QB guru John Beck weighs in on Zach Wilson (and Jaren Hall and Kedon Slovis)
All three QBs have been tutored by the former BYU and NFL quarterback. Here’s what he thinks about their futures
Those are the hopes and dreams of the players and of their offseason quarterback coach John Beck, who has tutored all three of them at the 3DQB training program in Huntington Beach, California.
“A lot of times guys find a way to win in college and they want to believe that will help them win in the pros. In some cases that can happen at times when you are on good teams, but a lot of times the quarterbacks have to reinvent themselves. — former BYU quarterback John Beck
Beck threw for over 11,000 yards at BYU (2003-06) and spent six seasons in the NFL, but his football niche is teaching aspiring NFL QBs, and three of his prized students each face unique challenges in 2023.
After a tumultuous second season with the Jets, Wilson is at a crossroads in his young career.
“I don’t think he’s gonna have the ability to get out (of New York),” Beck told the “Y’s Guys” earlier this week. Wilson is two years into a four-year, $35-million rookie contract. “I think Zach is recognizing some areas where he needs to improve and he’s also recognizing some new ways to view the NFL game.”
Wilson’s Cougars went 11-1 in 2020, but in the two seasons since he was drafted by the Jets, New York is an impatient 11-23, despite Wilson’s youth, his string of injuries, and a much-maligned offensive line.
“A lot of times guys find a way to win in college and they want to believe that will help them win in the pros,” Beck said. “In some cases that can happen at times when you are on good teams, but a lot of times the quarterbacks have to reinvent themselves. They have to learn how to win in the NFL. It’s hard to win. In Zach’s situation, it hasn’t been easy (winning) in New York before he got there and it’s still not easy.”
Beck says Wilson’s focus this offseason is all about self-improvement and making sure he is on the right track, regardless of what happens this year. In the last month the Jets hired a new offensive coordinator and passing game coordinator. They are also expected to sign a veteran quarterback.
“They haven’t given up on him by any means,” Beck said. “Although I know there are some disappointing things because of the way it shook down last year, there are still people in the building that picked him that high.”
Beck has been working with Hall for years. The BYU junior opted out of his senior season to enter April’s NFL draft.
“He’s been throwing the ball great out here,” Beck said. “For him, it’s about getting healthy so he can perform at his best.”
Hall suffered a high ankle sprain late in the game at Stanford in November and he tweaked it again on the third day of practice at the Senior Bowl earlier this month. BYU will hold its pro day March 24, where Hall will get another chance to show off his skills to NFL scouts.
“He has so many traits and qualities that are going to be things teams are going to really like,” Beck said. “Jaren has to take what he experienced at BYU and utilize that to help him as he adapts to a new NFL offense.”
Beck, who was drafted by Miami in the second round in 2007, said draft day is tough to predict.
“Where he lands is a mixed bag. Some say he could jump up to a Day 2 pick. Who knows where it goes?” Beck said. “You just never know with the draft. I hope he goes where he gets a ton of reps in the offseason.”
When Slovis finished up his season at Pittsburgh he had a decision to make — accept an invite to play in the Senior Bowl and prepare for the NFL draft or transfer to BYU for one final year of preparation.
“I don’t tell all our quarterbacks that we train that they should consider going to BYU. I don’t do that,” Beck said. “But in Kedon’s case, it felt like it could be a fit. Not only because of his skill set, but the person has to be a fit as well. I try to take those things into consideration when I do reference BYU as a place to play.”
At Beck’s prodding, both Slovis and BYU eagerly explored the possibilities. Slovis committed on Dec. 24 and enrolled in school for winter semester. He and the Cougars kick off spring practice on March 6.
“He’s just a good person. He does things the right way,” Beck said. “He works hard. He’s punctual. He’s kind and always says ‘Thank you.’ He’s motivated and driven. He wants this year to be great. People can feel when somebody is motivated and driven. It emanates from them. It’s magnetic. Guys want to be around guys that are driven.”
Just as Beck experienced at BYU and during his six-year NFL career, Slovis has battled through highs and lows, wins and losses and injuries.
“For the first time that I’ve been around Kedon, this is the healthiest he has ever been. I’m really happy he’s at BYU,” Beck said. “I can tell that he’s enjoying it. He told me that this has really been a good fit, even better than he could have hoped for.”
The Beck connection
While Beck would never accept the credit, the quarterback succession of Wilson-to-Hall-to-Slovis would have never happened without him and 3DQB.
As was documented in nearly every telecast during Wilson’s off-the-charts 2020 season, his choice to train with Beck over the summer in California was a game-changer. Wilson and the Cougars went 11-1 his junior year ahead of his No. 2 overall pick to the Jets.
Hall, Wilson’s successor at BYU, also trained with Beck during his off-seasons. Hall’s Cougars went 10-3 in 2021 and 8-5 in 2022. The 6-foot-1 junior finished 6-1 against teams from the Pac-12, including rival Utah.
