Dick Harmon: NFL play-calling a challenge for Beck

Published: Thursday, July 5 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

Folks in Miami may not recognize John Beck, even though he's been in town through myriad minicamps and his face has been on TV and newspapers throughout south Florida.

However, if they see a guy in a grocery store, intensely studying a play sheet atop a baby stroller as his wife, Barbara, fills up a shopping cart, one may assume they've run into the Miami Dolphins' second-round draft pick.

Beck has taken his gym-rat self to the next level, immersing himself deep into the Dolphin playbook as if it's some kind of lost treasure map. He's deployed a memorization technique, trying to master the complicated huddle calls required by Miami, a play-call system far more complicated than the one he used at Brigham Young University.

"Making reads, throwing the ball and running plays isn't much different than what I experienced at BYU, but the verbiage they use when calling out a play at the NFL level requires two to three times more words and its much tougher."

Beck's best bet is repetition, something he experienced when learning Portuguese to serve a mission for the LDS Church in Portugal.

How complicated is it?

Well, at BYU, his huddle call for a basic pass play would involve two words, usually a color and a two-digit number.

With the Dolphins, who use a lot of shifts and motion, the call could involve eight to 10 words or phrases, each signaling a specific aspect of the play.

For example, a Dolphin play call might require the following wordplay:

1. A phrase identifying the initial shift

2. The name of the formation

3. A tag word identifying what motion leads to the formation

4. A protection scheme

5. Receiver pass routes, a three-digit number

6. A tag word identifying adjustments

7. A call identifying what a back is to do

A Dolphin pass play might sound like this: "Scatter-Two

Bunch Right-Zip-Fire Right-273-Pivot-F Flat."

Oh, and don't forget the hike count.

"It's a lot to get down, and in the NFL, it has to be automatic, like right now," Beck said.

He's had some help from BYU quarterback coach Brandon Doman, who told Beck what he did when he played with the 49ers.

"He had his wife quiz him. He drew up some play sheets. The diagrams included a circle for the primary receiver, a square for the secondary receiver, a triangle for the check down, and depending on the play, it enabled him to memorize the progression."

Beck has put Dolphin plays on a white board, created note cards and Doman-like play sheets. He studies them like a pyramid-scheme builder with a tax form.

"We have code words for the calls, too, because when in a two-minute drill, you can't get to everything. There just isn't time."

So, while driving around Miami, it isn't unusual for Beck's wife to hold a play sheet and quiz the quarterback. Same for a visit to a grocery store.

"You can never prepare enough, learn enough," he said. "I'm going up against some veterans on our defense who've been in the NFL for 17 years. You strive to be perfect. Just when I finish a practice and I think I've got it all down, one mistake can almost undo everything I feel I've accomplished that day."