ASHBURN — To understand the full nature of Dwayne Haskins‘ competitiveness, to grasp the quiet bravado that will lead the Washington Redskins over the next seven weeks, first you have to know what a graded workout is.
It was the spring 2017 and some of the country’s top college quarterbacks were gathered for a workout in Los Angeles. On this particular afternoon, quarterback guru Quincy Avery designed a competition that would grade the passers on each throw, a way to pit the 10 attendees against each other.
It was then Haskins issued a bold, but soft-toned declaration: He was going to go last among the group, and whoever was leading the competition, he’d top them by five points.
“He went on to beat them by five with three throws left,” Avery said, “and then finished because he did exactly what he said he was going to do. … Dwayne hadn’t even started a college game at that point, but we knew then, ‘All right, he’s different.’”
On Sunday against the New York Jets, Haskins will use that confidence when he starts for the second time this season, his first since being named the team’s full-time starter earlier this week. After months of debate of whether he’d be ready, whether he truly knew the plays, the Ohio State product will get a chance over the remainder of the season to prove he’s a capable NFL quarterback.
So much has gone wrong for the Redskins in 2019, but for the next seven weeks, the quarterback has an opportunity to provide something that has been desperately missing over their 1-8 start: Hope.
Haskins realizes this. But standing at a lectern Wednesday, the quarterback said he wasn’t out to prove anything other than living up to the high expectations he’s set for himself.
That’s more than enough.
“It’s the fear of not reaching the potential that I know that I can,” Haskins said, “and that’s something that motivates me everyday in the weight room, in meetings and on the field. … That’s just something I take pride in, as far as knowing where I want to be, knowing where I can be, knowing where I’m at right now and what needs to be done to get there.”
‘In a zone’
Terry McLaurin has seen what it is like when Haskins finds a rhythm, when it all clicks together and the quarterback engineers what seems like an unstoppable offense. The two were teammates at Ohio State and McLaurin watched as Haskins went from a two-year back-up to a Heisman finalist who threw for 50 touchdowns in 14 games.
The Redskins receiver compared it to a red-hot shooter in the NBA.
“Ray Allen, any type of elite scorer … you can think of being in a zone,” McLaurin said. “It’s like, ‘Man, it doesn’t matter who’s in front of him, what he’s seeing, it’s just the ball’s going in.’ I see that a lot out of Dwayne when he gets going, when he’s confident.”
But, as McLaurin acknowledged, Haskins hasn’t established the same type of swagger with the Redskins. Since drafting him 15th overall, Washington has taken a patient approach with the quarterback. The team understands every pass, dropback and play call will be analyzed when Haskins is under center. Coaches see the ways Haskins has overthrown receivers, the ways his feet occasionally aren’t set and how the rookie periodically miscommunicates the play out of the huddle.
It’s the latter that has led most of the discussion surrounding Haskins, specifically: Does he know the plays? The quarterback insists the playbook isn’t an issue — “I pride myself in reading defenses,” he said last month — but the miscues have created a disconnect between the perception of Haskins in the pre-draft process and now.
Leading up to the draft, Haskins was praised for his football intellect, so why has it seemed like an issue this season?
“I am surprised from a standpoint of some people want to say he has trouble learning or he’s taking a while (to learn) the offense, I don’t think that’s ever been the case,” McLaurin said. “Dwayne, since I’ve been here, he’s never thrown the wrong route or not known what the play call is. It’s just the comfortability he gets the reps.
“I feel like that can’t be stressed enough.”
Over the past few weeks, teammates and coaches have praised Haskins for making strides in practice. Play calls are delivered with a stronger, decisive cadence, they say. Redskins quarterbacks coach Tim Rattay said he sees improvement “every week” in Haskins.
Rattay said Haskins is learning how much he has to do outside meetings and when he leaves the building, how much time he needs to spend on a particular concept.
“When a guy that’s as talented as he is, when he misses a throw, most of the time it’s something with his feet or his eyes,” Rattay said. “That’s just what we’ve got to keep working (on).”
Haskins was frustrated. Two days after a loss to the Minnesota Vikings late last month, the 22-year-old met with interim coach Bill Callahan for an hour on the team’s off-day to go over the loss. He hated the feeling in his stomach, he said, and asked his coach how to improve.
Patrick Cilento has a similar story. The Bullis School (Maryland) coach recalled this week how in 2015, Haskins reacted after a 66-65 overtime loss to high-school rival Woodberry Forest. They met for an extra film session, going over his mistakes.
“He just wanted to be great,” Cilento said.
As confident as Haskins can be, Cilento said the quarterback was always committed to getting better. Haskins would routinely go from practice to a private workout with a trainer. He would even fly around the country to work with quarterback gurus like Avery.
Haskins, too, used any slight as a motivation. He was fueled in 2015 when he finished third at Elite 11, a premier quarterback competition. On draft night, Haskins declared the league had “done messed up” for letting him fall all the way to 15.
“He’s always had that chip on his shoulder because he always believes that he’s the best,” Cilento said.
“He’s not (rude),” said Avery, who has worked with Haskins since his sophomore year of high school. “But at the same time, you know that he’s confident in his skills and ability, which is very difficult at that age to do, to be that confident in themselves and not rub people the wrong way.”
One challenge for Haskins now will be to translate the chip on his shoulder and confidence to produce on the field. He’ll need to command the respect of his teammates, the majority who are much older than him.
But more than anything, the next seven weeks will be about proving himself right.
“I know I can play at a high level,” Haskins said, “so I’ve just got to go do it.”
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