- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

John Beck seemed reluctant to answer the question at first, then changed his mind with an almost embarrassed apology. He wasn’t ducking; if anything, he was overthinking his response.

What did he learn from last week’s 33-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers, his first as the Redskins starting quarterback?

“I felt like I could move around in the pocket, get to my second and third reads,” Beck said. “For only having a week of practice with this unit, I feel like its a big difference now that we’ve stepped in this week. Last week was so new, you’re trying to get comfortable with each other, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

It’s been anything but an overnight trip for Beck, 30, who hadn’t started a game since 2007 when he played for the Miami Dolphins. He was called upon last week to replace turnover-prone Rex Grossman.

“I think if all of us just have the mindset that every day we come out to practice, we’re moving forward, not looking back, no rearview mirrors,” Beck said.

Beck’s next challenge will be Sunday against the Buffalo Bills (4-2) in Toronto.

“Their defense takes the ball away from the offense a lot; they lead the NFL in takeaways,” Beck said. “Their offense is explosive, so anytime that you are facing an offense that’s explosive you have to be good at controlling the ball.

“We want to be able to run the ball well, we want to be able to control the clock and be very good on third downs, that way we stay on the field.”

Beck will be looking to improve on last week’s performance, when he went 22 of 37 for 279 yards and one touchdown, and also rushed for a touchdown. He had a fumble in his first series and threw a late interception.

“It’s the first of many games for him. I’m looking forward to seeing him grow as a quarterback and get that game experience,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “I think he’s a natural leader, and now we’ll get a chance to see him. He’s got a lot of confidence in himself. I’m sure he had some goosebumps, but I thought he did well.”

In addition to the challenges Beck faces stepping into the starter’s role, the Redskins have been decimated by recent injuries. Three players are gone for the season: running back Tim Hightower and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger have torn ACLs; tight end Chris Cooley has a broken finger and a knee injury.

Wide receiver Santana Moss will miss five to seven weeks with a broken bone in his left hand, and left tackle Trent Williams has a high ankle sprain.

“Good football teams can recognize when there is a challenge, when there is adversity and say we’re not going to let bother us,” Beck said. “This is how young guys step up, and make their name an important one.”

Beck called himself “a piece in the team’s puzzle,” but the leadership and skill set needed at quarterback make him a pretty crucial piece.

“I love what I see in John. I see confidence,” said fullback Darrel Young. “Anytime a guy comes in the huddle and demands perfection like he did, you can’t go wrong. He set himself up for us to believe in him, and I think he did a good job. We’re comfortable with the decisions he made in the [Carolina] game and the way he played and where we’re going to go next week.”

Rookie wide receiver Leonard Hankerson said Beck has been a team leader since the day Hankerson was drafted, when the lockout still was in place.

“I’ve been seeing him lead ever since I got drafted, when he called me on the phone and said he was the quarterback for the Redskins,” Hankerson said. “He sent me some installs that we were going to run in camp.

“I had never met him. I went out to his house in San Diego. He’s been doing a fantastic job leading us even when he wasn’t the starter, just going out there and getting guys to work hard, day in and day out.”

But even with the mindset of looking forward instead of back, Beck says he welcomes the challenge of playing with a next group of starters stepping in for their injured teammates, and the chance to evaluate himself as he works on his game.

“I think it was good for me to get out and put something on tape, have a game where I could go back and grade myself on a full game,” Beck said. “You try to simulate the real game in practice as best you can, but it’s different. Having a real game cannot be simulated, in OTAs, in anything. A real game is live bullets.”

• Carla Peay can be reached at cpeay@washingtontimes.com.

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