- The Washington Times
Tuesday, August 4, 2020

When it comes to Washington’s quarterback competition, coaches stress that a key part of the job is “learning the language.” In Scott Turner’s version of the “Air Coryell” offense, there are code words for each route, code numbers for each protection. All must be memorized, repeated within seconds in a huddle.

Learning the full playbook, though, takes time. As Washington began its first day of full team walkthroughs Wednesday for training camp, some quarterbacks are further ahead than others.


After starting 12 games with the Carolina Panthers last season, Kyle Allen is well versed in the system as coach Ron Rivera and Turner ran the same scheme in Carolina. That leaves the others to catch up.

Coach Ron Rivera said veteran Alex Smith knows roughly 75% of the playbook. Dwayne Haskins?

“I don’t think Dwayne is very far behind,” Rivera said in an online press conference Tuesday. “I really don’t. He’s done a great job of studying and getting himself ready for this. He’s been great.”

Even though Haskins may be trailing the other quarterbacks on the roster, Rivera was pleased with the 23-year-old’s progress. Not only has Haskins done the required work on the field, but Rivera also said the second-year quarterback has done “the extra stuff” that the coach had asked earlier in the offseason. The two men have had conversations to lay out expectations and over the past few months, Rivera has challenged Haskins — directly and indirectly — to do the work needed to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

During his rookie season, Haskins started in seven of his nine appearances. But the first-rounder’s knowledge of the playbook was questioned. Haskins struggled to command coach Jay Gruden’s version of the West Coast offense, which differed from the spread offense Haskins ran at Ohio State. At one point, he was so frustrated with his lack of results that he went to interim coach Bill Callahan to seek advice on how to improve.

Haskins made massive strides by the end of the year. Speaking to reporters in June, he said he believed that with a year of the NFL under his belt, it was easier to grasp a new scheme this time around. He added Turner’s system is “easier to regurgitate” since it’s a “numbered system.”

Rivera has seen a commitment from Haskins.

“He’s done the things that I think puts him right there where he needs to be at this junction of where we are in our training,” Rivera said. “… He’s done the job that, I think, deserves recognition.”

In some ways, it shouldn’t be surprising if Smith has picked up Washington’s playbook faster.

Though Smith has never played for Turner, he does have some experience in the “Air Coryell” offense. When Smith was in his second season with the San Francisco 49ers in 2006, Turner’s father, Norv, served as offensive coordinator. He also played in the scheme again in 2008, when Mike Martz became the 49ers’ offensive coordinator.

Smith has been praised for his intelligence throughout his career. Last week, Washington quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese raved about Smith’s willingness to learn when the veteran participates in meetings. He called him a great example for the rest of the group.

“There is nothing about him that says, ‘I already got this, I know this, I did it like this before,’” Zampese said. “It is, ‘How are we doing it here in Washington? How do you want me to do it? These are the things and experiences that I have had.’ … He is fantastic.”

On Tuesday, Rivera reiterated that Smith will be competing for the job if he is medically cleared to practice. So far, Smith, who suffered a horrific leg injury in 2018, has been limited to working out with trainers and participating in meetings.

The key will be how Smith responds to working out. Rivera said after four days of workouts last week, the 36-year-old showed no “residual effect” with his leg — a promising sign. That could help Smith be removed from the Physically Unable to Perform list, which can be done at any point once Smith passes a football physical.

Another important element for Smith will be how he handles himself in the pocket. The quarterback must show he can protect himself, Rivera said.

“I’ll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is,” Rivera said. “It’s been exciting to watch his progression. He’s working off to the side with the trainers, he’s trying to mirror all the activity that the other quarterbacks are doing with Kenny and Scott Turner, and he gets a chance to work on all those techniques.

“He’s looked really fluid. He really has. And it’s a tribute to who he is, it’s a tribute to his trainers and his doctors that have helped him get to where he is today.”


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