ASHBURN, Va. — Dwayne Haskins‘ flashes produce moments of joy, throws punctuated by high-fives from the coach or fist bumps from his offensive coordinator. Those moments remind the Washington Redskins — as if they needed it — why they drafted him. Other throws let them know Haskins needs more seasoning.
But with spring practices completed, they’ve seen enough to know that this year’s 15th overall pick is a serious contender for the starting job.
“Oh, for sure,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “I’d be silly not to. He’s put enough out there on tape to say he deserves a shot, without a doubt.
“I don’t know quite what he can do in the NFL in this system because it’s new to him, but his ability warrants the fact that, hey, let’s take a peek at this big son of a b—-.”
The Redskins also have Colt McCoy, who has been with Gruden for six seasons, and Case Keenum, who has started 54 games, including 30 over the past two seasons. Gruden knows more of what to expect from those two. Haskins, 21, has talent, but no NFL experience.
“Dwayne is the wild card,” Gruden said.
In a recent minicamp, Haskins displayed his precision — leading to Gruden yelling, “That’s a no, no don’t throw it! … Nice throw!” Haskins barely stuck a pass over the top of a cornerback dropping back with a safety rotating over. The correct throw was to dump it underneath the corner. Instead, he found receiver Kelvin Harmon. On other throws, Haskins didn’t turn his feet properly, leading to errant passes.
“You see the ‘wow’ plays and you’re like, ‘Jesus,'” Gruden said. “When he’s on, there’s nobody you’d rather have than Dwayne. Really. It’s pretty. He stands tall; he has a cannon, and he can quicken up his release. He’s got great touch. Strong, powerful arm; strong, powerful body. But sometimes when he’s off, he’s abnormally off. It’s kind of weird.”
But that reflects Haskins’ rookie stature, too. Gruden said there are times when Haskins is focused on remembering the play, repeating it properly, then reading a defense and throwing to new teammates. It’s hard to play freely or to remember the situation.
“The most important thing is to quicken his reads so he can reset his feet and get them underneath him to make accurate throws. That comes with time,” Gruden said. “Sometimes, he’s in such a hurry that he might be late and then he feels he has to rush.”
Haskins already wants to be at a different point in his career; he knows it’s not possible.
“I want to be really, really good, and right now, I’m good sometimes. And that’s frustrating, because I want to play like Tom Brady, I want to play like Drew Brees,” Haskins said. “This is only my fourth week in camp and that’s not going to be possible.”
Two “P” words sum up the Haskins experience: patience and perspective. The Redskins want to be patient with his development (and want Haskins to be patient with himself). And perspective is needed because of his youth and inexperience.
“He’s already earned the respect of a lot of people around here. They’re excited because they’ve seen bits and pieces of the potential.”
Redskins coach Jay Gruden on Dwayne Haskins
After Tuesday’s practice, Haskins was interviewed by reporters, signed autographs for 30 minutes, then sat for another interview before heading to a two-hour meeting with coaches to go over film. Haskins said he’ll be in Ashburn studying from now until training camp begins July 25 — with a “few-day” break this month to attend a Jordan Brand retreat in Paris, along with luminaries such as Michael Jordan and Carmelo Anthony.
“Watching film, calling plays, just getting used to being in different terminology,” Haskins said. “At Ohio State, I used to play ‘Madden’ to learn the playbook. Once I learn the playbook, I know what I’m doing. I can call out the reads and point out sight [adjustments] and move protections; everything else will go from there. So I feel one full year of learning would do me justice.”
That doesn’t mean Haskins believes he must sit for the first year; rather, it’s just about where he expects his comfort level to reach in a year. Gruden said there are times when Haskins got away with throws in college because of his arm; Haskins agrees. The quarterback did say that sometimes he’ll throw from various angles, just to see what he can — or can’t — do.
“That’s me watching too much Aaron Rodgers,” he said.
But the footwork has been emphasized before and during practices.
“In the NFL, defensive backs are faster,” Haskins said. “In college, you might get away with some throws where I don’t bring my legs with me, and some plays now [in the NFL] if I don’t get my legs underneath me it could be batted down or a pick. I know I have a strong arm, and sometimes I get to where I want to throw with my arm and not bring my legs. It’s just being conscious where my body is at in the pocket.”
Those “wow” moments this spring included plays when Haskins found receivers who weren’t part of the progression.
“He can just see the whole field extremely well,” Gruden said. “For a young quarterback, a lot of times when there are rushers they have a tendency to look down. He has a natural ability to keep his eyes up and down the field. It’s like a video game where he can see and make all the throws. There’s a lot to like about him, and there’s a lot to clean up, as we would expect. But he’s been impressive.
“The comfort level he has to continue to get. When he calls a play and knows exactly what we’re trying to do, or when I start to call a formation, he knows what play is coming. That will come with time, lots and lots of time.”
That trust factor will play into Gruden’s decision as to who will start the season. Knowing what to expect from a quarterback matters; last season, Gruden knew what he had in Alex Smith, who knew when to throw a ball away or when to run and when not to force passes. But it took time for that to happen.
“Dwayne may not quite be there, yet,” Gruden said. “That’s not something we know, yet. I hope that’s not the case. He didn’t make many mistakes at Ohio State in the year he played. That’s something we have to play out.”
Haskins appears to have clicked with his teammates, performing a handshake routine with the running backs during every practice. Gruden, a master needler, will chastise him with a sarcastic comment or two while smiling — saying, “I hope they didn’t film that!” after Haskins tripped and fell on one drill.
But what Haskins must do is develop and learn. In meetings, he asks offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell about his former teammate Brady. Haskins picked the brain of veteran corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie after plays, asking why he jumped certain routes.
“I’d tell him when he sets his feet or when he looks a certain way, he’s staring down a little bit,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Everything I tell him, he comes back the next day and he beats me with it.”
In minicamp last week, Redskins corner Josh Norman made a diving interception off Haskins in the end zone. There was good-natured trash talking before the play and later, with lessons sprinkled in for Haskins.
“He’s got some fire to him,” Norman said. “He has no fear.”
Gruden provided additional impressions.
“He’s already earned the respect of a lot of people around here,” the coach said. “They’re excited because they’ve seen bits and pieces of the potential. He’s seeking information; he’s attentive in meeting rooms. He has a ways to go mentally — we’re throwing a lot of formations at him and it’s all new to him. We’ll see how he takes this period and how it transfers to when it comes back and how much he retains. That’s going to be the key.”
It’s all about progressing; when that results in Haskins starting games remains to be seen.
“I’m not worrying about starting Week 1. I just want to be ready to play Week 1 — whether that’s this year or next year,” Haskins said. “Whenever the time comes for me to play. I want to make sure that when I do play, I don’t want to look back.”