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Thursday, September 1, 2011
Observation deck: Redskins-Buccaneers

By Dan Graziano

So, when you guys helped convince me to watch the Washington Redskins' game live and the other three on delay, you neglected to tell me the Redskins' game would be the longest one by a half-hour. Sheesh.

Aaaaanyway, this was clearly not John Beck's best work. The Redskins' 29-24 exhibition victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their final game of the 2011 NFL preseason was the worst of the three preseason performances Beck has turned in during his audition to be the Redskins' starting quarterback. He looked much better in each of the previous two games than he did Thursday night, when he was 10-for-21 for 108 yards and an interception.

The question, of course, is what it all means.

Certainly, if Beck's chances of being the starter were riding on his performance in this game, he didn't help himself. But I don't think he necessarily had to play well Thursday in order to win the job. As we have discussed many times on this blog, the competition between Beck and Rex Grossman is not as simple as a straight-up contest based on preseason performance. Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan do not view Beck and Grossman as equal quantities. They like Grossman and feel certain he can operate their offense. But they believe Beck offers more upside, and they wanted to use the preseason to help them gauge how he would handle the pressure of his opportunity.

Beck surely did that in the Redskins' second and third preseason games (after missing the first with a groin injury). And he showed a couple of things Thursday night, too. There was the 2nd-and-9 play where he dodged pressure up the middle and completed the pass for a first down. He hit a big third-down completion to Donte' Stallworth while taking a hit. He showed his obviously quick release and made a couple of smart decisions, including not throwing to Stallworth a couple of plays later when he saw that Stallworth was in double coverage.

But he also did some bad things, including a couple of bad-decision throws into crowds and the interception in the end zone. He looked as though he could have had a touchdown pass to Niles Paul, but he threw the ball to Paul's back shoulder while Paul was going up expecting the throw to be high. Not sure whose fault that was, but it didn't look good.

Now, Beck did play behind the Redskins' starting offensive line. But he didn't have starting wide receivers Santana Moss or Jabar Gaffney, who got the night off. And he had rookie running back Evan Royster, who's not the same factor in the passing game (as a blocker or receiver) as Tim Hightower is. It's hard for me to believe the Redskins' coaches would have sent Beck out there thinking he had to play well in this game to get the job and then not give him Moss or Gaffney to throw to.

Some time in the next nine days, Mike Shananan will name his starting quarterback for the Sept. 11 season opener against the Giants. I still believe, based on the conversations I had when I was at Redskins training camp and what I've seen in the preseason, that it'll be Beck because it's been Beck all along. But if it's not Beck, I don't think he lost the job Thursday night. And I seriously doubt it means he won't be the starter at any point (or even for the majority of the games) in 2011.

Some other observations from the Redskins' final preseason game:

1. Ryan Torain is a good running back. Hightower is sure to open the season as the Redskins' starting running back. But Torain, who missed the bulk of this preseason with a broken hand, will remain a threat to steal carries and maybe the job itself. Torain entered the game late in the first half after Royster started the game, and he ran with obvious power. Torain's issues have been health-related, and if he stays healthy and continues to show something in limited action, don't be surprised to see him get a turn as the starter at some point this season.

2. Josh Wilson got an interception on a nice leaping catch, and it had to feel good. Wilson was brought in to be a starting cornerback, but he's had injury issues this preseason and hasn't looked great when he's been in there. As good as the Redskins' defense has looked overall, Wilson must have enjoyed being a productive part of it going into the season. Still think the secondary as a whole will improve once the starting safeties are in there.

3. Oh yeah, Brandon Banks. After an injury-plagued preseason of his own, Banks got into Thursday's game and showed what he can do on returns, running one back 95 yards for a touchdown. He's so fast and such a sharp runner when he's got a head of steam, and as he crossed the goal line you couldn't help thinking, "Yeah, that gets the guy on the team." Then you saw the replays they were reviewing and that Banks hot-dogged it across the goal line and very nearly dropped the ball before crossing that goal line because of his hot-dogging. And even though the call wasn't overturned and he did get credited with the touchdown, you couldn't help thinking, "Yeah, that's why there's a chance a guy with that kind of speed and talent might not make the team." Good lesson for Banks. Would have been a better one if they'd taken away his touchdown.

4. Second-team defense. Guys like Keyaron Fox and Rob Jackson looked very fired-up and very effective, making you think the Redskins have some interesting depth on defense. But then you remember they're playing against backups on the Tampa Bay defense and that there's no way to know what you're really watching in preseason, and we'll just leave it at that.

The Redskins had a nice preseason. Stallworth's fingertip catch for the touchdown that sealed this meaningless win was a fun way to end it. The way they played this month should help their confidence. No idea if it means they'll have a good regular season. Right now they need to be thinking about how to beat the Giants. And yeah, settling on a quarterback.