Gordon Monson: Zach Wilson must learn and John Beck must teach lessons that will preserve an NFL career

Beck’s tutelage helped Wilson blossom into a star at BYU last season

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU quarterback John Beck is carried off the field after a comeback win versus Utah in 2006. Beck was hired this week by the New York Jets as an assistant, hoping to help former BYU star Zach Wilson navigate the NFL.

Nobody should use the word panic when it comes to former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson’s standing with the New York Jets, but there seems to be a decent amount of concern there.

Enough so that the Jets, who selected Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, have hired another former BYU quarterback, John Beck, to help Wilson reassemble the mechanics, the confidence, the understanding, the vision, the form, the swagger he owned at BYU, back when quarterbacking came easy to him.

That seems like a long time ago.

It is easy for him no more.

The jump not just to the NFL, but to the NFL with a team like the Jets, has knocked Wilson out of whack, mentally and physically, what with the knee injury he suffered a couple of weeks ago and the offensive struggles he’s experienced throughout.

Beck got so much of the credit for Wilson’s remarkable 2020 season at BYU — how many times did we hear about the weekly drive from Provo to Huntington Beach the quarterback made to sharpen his game? — and created so much comfort in the junior QB, that the Jets came around to the idea of bringing Beck into their organization to reinvigorate their rookie.

Jets coach Robert Saleh was asked this past week about that hiring, and his response went like this. See if you can read between the lines:

“Obviously, John has a lot of history within the system, being in Washington with Shanahan and all that stuff, but the biggest thing for us was, really, with Zach’s injury and having these four weeks and the rest of the season to kind of regroup and get Zach to … you know, we’ve talked about it … to replay each week, so he’s going back through each week as he’s been off. Go through practice scripts, go through the install, watch the game, watch all the practices. All right, go to week 2, reinstall it, watch every practice, go back through the week, watch the game, next.

“And, on top of it, as it pertains to his rehab and working back, getting his knee strong again, maintaining his fundamentals and the mechanics as it pertains to his throwing motion, just another piece to add.

“Those specialists, those quarterback gurus and all that, John’s fantastic, he’s got a lot of really good quarterbacks in this league. But at the same time, these guys all have a chance to talk to him, they have dialogue throughout the week. And just piecing it all together, [we] thought it would be really good to have John in our building, learn the verbiage that we’re teaching, along with the things that are being asked of all our quarterbacks, so when he is having those conversations, on the side conversation, everyone’s speaking the same language and he can tie in what he does as a quarterback guy to his students.”

Two ways of looking at those comments: 1) The Jets have learned from their past that they cannot, or should not, ruin a young quarterback by not giving him a chance to do remedial work, to get up to speed. The club, after all, drafted Wilson without acquiring a proven veteran to either start in front of him or work with him, knowing their team wasn’t going to be good, and throwing the rook straight into the fire. Oops; or 2) The Jets now are fully aware that Wilson is not ready to consistently perform among the pros, and they’ve since signed Joe Flacco, were cautiously encouraged by the way Wilson’s backup Mike White performed, and are ready to wait, not just for the young quarterback’s knee to heal, but also to let him learn from a less-harried, less-pressured, less-central angle.

Perhaps they went back and saw the way Wilson played during his sophomore season at BYU, when he was nowhere near the quarterback he became last season. Remember? Aaron Roderick wouldn’t even name Wilson the starter going into 2020 until the last minute. And then … he blossomed.

Beck is a compelling choice, at an odd juncture, to take a leading role in becoming Wilson’s NFL whisperer.

As Saleh mentioned, Beck has helped a lot of quarterbacks, college and pro, out of Southern California’s 3DQB facility, previously making a full-time gig out of those tutorships.

Now, for the rest of the season, he’s full-time with the Jets, edging in on a fistful of other offensive coaches with the team, working specifically with Wilson, but helping the other quarterbacks, too.

Not bad for a QB who never did amount to much in the NFL, having been drafted in 2007 in the second round by the Miami Dolphins, and churning through two other teams before his playing career ended with the Washington Football Team. He lost every game he ever started there.

Receiver Santana Moss said of Beck, the quarterback: “He sucked ass; I won’t lie to you. I broke my hand and didn’t play the [final two] games with him. Nothing better could have happened to me, because I didn’t have to play with this guy.”

Sometimes, though, those who can’t play at the highest levels can teach there.

No doubt, Beck is a smart dude. Even when he played at BYU, a tenure that varied widely from his early seasons, when he struggled, to his later ones, when he thrived, he constantly quoted football philosophers, everyone from Lombardi to Walsh, having read their books and studied their words.

At times, it sounded as though his answers to basic questions were, indeed, memorized and spouted back out in robotic fashion. But he was a thinker, even if his early thoughts were borrowed.

Back then, Beck was a mix of perfectionist and workaholic. On one occasion, he said:

“I can’t help it. It’s just part of me to try to do everything right. If I throw an incomplete pass, I stay after practice and do it five times the right way. If we mess up a snap, we’ll redo it 25 times. Some people have no understanding of competitive desire. When you want something so badly, you’ll do anything to get it. Every day on the practice field, I see things I need to work on. More accuracy. More touch. Better timing. Then, I realize, I could play this game for 20 more years, and I’d still find things I could work on. Football is like Bagger Vance said about golf: ‘It’s a game that cannot be won, only played.’”

Beck was a relentless student of the game, to the point where he drove his father, Wendell, who the son looked up to, to the brink of absolute fatigue.

Wendell said back in that day: “John would go over and over things. He’d tell me about it 10 times. And I’d say, ‘John, I’m sick of hearing about it.’ He drives you bananas.”

Said John: “I know now I can’t go back and change things. I just have to learn and move on.”

That’s perfect advice for Zach Wilson now.

As Beck gained maturity — he’s 40 — his impatience and overeagerness simmered, his thirst for football was slaked. As his playing days ended, left behind was a mountain of knowledge and savvy regarding the ins and outs of playing quarterback, and that’s what he shares with his pupils at present.

That’s what he shares — and will go on sharing — with Zach Wilson.

And that’s why the Jets hired him — to smooth and soothe the emotional undulations, the neck-deep moguls in the young quarterback’s mind.

Saleh himself called Beck an “information gatherer.”

Beck’s job is to dispense that information with just the right tone, with just the right touch, to ensure that the Jets’ use of the No. 2 overall pick in the draft will not blow apart on account of some missteps, some rough early going.

When Wilson initially labored during the preseason, Saleh correctly predicted that, as he put it, “It will get worse before it gets better.”

He was right about that.

But he added that it would, in fact, get better.

Wilson just has to learn and learn again, as Beck did, to go ahead and do that learning and to move on.