- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2011

It’s OK if you’ve cracked a joke or two about the blockbuster John Beck-Rex Grossman quarterback competition over the past four months. You can admit it. You’re not alone.

And if you’ve recently changed your mind about whether either Beck or Grossman might at least be competent - gasp! - under center for the Washington Redskins this season, well, you’re not alone there, either.

“Any concerns should be quieted. I think the regular season will determine if they could be silenced,” said Ron Jaworski, a former Pro Bowl quarterback who’s now an analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast. Before he called Thursday’s game against Baltimore, he watched film of the Redskins’ first two preseason games.

“I think if you put the body of work of both quarterbacks together, you get a very efficient job,” he said. “I think that’s what [coach] Mike Shanahan is looking for.”

Beck and Grossman have showed fairly well in their playing time with the Redskins’ first-string offense this preseason. Each has engineered scoring drives and has been accurate when afforded space and time to throw. Each has exploited auspicious matchups and coverages, and each has misfired on a few passes that should have been completed.

Neither has proved to be the second coming of John Elway, but some of the skepticism about Shanahan’s faith in the two quarterbacks has justifiably waned.

“After getting in here, they’re both competitors,” said receiver Jabar Gaffney, who arrived in late July via trade. “You’d feel comfortable with either one of them right now. They both want to win. They both can take leadership. They’re both proven, and it’s making it a hard choice for the coaches.”

Not that Beck or Grossman care about how they’re perceived outside Redskins Park. They insist they don’t pay attention to what fans or media believe about their capability of succeeding in this offense.

“Mom and Dad live out in Arizona, so they’re not cutting out the [newspaper] pages anymore like they were in high school,” Beck said. “I really try to separate myself.”

The reviews at this point, though, are rather positive.

Perhaps that’s because widespread expectations were low for a quarterback who hasn’t played a regular-season game since 2007. But Beck also earned kudos by completing 14 of 17 passes against Indianapolis’ first string and leading a 97-yard touchdown drive against Baltimore’s second string.

He has showed speed and mobility on bootlegs and keepers, and he is 7-of-8 passing on third downs this preseason.

“In regards to Beck, I will admit I was pleasantly surprised,” Jaworski said. “I hadn’t seen John in a couple years in a game - in fact no one has - but I was down on the field pregame and was watching the guys warm up. I thought John had really improved his arm strength.

“I knew he had spent a lot of time with [Super Bowl champion quarterbacks] Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. When Rodgers came out [of college], he did not have the arm strength he has now. … You could see the epiphany over a few years. I’m not going to put Beck in that same category, but I’m seeing the similarities.”

Jon Gruden, a former Super Bowl champion coach who calls games on ESPN with Jaworski, praised Beck’s athleticism and accuracy on the air during Thursday’s broadcast.

“You see the athleticism,” Gruden said. “You don’t know what happened to John Beck in the last three years, but you do know he acquired knowledge, and he may have gotten a lot stronger. But watch the athleticism, to throw the ball from an awkward delivery and accurate.”

Beck was aware that Gruden said he would be the starter if Gruden were the Redskins’ coach.

“It means a lot because I know he’s someone I respect as a coach,” Beck said. “It’s nice to know that there’s people that would believe because for years I was behind the scenes just doing my work so that there would be a day that someone would believe the way I felt.”

Grossman has earned his share of praise, too. The feedback about Beck might be more interesting because he was such an unknown quantity entering training camp, but Grossman still is trying to overcome the perception that he is not a frontline NFL starter.

He believes he can exceed expectations because his familiarity with the offense is helping him play better than he did in three starts at the end of last season.

Take his touchdown pass to Santana Moss at the end of the first half Thursday. The Redskins ran a similar play in last season’s finale against New York, but Grossman was hit and fumbled because he was unsure of whom to target. He hitched twice and was too slow getting rid of the ball.

“I’m playing faster, making faster decisions, getting the ball out of my hands and making the right decisions,” Grossman said.

That was apparent to Jaworski, too.

“Rex, I saw him late last year,” he said. “I thought there were times when he looked tremendous and there were times where there were the head-scratchers again. But I think he has a very good grasp of the offense. He ran that two-minute drill the other night to perfection. You could see he just knows what he’s doing.”

• Rich Campbell can be reached at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com.

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