As crazy as it sounds, Mike Shanahan may have guaranteed himself an extra season or two as the Washington Redskins' head coach by throwing his support behind quarterback John Beck.
Shanahan is scaring members of the Redskins organization with his "unwavering" backing of Beck, according to NFL.com's Jason La Canfora. La Canfora quoted a Redskins source who insisted Shanahan is "serious as hell" about going with Beck as the Redskins' quarterback.
At first glance, the decision to start Beck is a head-scratcher because the 29-year-old has only played in five NFL games and thrown just one touchdown in his career. However, film study of Beck's scarce NFL experience shows the idea may not be as crazy as it sounds.
In Beck, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan undoubtedly sees a resemblance to Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who the younger Shanahan developed into a top-ten quarterback in Houston. Beck and Schaub have similar throwing motions, and both have the same ability to keep their feet underneath them when throwing on the run.
Like Schaub, Beck does a great job of moving up within the pocket to get out of trouble, and both quarterbacks keep their eyes upfield when flushed out of the pocket, looking for open receivers. While neither of the two will ever be confused for Michael Vick because of their speed, they have enough speed and instincts to run for a yard or two when all their receivers are covered.
In terms of physical talents, Beck is more gifted than Schaub. Beck's game film shows him consistently throwing a crisp and accurate ball with incredible velocity. One aspect of Beck's game that is particularly promising is his ability to place the ball where only his receiver can reach it. Even when his throw is off-target, it is placed ahead of his receivers instead of near defensive backs.
Additionally, Beck does an excellent job of going through his progressions and looking to multiple receivers on each play. The mental acuity to scan through reads until finding an open receiver is one of the most important intangible aspects of being an NFL quarterback, and is an ability Beck has displayed in his playing time.
Beck's potential is real, and it has former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann excited. In an interview with the Washington Post's Jason Reid, Theismann said he believes Beck can "be a quarterback in this town for four or five years." Theismann also said he doesn't see a difference between Beck and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb."John Beck and Kevin Kolb came out the same year," Theismann said.
"Because Eagles Coach Andy Reid named Kevin Kolb a starter for a half of a game, or a quarter of a game, we've anointed him the hottest free agent out there. But what has he done? I mean, really, what has he done? Then you take a look at John Beck, who sat for a number of years, who was in another bad situation offensively in Miami."
With the backing of the head coach, the endorsement of a local quarterbacking legend and far less wear and tear on his body than any other quarterback approaching the age of 30, Beck's future looks promising. Of course, the axiom that NFL stands for "Not For Long," could easily prove true in Beck's case. On short passes he has a tendency to throw with an awkward sidearm release and not set his feet, and playing behind the Redskins' porous offensive line could reinforce his bad habits.
Regardless of whether Beck pans out, the decision to put all the Redskins' eggs in Beck's basket benefits Shanahan. The Redskins have already seen what Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman are capable of doing for the Redskins. If Shanahan sticks with either of them as his starter and the Redskins do poorly, he'll be lambasted for refusing to address the quarterback position in the draft.
If Beck is the team's starter and the Redskins lose most of their games, then Shanahan can blame the lockout for derailing his plan for the team's quarterback position. The Redskins can then move into position to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, and Shanahan can survive another poor season or two by chalking up losses to the difficulty of transitioning to the NFL for young quarterbacks. Of course, if Beck ends up playing well, it makes Shanahan's life even easier, keeping the Redskins competitive while Shanahan develops a young quarterback on the bench.
After last year's Donovan McNabb experiment ended up heading downhill on a crash course to an ugly divorce, Shanahan has rebounded perfectly. Regardless of what happens at the Redskins' quarterback position this year, all of the possible outcomes will work to Shanahan's advantage.