Slovis was introduced to Beck by Wilson. After watching Wilson’s development, Slovis, a 6-foot-3 right-handed thrower, called and asked him who he was working with. Slovis signed up with Beck and that’s where he first met Hall — as they both trained together last summer in Huntington Beach.
Slovis relied on input from Hall about the team and the school before he committed to BYU. The two even coordinated the timing of their announcements declaring Hall’s departure and Slovis’ arrival. As a bonus, Slovis will lead BYU into the Big 12 having played in 34 Power Five games at Pittsburgh and USC.
“I think this is a really cool moment for Kedon in his life because he knows next year he’ll have the opportunity to show what he can do for NFL teams, but he wants to go out on a high note,” Beck said. “There is a skill set there that fits Aaron Roderick’s offense. I expect when they enter the season that it looks like a pretty well-oiled machine, and he’s got great chemistry with the guys.”
The Beck legacy
Beck may not have played for the late LaVell Edwards, but his influence on the quarterbacks who play inside Edwards Stadium, comes as a personal tribute.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get a chance to play for LaVell, but I committed to him. That’s who recruited me,” Beck said. “As a kid I was well aware of the tradition of BYU quarterbacks. I knew who all those guys were, and I wanted to be just like them.”
The Mesa, Arizona, high school star arrived on campus for head coach Gary Crowton’s third season in 2003. He was in the lineup by the fourth game after Matt Berry broke his hand. Beck, who was three years removed from his last high school start and fresh off a two-year church mission, started against Stanford and threw for 279 yards in an 18-14 defeat.
The following year Beck was the full-time starter, but BYU struggled with issues on and off the field, and after a 5-6 season Crowton was fired. Defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall was elevated to head coach and set out to rebuild the program with Beck remaining at quarterback.
Beck marched the Cougars to the Las Vegas Bowl in 2005 with a 6-6 record and when he completed his 11-2 senior season, including the Mountain West Conference championship and a 38-8 thumping of No. 21 Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl, the quarterback’s work was done.
After 11,021 career passing yards, including 17 games with 300 or more yards, and 79 career passing touchdowns, Beck restored BYU’s residency in the top 25 (No. 16) and put the Cougars back in the quarterback business with another Mesa product, Max Hall, waiting in the wings.
Beck to Harline
When Beck broke the huddle at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Nov. 26, 2006, he wasn’t thinking about throwing the winning touchdown pass to snap BYU’s four-game losing streak to Utah. Instead, Beck was reflecting on the year before when the Utes escaped Provo with a 41-34 overtime victory after his last pass attempt to Michael Reed fell incomplete in the end zone.
“That 2005 loss to Utah hurt bad,” he said. “I spent the whole next day writing down everything I could have done better, because I thought if I was ever in this moment again, I want to nail it.”
Prior to the final pass at Edwards Stadium, Beck told himself, “I can’t take a sack. I’ve got to give someone an opportunity to make a play.” In hindsight, after studying the game film, what he wished he had told himself was, “Use your athleticism to create space, create more time and put a bind on the defense.”
Twelve months later, trailing 31-27 with three seconds on the clock, No. 21 BYU marched to the Utah 12-yard line with time for one more play.
“I thought if they drop everybody, I’m going to buy more time,” said an older and more experienced Beck. “I’m going to try to buy the max amount of time I can and put pressure on them to cover our guys.”
The Cougars broke the huddle to a deafening roar from a stadium mostly filled with Utah fans. That’s when Beck remembers getting a question from his tight end Jonny Harline.
“Hey, if I don’t get that fade (route) what do you want me to do?” Harline said.
“I’m gonna move around and you just find a way to get open,” answered Beck.
Beck took the shotgun snap and rolled to his left and waited. It was almost as if he had lived this play in his head for 365 days. As Utah pursued him in a mad scramble, he rolled to his right and just as he was about to get hit, Beck threw back to his left to a wide-open Harline waiting in the end zone.
“It was really a backyard, elementary school, fifth-grade moment when you are hurrying and you say, ‘Bro, just get open! I’ll find you!’ That was it.”
Beck and the Cougars won, 33-31.
The quarterback trifecta
With Wilson already in the NFL and Hall on his way, a good season from Slovis could give BYU football a run of placing three consecutive quarterbacks into the professional ranks for the first time since McMahon, Young and Bosco.
Beck sees a little bit of himself in all three of them.
“My first couple of years at BYU were much more challenging than I anticipated,” he said. “My story started when BYU was going through some tough stuff and I feel very grateful for the storybook ending that I got to have, because it’s never guaranteed. To be able to play against Utah and have that last play, and to go against Oregon and have that be the last game, the story just ended so cool.”
Today Beck’s focus is helping Wilson, Hall and Slovis write their own stories. He knows he can’t control how each one will end, but he’s happy to have found a way to help them along the journey — with BYU as a significant benefactor.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.