I’m often disdainful of national media coverage of the Redskins, which often seems to focus on lazy story-line narratives and key buzzwords, preferring, instead, the stories written by local beat writers like ESPN’s John Keim, or, more recently, the Athletic’s Rhiannon Walker, who know the team and are able to provide nuanced context to their reporting.
But this week I clicked on a link to a story about the Redskins and Dwayne Haskins published on NFL.com, and was pleasantly surprised to find it to be well-researched and informative — so much so, that I, a person who spends an hour or two per day boning up on the Redskins — found information in the article that was new to me.
I was so pleasantly surprised that I wanted to call the story to everyone’s attention.
Here are some excerpts from Trotter’s in-depth article:
Fans see throws like [Haskins] made at the goal line or in one-on-one drills, and their appetite to see him in the starting lineup grows. It’s apparent by how they scream his name, particularly when he turns and tosses up a peace sign at them. But Washington’s coaches have no plans to rush him onto the field. Although short-term success could be critical to their job security, their focus is on the long-term development of Haskins, which is why they are preaching “process” during training camp.
”He came back from the break with an increased familiarity with the scheme and what we’re trying to accomplish with concepts we’re calling in the passing game; it has come a little more natural to him,” head coach Jay Gruden said. “But it’s still a process. Every day we might change a formation or [make] some minor tweak to a run-game concept or a pass-game concept that just doesn’t register with him like it does with the other guys because they’ve been here. That’s the tough thing for him. The more you work, the more familiar you get, but you’ve also got to be ready for the new stuff, which he’s having a little bit of trouble with. But once he hears it and sees it again, he’s fine.”
Haskins is young — just 22 years old — and lacks the level of on-field experience that most 1st round draft picks have. He started just one full season for Ohio State prior to entering the draft, and has played only 22 football games since graduating from high school.
There are some real positives about that when you consider the long-term for the Redskins. If Haskins turns out to be the franchise passer that they think he is, and if they manage the relationship with him correctly, he could provide stability at the position for the next 15 seasons.
In that light, there’s no reason to rush him to the field in 2019 until he’s ready.
Despite Haskins’ young age and lack of overall experience, he is mature, and seems to have earned the trust of the franchise coaches and front office already.
Folks around the organization marvel at how mature and poised Haskins is. Oftentimes, teams will have a member of the PR staff sit in on interviews with high picks, particularly if that player is a quarterback. Not so in this case. Haskins has given them no reason to believe he can’t handle himself. He looks his questioner in the eyes and answers every question directly. He does not talk as if paid by the word, choosing to make his points as economically and efficiently as possible.
Try to catch him off guard, and it’s as if he saw the blitz coming before the snap of the ball. Like on Monday, when asked his definition of failure. “I would define it as an opportunity to learn from something to succeed,” he said.
When was the last time he failed? Without hesitation, he responded: “I failed today when I was late on [a deep out route] on the field. Took two hitches. Next play, I won’t fail again. I wouldn’t count failure as a bad thing if you’re learning from it and overcoming it. But if you continue to fail, then you’re not making the change and you won’t succeed.”
It would not be surprising if a young quarterback showed a level of impatience with his situation (“All in for Week One”). But Dwayne Haskins seems to be relaxed about his future and his present; he, at least, says the right things in public, betraying no dissatisfaction with the circumstances in which he finds himself in Washington.
Perspective is everything with a young quarterback. Haskins knows the team has veterans in McCoy and free-agent addition Case Keenum, whose experience gives them an early edge in the competition for playing time. The rookie wants as many reps as possible, but the decision as to when he’ll play is not up to him. And he’s OK with that. He has been through it before, sitting out his freshman season at Ohio State, then playing backup for a year.
