— It was only a beginning for John Beck and the Washington Redskins, and doubts about the inexperienced quarterback surely will linger after his first preseason start.
But this much was revealed: The former Ravens backup seems capable of running coach Mike Shanahan's offense. Beck knows what offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan expects of him. The Shanahans' confidence in Beck, privately questioned even among employees at Redskins Park, might not be crazy after all.
In an efficient preseason debut Friday night, Beck didn't do anything to embarrass himself or his mentors during a 16-3 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I thought he did a good job," Mike Shanahan said. "It's nice to give him some playing time … and finally get a chance to go live."
Held out of Washington's preseason opener against Pittsburgh because of a groin injury, Beck watched Rex Grossman, also competing for the starting job, play well statistically in a victory. Beck got his turn against the Colts and provided more for the Shanahans to consider as he played the entire first half.
He connected on 14 of 17 pass attempts. Beck had 140 yards, no turnovers and finished with a strong 101.0 passer rating.
His best work occurred in producing points.
Behind Beck, the Redskins took a 16-0 halftime lead. They scored on their first four possessions — including the first two against the Colts' first-team defense — during the opening two quarters, getting a short touchdown run from back Tim Hightower and three short Graham Gano field goals.
There were no big-yardage plays from the quarterback position. Beck's longest gain was a 23-yarder to wide receiver Donté Stallworth, also a former Raven. He took what was there and completed check-down passes instead of taking risks downfield.
"I'm antsy to see the tape to see things I can improve on," Beck said. "I know there's going to be a lot of things I can take from this and say, 'All right, we can tweak this.' But it felt good to just get out and play again."
Beck would have preferred to end the scoring drives with touchdowns instead of field goals. But after waiting so long for a real chance to lead a team, after wondering whether his shot would ever come, Beck did enough to maintain solid footing in his ongoing competition with Grossman, who entered after halftime and completed seven of 12 passes for 88 yards and an interception before giving way to third-stringer Kellen Clemens. Instead of trying for home runs when the defense dictated going for singles, Beck simply directed the offense as the Shanahans expected him to do.
His steadiness won't be lost on the Shanahans, who know what they want.
Smartly, they helped Beck with their play-calling, enabling him to ease into his big preseason moment.
Hightower rushed on Washington's first two plays from scrimmage. On the third play, Beck completed a 19-yard pass across the middle to wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, who was tackled at the 1-yard line. Three plays later, Hightower scored to help Washington take a 7-0 lead.
Beck's other pass on the drive fell incomplete after a Colts defender tipped the ball near the line. The throw to Gaffney, though, was perfect, and having his first drive end with a touchdown was a good start for Beck.
He was only getting warmed up during a productive first quarter for Washington's offense.
On the Redskins' second possession, Beck made plays while helping Washington extend its lead to 10-0. Needing eight yards on third down from the Colts' 42-yard line, Beck completed a 9-yard pass to wide receiver Anthony Armstrong.
In the first quarter of his first start, Beck completed 7 of 9 passes for 73 yards. He had a 100.5 passer rating.
More importantly, the offense kept moving. The Redskins have to improve their offensive efficiency this season, and positive reinforcement always helps.
If the Shanahans pick Grossman as the starter to open the season, they're taking the safe route, and sometimes that's the best course. Grossman has started 34 games, including three for Washington last season. His resume includes a Super Bowl appearance. He's beginning his ninth NFL season.
Presumably, Grossman's experience could provide a sense of stability at the game's most important position for a franchise learning a lot about itself while undergoing major roster turnover. There's nothing wrong with that.
The Redskins, however, don't have the luxury of playing it safe. Not now.
Not with the heavy workload Shanahan still faces to restore belief in a franchise that hasn't consistently provided reason for optimism in a long time. Not with a fan base that continues to support the organization despite only three playoff appearances in the past 12 seasons. And not with Shanahan needing to jump-start his restoration program after the Donovan McNabb setback in Year One.
Shanahan came to Ashburn with a three-year plan, Redskins people tell you. He quickly determined what needed to be done and set out to do it, but now he's playing catch-up because of the McNabb mistake.
If everything you hear about Beck is correct, he could provide a needed spark. If Mike and Kyle Shanahan are right about his supposed high ceiling, Beck could help them get back on track. The Shanahans will need some good fortune to get the Redskins turned around, and perhaps Beck will play a big part in providing a bridge to better times.
On Friday, Beck may have taken another step in doing just that. The Shanahans will ultimately determine if he's given a chance to get there.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun