Opinion: Redskins top pick Dwayne Haskins seems to be plotting the right course
Dwayne Haskins called this.
He wasn’t simply trying to entertain his audience when as a 17-year-old in 2015, he wrote a piece for his high school newspaper, the Bullis Bulldog, and predicted that if Robert Griffin III didn’t pan out, the Washington Redskins would one day draft him.
Haskins really believed it. He had full confidence in his abilities. He knew the internal drive that fueled his work ethic during a prolific high school career in Potomac, Maryland.
So, when he took the field at Redskins Park for this past weekend’s rookie minicamp, Haskins – selected 15th overall out of Ohio State in last month’s NFL draft – didn’t have one of those "Is this real? Pinch me," moments. His journey had simply continued according to its anticipated course.
Washington QB Dwayne Haskins Jr. during drills as part of rookie minicamp. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)
“It was great,” Haskins said in a telephone interview with USA TODAY Sports while recounting his introductory practice sessions with his new team. “Great opportunity for me to be a part of the team and somewhere that I’m very comfortable with. Being out there today, playing some ball, it was a lot of fun for me.”
Weighty expectations ride on the shoulders of the 6-foot-3, 231-pound 22-year-old.
Washington hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1991, and the team has reached the playoffs only six times since. Stability at quarterback has proved even more scarce. In the last 27 seasons, 27 different quarterbacks have started games for the long-suffering franchise.
Team officials have tried everything. They’ve drafted high-profile passers (Haskins became Washington’s fifth taken in the first round since 1993). They’ve tried aging veterans and journeymen. But none have produced the long-term solution needed to transform the Redskins into a winning franchise.
Haskins, of course, knows the ever-optimistic fans – none bigger than team owner and Silver Spring, Maryland, native Daniel Snyder – hope he can at last end the suffering. Haskins understands that even his jersey number, 7 (worn by Haskins since he was 11 to honor Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick, but for the Redskins, a number unofficially retired ever since Joe Theismann’s career ended in 1985 and now released to Haskins only after Theismann gave his approval) signifies the loftiness of the hopes and dreams that engulf him.
But he swears he doesn’t feel the weight. He believes he has the right mindset and approach to handle those expectations.
In the two-plus weeks since Washington drafted him, Haskins has already had numerous conversations with senior vice president of personnel Doug Williams. Haskins has wisely clung to the Super Bowl XXII MVP’s every word, believing his knowledge will equip him to succeed on and off the field as a pro.
“Just being the face of the franchise – being the face of the Washington Redskins is a huge responsibility,” Haskins said. “And I have to take that with great respect and know that I have a lot of people looking to me to do the right thing.”
Haskins continued, “I just have to take one day at a time and know that God has a plan for me and let everything else take care of itself. That means, just me working hard every day, pushing the guys in my class and getting ready for training camp. I can do what I can do for my team. I can’t look at the outside noise. I’ve got to worry about what my coach wants me to get better at right now, that’s everything, as a young guy. I want to keep getting better at everything as a quarterback, as a leader, as an athlete.”
Getting better at everything literally means just that. Haskins passed for 4,831 yards, 50 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in 2018. But the Heisman Trophy finalist (and one-year starter) remains rather raw.
He rarely took snaps under center and also has little experience commanding a huddle and calling plays because the Buckeyes ran a no-huddle attack that often relied on hand signals from the sideline.
So Haskins is working to learn not only the concepts of Washington’s offense, but also the verbiage featured in the play book and how receive play calls, process that information and then to regurgitate it for his teammates before he even lines up in his position.
Redskins coaches and officials didn’t by any means expect perfection from Haskins this past weekend. But according to two people with knowledge of the workouts who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they hadn’t received permission to comment publicly on the quarterback’s play, the staff did like the poise and understanding he displayed. He spoke authoritatively in the huddles, came to the line with a swagger and executed. There were hiccups. But Haskins’ high football IQ and the tutelage he received leading up to the draft were evident.
Speaking to reporters after Saturday’s practice, coach Jay Gruden said, “It's been a good experience so far to get to know him, get some plays and watch him learn and then watch him take it to the field. … We’re at the very bare minimum right now, but I’m very impressed with his skill set for sure.”
It's still too early to know when/if Haskins will start as a rookie. Gruden plans to hold a competition among Haskins, Case Keenum (acquired via trade from Denver in March) and long-time backup Colt McCoy (still recovering from a broken leg, but expected fully recovered by training camp).
But Haskins isn’t concerned about that right now. Learning is his top priority.
“The nuances of the offense, knowing where to set my eyes, understanding the concepts so I don’t have to think hard about it,” Haskins explained. “Once I get comfortable in the play book and will be able to understand what the coaches want to (call), that’s when I start to pick up my level of play. Everyone knows I can throw the football, but it’s so much more than that, and it’s more than just X’s and O’s and that’s what I pride myself on.”
Some pre-draft scouting reports criticized him for a lack of mobility, and some analysts have wondered if the absence of a prolific scrambling game will hamper Haskins in the NFL.
However, in truth, Haskins possesses adequate escapability. No, he’s no Russell Wilson or Kyler Murray. But it’s not that he can’t move. In 533 drop-backs last season, Haskins was sacked only 20 times. So, the Redskins do see Haskins as proficient in moving in the pocket and extending plays.
The key for Haskins is to further develop those instincts and the understanding of the challenges defenses present.
“My game is whatever you need me to do to win the game, that’s what I’m going to do,” Haskins declared. “That’s all aspects of playing quarterback. The coaches know that I have good feet, and that’s all that matters to me.”
Haskins refuses to concern himself with labels or outward expectations. He plotted his course years ago and thus far, things have played out accordingly. So, his approach will not change now.
In this league, and in a city where his position draws scrutiny second only to the president, his tunnel vision should serve him well.
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