”He has a great attitude,” offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell said. “If he gets more reps, less reps, you don’t see a different Dwayne. He knows that this is all part of a big process. I go back to Ohio State and the growth he showed during his redshirt year that made the coaches so comfortable handing him the reins as a redshirt sophomore. I don’t look at this as a mirrored process, but I look at it as, he’s done the work before when he knew he wasn’t going to be the guy, so you don’t have any apprehension if it’s, ‘Hey, Dwayne, we’re not going to start you right away. We’re going to go with somebody else.’ At the same time, it’s, ‘Hey, you’re one snap away, or you’re two snaps away; you need to prepare every single week for what it takes to be a pro through the whole game week.’ ”
”The biggest thing I learned from [sitting] was that my good wasn’t good enough,” Haskins said. “My dad always tells me, ‘What you think is good isn’t good enough for a coach or the expectations for a team.’ It made me work harder.”
There’s something refreshing about that last part where Haskins Jr. talks about his father, Haskins Sr. Having read about how Haskins Sr. took an active role in managing Junior’s ‘brand’ shortly after Dwayne was drafted by the Redskins, I admit to a certain amount of apprehension stemming from the PTSD left behind by Griffin III and his dad.
Reporting in the 2012-13 seasons, especially, left me with the sense that an organization already known for its dysfunction was spurred to new lows by the interactions of the hard-nosed head coach, the egotistical and driven young quarterback, his interfering father and an owner who wanted to have his hands on the relationship. Back in early May, I developed a minor facial twitch in anticipation of it all happening again. Apparently, I worried needlessly.
One other similarity with 2013, however, is the reality that the head coach may be on the hot seat, and his relationship with his young quarterback is likely to be central to his continued tenure in Washington. One might worry that Jay Gruden could prioritize his own professional future above that of his talented rookie quarterback. It appears, however, that Gruden is looking out for the young man’s future.
Jobs could be on the line, for players as well as coaches. But even with that being said, Gruden and staff have no plans to play Haskins in the regular season unless he’s ready. And there remains a lot of work to be done, such as ensuring he has a full grasp of the play-call terminology. That sounds rudimentary, but when you played in a college system featuring play calls that were generally four words or less, and now must authoritatively bark out calls that are a dozen words or more, it’s more difficult than it sounds because it’s hard to play fast when you’re constantly thinking. Washington wants to get it to the point where things come naturally for Haskins.
Haskins’ strong relationships extend beyond a good relationship with his head coach. There have been numerous reports, backed up by tons of photographs, testifying that Dwayne Haskins has attached himself to Alex Smith, taking full advantage of the veteran’s 14 years of knowledge and experience.
But his appeal as the future face of the franchise goes beyond mere hard work or devotion to his craft. It appears that Haskins has the personality of a leader as well.
Haskins has a personality that’s like a magnet, drawing people to him. He has a smile that’s as easy as his gait. During breaks on the field, you’ll sometimes see him take a water bottle and squirt liquids down the necks of teammates. He even got defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who still is seeking payback.
”I did it because he’s always messing with me,” Haskins said of the veteran coach, a wide smile on his face. “He talks into my helmet while I’m calling the plays. He’s always doing stuff.”
Trotter closes his article by discussing other factors besides Haskins’ personal development that may come into play in deciding when he finally takes the field in an NFL regular season game. Trotter mentions, for example, Trent Williams’ absence, and then turns his attension to the Redskins’ schedule:
[The Redskins] want to put him in the best possible situation for success, which might mean sitting him for at least the first month-plus, because the early schedule is brutal. Four of the first five games are against playoff teams from a year ago, featuring upper-tier defensive units from Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and New England.
This is the kind of context that fans who follow the team closely understand; it’s the kind of context that local beat writers who cover the team regularly understand, but it is the type of nuance often missed by national writers looking for an easy storyline that helps them meet a deadline.
Trotter didn’t go for the easy story here. He’s not chasing clicks. Instead, he’s written a well-supported and informative article that explains things to a national audience that aren’t generally understood outside the DMV. I applaud that.
Thanks, Jim Trotter.