Commentary

Beck's development could be helped if Williams is a force

Unconventional Miami rookie QB John Beck makes his second NFL start Monday against the Steelers. His development could be helped if teammate Ricky Williams returns to the Dolphins' lineup soon.

Originally Published: November 24, 2007
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com

The Miami Dolphins figured veteran quarterback Trent Green would be leading a playoff push right about now. Instead they're 0-10 and breaking in a rookie under center.

So much for expectations.

So much for letting John Beck ease into the role over the next couple seasons. There are no three-year plans for NFL teams with 0-10 records.

Beck, 26, will make his second Dolphins start in Pittsburgh on "Monday Night Football" (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET). The Steelers are 16-point favorites.

Beck also fills the underdog role as a story line in Miami, where the second-round draft choice from BYU has become a footnote to Ricky Williams' return from a suspension for substance abuse.

[+] EnlargeJohn Beck
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeJohn Beck is not your average rookie quarterback.

Coach Cam Cameron did not say immediately whether Williams would make his 2007 debut in Week 12 at Heinz Field. Williams' return is big news, but organizations generally do not build around 30-year-old running backs returning from 18-month suspensions.

If Williams' plight is a story of substance abuse, Beck is the story of substance in Miami. His development ranks second only to winning a game on the Dolphins' list of priorities.

The standings tell us all we need to know about that first priority. Assessing Beck takes more work. The Dolphins aren't doing his stat line any favors by sending him into Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for his first two starts. Both opponents feature pressure-oriented defenses that routinely confuse veteran passers.

Beck completed 9 of 22 passes for 109 yards during a 17-7 defeat to the Eagles. The offense converted only twice in 11 third-down chances. A special-teams return accounted for Miami's lone touchdown. Beck struggled with accuracy on some of his shorter throws, a point of emphasis heading into Pittsburgh.

"I think his arm was so energized and I think he let that ball rip, and his accuracy wasn't there on the shorter throws," quarterbacks coach Terry Shea said. "But he settled in and made that real nice throw to Teddy Ginn [for a 22-yard gain on third-and-12]."

It's unrealistic to expect a rookie quarterback to win games for his team right away. Much of the challenge lies in not losing them. Beck passed that test against Philadelphia.

The Dolphins became the third team since 2000 to face the Eagles during the regular season without taking a sack and losing a turnover.

Cincinnati did it in the final game of the 2004 season, when the Eagles tuned up for a Super Bowl run by resting their starters. Seattle did it in December 2005, when the Seahawks were the class of the NFC and the Eagles were struggling.

Beck also emerged from his first start without muffing an exchange or suffering a delay-of-game penalty. Neither did he throw into coverage. Beck handled the basics, in other words.

"For an opening game, he played with tremendous poise," Shea said.

Coaches helped by cutting volume from a prodigious playbook, something they would have done against the Eagles' pressure packages even with a veteran at quarterback.

Pittsburgh presents another challenge because coordinator Dick LeBeau is less orthodox in his pressures. Beck catches a break, however, because a sprained knee will prevent safety Troy Polamalu from playing. Polamalu's pre-snap whereabouts vary so widely that quarterbacks can spend precious resources tracking him.

The Dolphins would like to unburden Beck by letting him lean on the ground game. Williams' return could help eventually, but the Steelers will make that difficult this week.

Their pride took a hit in Week 11 when the New York Jets' Thomas Jones became the first runner since 2005 to top 100 yards rushing against Pittsburgh. A repeat performance seems unlikely.

Miami's per-attempt rushing average has fallen steadily since Ronnie Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury against New England on Oct. 21. The Dolphins averaged 6.0 yards per carry against the Patriots, 4.8 against the New York Giants, 3.8 against Buffalo and 3.1 against the Eagles. They have 42 first downs in three games without Brown after amassing 49 in their final two with him.

Beck probably won't have a good statistical game against the Steelers. Even in defeat, Pittsburgh limited the Jets' Kellen Clemens to 14-of-31 passing and a 58.8 rating. Clemens managed the game well enough to win. Beck's rating in Philadelphia was 56.8. He's still looking for his first scoring drive -- in Pittsburgh, of all places.

"I've gotten to know some of the veteran guys on this team, and they say, 'Beck, you're getting it done right as far as your first couple in the NFL -- you play away at Philly and then you play Monday night in Pittsburgh,'" Beck told reporters in Miami. "But those guys help me feel comfortable on the football field. I felt very comfortable when I was out there this last game, and I expect to feel that same comfort level and just go out with my teammates."

Beck is not your typical rookie. He is a married father and former Eagle Scout who emerged from a two-year church mission to Portugal speaking that country's language fluently.

"Vitória" is Portuguese for victory. At this point, Beck and the Dolphins would take one in any language.

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.