WASHINGTON — — John Beck likens the last three years to being in a hole. He slipped into it somewhere between his rookie and sophomore seasons in the NFL, and he's been trying to scratch and claw his way out ever since.
Now, just maybe, he's finally getting to the surface. It appears that the 29-year-old quarterback's first real chance of starting in the NFL again could be within reach.
Last month, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan passed on the opportunity to draft Missouri's Blaine Gabbert — one of the top two quarterbacks in the NFL draft — and didn't take a passer with any of Washington's other 11 picks. Once the draft concluded, Shanahan said the Redskins already have a promising young quarterback on the roster.
"Let me say, when John Beck did come out" of Brigham Young University in 2007, "I had him rated as the top quarterback coming out that year, and I didn't even think it was close," Shanahan said. "I evaluate the quarterbacks every year, and I do have confidence in John Beck."
When pressed whether that meant Beck would be his starter in 2011, Shanahan said: "I'm not going to go into specifics." But Beck said he has been told he will compete for the job, the opportunity he has been seeking for three years.
If Beck does wind up starting for Washington, it will be the payoff for a series of moves he made to revive his career. He spent the summer of 2009 studying and training with quarterbacks Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in San Diego. Last year, he moved his family there from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., so he could continue working with the Super Bowl-winning passers each offseason. He was with the Ravens during the 2009 season and was traded to Washington last August.
Cam Cameron, Beck's head coach in Miami and offensive coordinator with the Ravens, suggested the arrangement because he saw similarities in Beck's and Brees' skills.
"He has always been tough, he is extremely bright and coming out of college, we just thought he was extremely accurate, and that is still true to this day," Cameron said.
"Just like most guys, it takes time to develop. There is no doubt he has starting NFL ability."
Last season, while he was learning offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's playbook, Beck spent every Tuesday — usually NFL players' off day — breaking down game film on his own and throwing to practice squad receivers.
When the Redskins convened last month for a voluntary two-day workout organized by the players, Beck flew from San Diego to take part. Rex Grossman, who is a free agent after he started the last three games of 2010, was there as well.
When the NFL announced on April 28 that it would comply with Judge Susan Richard Nelson's ruling to lift the lockout, Beck took the first flight out of San Diego so he could spend time with Kyle Shanahan the next day.
"Every decision I made, I felt it was the best decision to take me in the direction I was trying to go," Beck said. "I was trying to put myself in position to battle for a starting job."
Beck spent only a few hours with his offensive coordinator. After going over some film, they were breaking down plays when Mike Shanahan walked in and announced that an appeals court had granted the NFL permission to reimpose the lockout, meaning Beck would have to leave.
Beck counts even those few hours as invaluable. He remained in the Washington area the next week to continue training with teammates, further developing chemistry while earning their respect.
"I just think it's big that he's out here, coming all the way from California," said Anthony Armstrong, the top Washington receiver under contract. "It shows the drive he has to succeed. Flying over 2,500 miles, being away from his family."
Beck completed a three-year Mormon mission before attending BYU.
As a senior, he passed for 3,885 yards with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 69.3 percent of his passes.
He was drafted 40th overall by Miami in 2007 to be the team's quarterback of the future. As a rookie, he was 60-for-107 for 559 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions and was sacked 10 times in five games. Then Bill Parcells took over the team and brought in a new GM and coach, as well as Chad Pennington at quarterback. Beck backed up Pennington in 2008 and was cut the following year, then signed with Baltimore before the 2009 season.
The Redskins acquired him in a trade with Baltimore last August, but Beck spent most of last season as the third-string quarterback, behind Donovan McNabb and Grossman. Shanahan benched McNabb for the final three games, creating uncertainty about the team's quarterback position. But the move gave Beck hope.
While Shanahan was making his post-draft comments, Beck was in an Ashburn-area hotel room relaxing after spending the day — his seventh wedding anniversary — throwing passes to Armstrong. Beck's wife, Barbara, and their three young boys — ages 4 years, 2 years and seven months — were back in San Diego.
"You just hope that all the hard work pays off and you can dig yourself out of the hole and you find yourself in a good situation where the coach believes in you," Beck said. "So to hear Coach Shanahan say those things. . . that bodes well for me because I've worked as hard as I can for years, hoping that when I do get in a situation, that it would be like this."