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Saturday, August 20, 2011
Observation deck: Redskins-Colts

By Dan Graziano

So that's John Beck, everybody. We've heard so much about him since Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said right after the draft that his belief in Beck was one reason he didn't feel he needed to draft a quarterback. Perhaps in order to build suspense, Beck missed the Redskins' first preseason game with a groin injury and watched his main competition for the starting job, Rex Grossman, have a solid game against the Steelers.

But Beck showed up and started Friday in Indianapolis and wouldn't you know it? He looked pretty good. Beck was 14-for-17 for 140 yards in the first half of the Redskins' 16-3 preseason victory against the Colts. He was cool under pressure (and he faced plenty, thanks to a poor game by left tackle Trent Williams). He showcased the quick release Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, have been talking up. And while it seemed for a while as if every play was a bootleg rollout, I actually thought that was okay for two reasons. First, it showcased Beck's speed and athleticism, which are things the Shanahans believe set him apart from Grossman in terms of upside. And second, he seemed to make good decisions at the end of those rollouts, finding his receivers, throwing accurately and not forcing throws that weren't there.

Did he dazzle? No. Did he fire the ball downfield in awe-inspiring arcs for back-breaking pass plays? No. But does he have to? Two different running backs, Tim Hightower and Roy Helu, had 50-plus-yard runs. His starting wide receivers, Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney, are more possession receivers than deep threats. This Redskins offense isn't built in such a way that asks its quarterback to be Tom Brady. The Redskins' quarterback needs only manage the game and work the ball downfield patiently and intelligently. Beck did that while in the game Friday night.

Grossman did it last week, and looked okay (but for an interception) in the second half Friday night. But the Shanahans know what Grossman is and what he can do, so nothing that happened last week had any real impact on this quarterback competition. The Redskins believe Beck has the tools to be a better player than Grossman can be at his best, and they want to see how he handles the pressure of the bright lights and the opportunity they've given him. I firmly believe Beck would have to play very poorly this preseason in order to not be the Redskins' starting quarterback. And he did not play poorly in this game. Far from it, in fact.

In conclusion, I don't think anything changed on Redskins quarterback Friday. I think Beck was already in the lead, in spite of Grossman's effort last week, and has maintained that lead. If anything, he's widened it, and he showed some things Friday night that could help Redskins fans feel a little bit better about the situation.

Some other thoughts:

1. I have no idea what to make of the defense, as it was missing four or five starters and playing against a Colts team that didn't have injured quarterback Peyton Manning. This is akin to running a NASCAR race against Jimmie Johnson when Johnson's car does not have an engine. It seems clear that rookies Ryan Kerrigan and Jarvis Jenkins (and of course, third-year star Brian Orakpo) have the ability to get to the quarterback. The Redskins generated a bit of pass rush up the middle with the help of Barry Cofield, who's taking to his new role as nose tackle. And defensively, I believe they'll look even better once they have their starting safeties. But as for Friday, tough to make any big judgments about the defense, which wasn't going up against much of an opponent.

2. Helu looks very fast, and he got a bunch of snaps in this game as fellow rookie Evan Royster did last week. Shanahan likes to give running backs "full games" when possible for evaluation purposes in the preseason. But Hightower is going to open the season as the Redskins' starting running back and should hold the job until and unless he (literally) fumbles it away. He understands Shanahan's "one-cut" preference perfectly, seems to work well behind the offensive line and its zone-blocking scheme and has basically done everything right since they traded for him.

3. Trent Williams needs to be better. The second-year left tackle got flat-out beaten on a couple of those sacks and got manhandled most of the night. Now, granted, Dwight Freeney is one of the game's best pass-rushers, but in this year's NFC East, Williams is going to see a lot of those. We know he's talented, but he just needs to block more consistently.

4. Been a pretty good month for Graham Gano. He hasn't missed a kick yet. His prime competition for the job got cut after a miserable first game. And his wife had a baby this week and he managed to make it to the game just in time Friday. Congrats, Papa Graham, and good job.

5. Leonard Hankerson caught four passes, but what people will remember is that he dropped one. He drops too many. I know, I know, that's his reputation. But every time you start to worry your being a slave to a reputation... well, the guy drops another pass. The Redskins like him and likely won't give up on him, but he's not going to see the field much this year if he can't find a way to catch the ball more reliably.

6. A preseason game can have value for a team like the Redskins. No, the result doesn't matter. And no, you can't assume they'll look as good in real games as they have so far in two fake ones. But think about where the Redskins are right now. Nobody thinks they're any good. Everybody thinks they'll finish last. They've got people saying they could be the worst team in the league (which I seriously doubt). And while they can pretend they don't hear it, they all have the internet, and cable TV, and AM radio in their cars. And even if they don't pay attention to any of that stuff, they all have friends and relatives who undoubtedly keep them posted on it. But world-class professional athletes aren't inclined to doubt themselves, and having success -- even if it's on a micro level in a game that doesn't count -- is the kind of thing that can bolster confidence internally when nothing's happening to bolster it externally. This is two weeks in a row that the Redskins peeled the tape off their ankles and went home feeling good about themselves. And a team that's going to be an underdog in the majority of its games this season can benefit greatly from knowing what it's like to feel that way.