June 12, 2010
By David Driver
For the Deseret News
Used with permission
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — There is a stool that sits in front of the locker of John Beck, the former BYU quarterback preparing for his second season with the Baltimore Ravens.
And on top of that stool following a recent practice session here in suburban Baltimore was a purple-covered offensive playbook that appeared to be at least six inches thick.
Summer may be near and Beck may not be the starting quarterback for the Ravens. But that playbook, with his uniform No. 12 on the front, is a constant reminder of what it takes to be a trusty backup in the National Football League at the most important position.
Just ask one of the players he throws the ball to on a regular basis at practice.
"You have to stay on your toes. You have to be ready," said Demetrius Williams (Oregon), a wide receiver for the Ravens. "You have to be a team player. John is a good guy. He is going to study hard and be ready. It is all about the team."
The Ravens begin training camp July 27 at McDaniel College in Maryland. And when they do, Beck — drafted by the Dolphins out of BYU in the second round in 2007 — will be given a decent shot to be the backup to Baltimore starter Joe Flacco.
Last season, the backup was Troy Smith, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State. But now it appears Beck and Smith will battle it out for the spot behind Flacco, who has been the Ravens' starter in his first two NFL seasons and led his team to the playoffs both years.
"I am battling to be backup here," said Beck, standing on the practice field after a passing game in early June. "That is how it is in competitive sports. Nobody wants to be the third-string guy."
Beck said he gets along well with Flacco and Smith.
"We are friends. We are professionals. Troy knows I am trying to take his position from him" as the backup, Beck said. "We all get along really well. Joe is still No. 1. Joe is a real down-to-earth guy. He expects himself to play well."
Beck, 28, played in five games, with four starts, for the Dolphins in 2007 and completed 60-of-107 passes for 559 yards. The next year, he was designated as the third quarterback for all 16 games and one postseason contest for Miami.
The Arizona high school product was signed by the Ravens on May 4, 2009. He did not play in any games last season. Smith appeared in four games and attempted nine passes, while Flacco started all 16 games and completed 315-of-499 passes for 3,613 yards.
"It is nice to be here for a second year," said Beck, meaning that large playbook by his locker does not seem so overwhelming this June.
The offensive coordinator for the Ravens is Cam Cameron, who held that spot last year.
"Pumped and excited would be the right words about how I feel about our offense," Cameron told the Baltimore Sun. "We just have to look at the numbers. We don't need to throw the ball more; we just need to throw it better, execute the passing game better."
But there is one change to the Ravens' coaching staff that will impact Beck. The new quarterbacks coach is Jim Zorn, who was let go after two seasons as the head coach for the Washington Redskins.
"I was very excited when we announced coach Zorn as our quarterbacks coach," Beck said. "He has played the position at the highest level."
The BYU product said he has talked to Zorn about their Utah connections: Zorn was the offensive coordinator for Utah State from 1992-94.
Beck also played in college against Ravens defensive tackle Kelly Talavou, a product of the Utah Utes who played against BYU during Beck's senior season.
And Beck has been able to help Dennis Pitta, his former BYU teammate, make the transition to the NFL. Pitta, a tight end, was taken in the fourth round in April by the Ravens in the annual NFL draft. He played one season for the Cougars with Beck, who threw for 11,021 yards and 79 touchdowns in three years as BYU's starting signal-caller.
Beck said he told the Ravens' front office about Pitta before the draft.
"I was hoping he would come here," Beck said.
"He has given me a lot of advice," said Pitta, noting suggestions on where to live and where to eat in the Baltimore area. "He knows the landscape of the NFL."
The two combined for at least one touchdown pass during mini-camp in May.
"He knows my strengths and I know his strengths," Pitta said.
So how does Beck handle a backup role?
"John handles it well. He is a competitive guy. He is competing every day," Pitta said.
And that means studying dozens of pages in that thick playbook.
NOTES: Beck's second annual celebrity golf tournament will be held July 12-13 at the Red Ledges Golf Course in Heber City. ... Beck took part in a recent golf event in Maryland and met Jeremy Guthrie, a starting pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. Guthrie grew up in Oregon but lives in Pleasant Grove during the winter. Guthrie served an LDS mission in Spain from 1999-2000, while Beck was in Portugal from 2000-02.