PROVO As former BYU quarterback John Beck prepares for his second NFL training camp with the Miami Dolphins next week, he spent part of this week around I-15 in Utah County, putting the memories of a 1-15 rookie season in his rearview mirror and setting his sights on future success.
Returning to Provo provides some solace for Beck, who, among other things, assisted with a football camp for kids Monday at Provo High School. Beck draws strength from reflecting upon his time overcoming trials as a Cougar. At training camp, which starts on July 25, he'll compete for the Dolphins' starting job.
"My time at BYU was one of the biggest learning experiences for me because we had to battle so much adversity," said Beck, who endured three non-winning seasons in his first three years in Provo before directing BYU to a conference championship in 2006.
"Nothing was ever easy for us. Our senior year, we had things rolling pretty well. But for the most part, the way we had to battle adversity, and weird things happening, all that stuff I definitely draw upon. Especially now with the situation I'm in in Miami. My freshman year at BYU was very similar to my rookie season in the NFL. I went in, gave it my all. I'd go home and study my brains out. When I went on the football field, I was trying my best, trying to make plays, but for one reason or another, weird stuff happened. The ball would slip out of my hand, our team couldn't win, we'd get a first down and we'd get a penalty. Now, I'm just taking from those things I learned as we built things at BYU and take them with me to the Dolphins where we're in a building process right now. We're trying to get things going, trying to get wins."
During the off-season, Miami hired a new executive vice president of operations, Bill Parcells, and a new coach, Tony Sparano. To Beck, who started four games last season with the Dolphins, it's reminiscent of the time when Bronco Mendenhall became BYU's head coach prior to the 2005 campaign.
"I talk about how similar it is to BYU, well, it's just like the Bronco Mendenhall era coming in. It's the same exact thing," Beck said. "The things coach Parcells and coach Sparano talk about and what they bring to the Dolphins, it's almost the same. I really feel like, as frustrating as those first couple of years were for me at BYU those experiences prepared me for this. I went through a difficult transition. BYU was down and we had to get it up. Now I'm going through it again. In all, the experience I had at BYU, even those some of those losses were difficult, it was the best experience for what I'm going through now."
Since the end of the 2007 season, the Dolphins acquired 28-year-old free agent quarterback Josh McCown and drafted Michigan quarterback Chad Henne. Beck, 26, will be battling with McCown for the starting role. Two weeks ago, McCown sustained a cut on the index finger of his throwing hand that required six stitches after a brush with a chain saw. McCown, who signed a $6.25 million, two-year contract in February, expects to be ready for the start of training camp.
"They told all of us that the job's wide open," Beck said. "The last two mini-camps, they let Josh and I rotate reps with the ones. He took it one day, I'd take it the next. We were going back and forth. It's an open competition. I feel like I've done a good job up to this point. Now it's a just matter of heading into training camp, getting the job done. I want to be the guy this fall."
Last season, Beck experienced some growing pains, both literally and figuratively. He was sacked 10 times in his first three starts and for the year he fumbled seven times, losing five. In the season- finale in a 38-25 defeat to Cincinnati, Beck coughed up a fumble that resulted in a Bengal touchdown. Later, though, he led the Dolphins on two scoring drives, including his first touchdown pass late in the contest.
For the season, Beck completed 60 of 107 passes for 559 yards, recorded one touchdown and three interceptions and posted a quarterback rating of 62.0.
Beck has been able to sit down on several occasions with Parcells, who owns a pair of Super Bowl rings and has been instrumental in turning around several NFL franchises over the years. "He's pretty cool. I've had breakfasts where he'll come sit down next to me and ask me how things are going. He'll talk to me about the experiences he's had with Phil Simms and Tony Romo and things they did well. I just listen and try to do it."
Besides dining with the man known as 'The Big Tuna,' there are many surreal moments in the NFL, Beck said."I grew up watching Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. Then, in my first practice, I'm doing a 7-on-7 drill and there they are. All of the sudden, I was practicing with them. I'm handing off the ball to Ricky Williams 20-something times a practice. I remember watching him when he was at Texas. There are a lot of surreal moments and that's why I feel it's a privilege for me to be there. I definitely had to work hard to get there and I plan to work hard to stay there and be the guy for the Dolphins."