I kind of look at things with a different eye."
Shanahan recently has seen that evolution on the practice field, too, and he praised Beck for gaining nine first downs in two fourth-quarter drives against Philadelphia.
"He took us down the field, 75-yard drive for a touchdown, impressed with that," Shanahan said. "[We] put a lot of pressure on him in that situation. I like the way he's been practicing the last few weeks. I think he deserves the opportunity for us to see what he can do."
It's one for which Beck has waited four years. He last started a regular-season game as a rookie with the Miami Dolphins in 2007.
How long he keeps the job depends on the quality of his play, Shanahan said. The coach believes Beck potentially could be the Redskins' quarterback of the future, but he must protect the ball.
There's only one way to find out if he can.
"It's not like they 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."
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