Beck Needs to Acquire an "Eye for the Middle"

Usually the middle is good. It's normally where the most crème filling is. It's the best part of a sub sandwich. Where's the beef? It's in the middle.

From my coaching vantage point from the couch, BYU quarterback John Beck does not like the middle. For Beck, it seems to be a foreboding place where raiders and pilferers roam unchecked; where seams, soft spots and zone holes become a cross section of perplexing puzzles and a confusing union of malevolence.

Beck and plays across the middle seem like pickles and chocolate, bricks and balloons, or Michael Jordan and baseball.

When was the last time you saw Beck drop back seven steps, set up, slide forward a couple feet, then drill Daniel Coats, Jason Kukahiko or Antwaun Harris 25 yards downfield over the middle? How about Dennis Pitta doing a quick curl 10 yards down the center of the field?

Beck's deficiencies or reticence at throwing over the middle is not something you might notice easily he is so good at throwing to the outside, but it makes you wonder how good he COULD be if he became adroit at hitting his inside receivers with equal flair.

This is not a "slam" on Beck by any means. Every quarterback has his weaknesses. It's hard to say that Beck was anything, but brilliant in the second half of the Air Force game with his 12-15 for 236 yards and four-touchdown performance. By the way, he did hit Austin Collie for a nice gain on an inside route about midway through the third quarter. He can do it.

During the last series of the game, with the Air Force win safe and secure, backup quarterback <Matt Berry was sent in to run out the clock. Facing third and long, Berry took a snap in the shot gun, took one step back, set up and drilled Antwaun Harris 20 yards downfield on a deep crossing pattern – across the middle.

Wow! That's what an over-the-middle pass looks like! I had almost forgotten.

BYU coach Gary Crowton commented after the Air Force game that Beck is still a little bit gun-shy sometimes trying to avoid turnovers. It doesn't help that Beck's last two interceptions were passes to Coats that were off target and intercepted in traffic. Crowton suggested that Beck sometimes needs to just have a little bit more faith in his natural instincts and receivers and let the ball fly.

Maybe Beck is trying so hard not to make a mistake that he is completely avoiding the throw he is most uncomfortable with – across the middle. Why not stick with the outside tosses that have been successful and are your niche? Last thing you want to do is start having turnovers and force coach Crowton to reconsider his starter. Better safe than sorry, right?

Maybe Beck just doesn't have an eye for the middle routes. I remember former Cougar basketball player Roger Reid saying he had an eye for moving screens. He could just pick them out from the rest of the chaos going on the court.

Former BYU running back Marcus Whalen had good running skills, but he did not have a good eye for hitting the right hole. Curtis Brown, on the other hand, seems to have an innate sense of where the open holes are developing. He will only get better.

John Beck, meanwhile, seems to have a great eye for the deep route. That's a good thing. He had it in high school, too. Maybe his skill and success on the deep outside routes makes him naturally overlook the more congested middle routes.

To my untrained eye, this is the true test of Gary Crowton as a developer of young quarterback talent. This is what he signed up for this last summer when he opted to become his own offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. Job No. 1 for Crowton now is to restore Beck's competence and confidence in his throwing game – including finding open receivers over the middle.

Nobody can deny Beck's skills and potential. He is still a very young quarterback, but that is no longer an adequate excuse when true freshman quarterbacks excel at other major programs like Tennessee and Florida.

Beck is lucky to have two of the best outside receivers in the Mountain West Conference. Over time, I'm confident he will become better at finding his inside guys. Obviously, a big part of this equation rests on the shoulders of tight ends and inside receivers to make plays to get open, force Beck to notice them and prove to him the middle is good.

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