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What did Ron Rivera say about Dwayne Haskins on Thursday?

Parsing words in a search for meaning

NFL: Washington Redskins-Head Coach Ron Rivera Press Conference Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

One of my favorite things to do when Jay Gruden was still the coach of the Redskins was to listen closely to what he said and try to see what his key messages were.

Frankly, I found it annoying to listen to Bill Callahan speak, so I stopped writing articles about the key messages in what the head coach said.

But with the arrival of Riverboat Ron Rivera, a new day is dawning, and with his introductory press conference and subsequent media appearances, we have a ton of fresh material.

Originally, I planned to write just this one article covering a range of topics addressed by Coach Rivera on Thursday, but once I got going, I realized that it was going to be a veeery long article if I did so.

With that in mind, and also realizing that we now have about 6 months to fill with no real news to fill it, I have decided to break this into several articles in which I parse Ron Rivera’s words from this week’s press conference and interviews topic by topic. We’re not in any hurry.

But, anyway, let’s not dally. Let’s see what themes emerge from Ron Rivera’s public statements about his young quarterback, Dwayne Haskins Jr.

Dwayne Haskins Jr.

Let me plant my flag right here. I wasn’t in favor of drafting Haskins; not because I thought he was a bad player, but because of the situation that he would find himself in with a coach on the hot seat, a worthy veteran player to compete with in Case Keenum, and a fan base hungry for wins.

Once he was drafted, I was hoping that he would be held on the bench to learn until late in the season, which is just what happened.

When I saw him play initially, I was shocked at how ill-prepared he seemed for an NFL field. When I watched him speak in press conferences, I reacted very negatively to his quiet, almost surly demeanor. I found him very hard to like.

When the offfense had success in his last 6 quarters against the Eagles and Giants and I saw his enthusiasm on display on the field, I thawed a little in my evaluation of his personality, and became downright enthusiastic about his play and potential. In short, by the end of the season, I was a Dwayne Haskins fan, seeing him as a guy who can lead the Redskins to victory in the coming seasons.

I was, therefore, a bit surprised at the tenor of Ron Rivera’s comments about the young quarterback, which were tepid.

Still though, much of what he had to say about Haskins in the interview he did with Tiffany Blackmon after his press conference was pretty enthusiastic:

I think the biggest thing is [Dwayne] is gonna have to understand is what it takes, first and foremost. He’s got a tremendous skill set; he’s a smart football player; he does some really good things.

I had an opportunity to go back and study the games that he played in when the game plans were set for him, and there were some impressive things he did. I talked about the Detroit game, where, in the last quarter, he had those two drives that led to the scores, and how cool & calm and collected he was — the decisions he made, the balls he delivered... you know, putting them where they needed to be thrown. He just did some really quality things, so I think it’s just that as a young player he’s got some growth.

But I don’t want to discard the veteran guys we have; we’ve got some guys that really, I believe, could help contribute to this football team, and we’ll find out. Just the opportunity to have competition, I think, will help [Haskins] grow as well.

I sense a certain pattern has emerged among the four coaches (Gruden, Callahan, O’Connell and Rivera) whom I have heard talk about Dwayne Haskins this season.

All four coaches seem to be delivering a similarly structured message about Dwayne in this public forum — meaning that it feels like a message to Dwayne Haskins.

The message seems to be that there is confidence in Dwayne’s physical skills and excitement to work with him, but...


But, the coaches all seem to say, Haskins has to learn how to work at it, how to be diligent, how to lead, and how to be a pro. I get the sense that coaches feel that Haskins has to be challenged because (and this is just my take on things, remember), if he’s not challenged and pushed, he won’t progress quickly.

I get the sense, in other words, that they want him to feel uncomfortable.

Look at Rivera’s opening volley above. He doesn’t open up talking about how wowed he is by Dwayne’s skills. The first words out of his mouth in answer to Tiffany Blackmon’s question about Haskins were, “The biggest thing he’s gonna have to understand is what it takes.”

I’m not sure if Rivera has even met Dwayne Haskins yet, but he seems to have already gotten the message that the young man doesn’t yet understand what it takes.

And, while phrased very positively, Rivera’s parting remarks here are telling as well: Competition will help Haskins grow. There seems to be a strong message there. Don’t get comfortable young man. I didn’t draft you. You’ll have to earn everything you get.

Let’s look at Rivera’s comments in the press conference about Haskins. Remember, these are not off-the-cuff remarks from a job candidate who was interviewed on Monday and hired on Wednesday and is still trying to learn about the roster. Rivera’s last game as a head coach was against the Redskins, so he saw Haskins up close; he game-planned for him.

Furthermore, because Rivera was out of work for a month, he had a lot of time to go through the recruitment process with the Redskins. He said that he watched tape of at least six Redskins games, and took notes on all the players. He also spent an afternoon with Joe Gibbs, talking about the organization. By his own estimate, he spent 30-35 hours one-on-one with Dan Snyder.

Ron Rivera may be the most well-prepared new coaching hire in the history of the NFL to stand up behind a microphone knowing all about the team he’s been hired to lead.


Ron Rivera Introductory Redskins Presser

Here’s part of what he had to say about Haskins when he faced the press corps on Thursday afternoon:

First of all, he’s going to have to step up and become a leader. All the great ones have become leaders and they’ve become leaders whether they’re rookies or they’re 10-,12-year vets.

You’ve got to step up, you’ve got to be where you need to be; you’ve got to do things you’re supposed to do. That’s all going to start with your offseason, how you prepare yourself, how do you get yourself ready.

I think that’s probably one of the biggest things that we’ve got to do and not just with him, but every one of our players have got to understand this is an opportunity to lead. I’m going to do something where I try to create opportunities for every player to step up and be the leader at one time or the other.

He doesn’t have to be one of the greatest players to play running back [looking at Adrian Peterson while talking]. He’s got to be a guy that’s willing to step up in front of his teammates and tell them, ‘Hey, let’s go, man. Let’s roll.’”

What we’re trying to do right now is to develop that plan for his development as we go forward. I also think there’s a couple good veteran quarterbacks that [will] get some opportunities to play as well. We won’t know until we get ready to open up in September, so until then, everything is just a process. It’s a work in process. We can’t get ahead of it.

Wow! I read this and I get the sense that Dwayne Haskins has a real challenge in front of him, and that his new coach is throwing down the gauntlet.

“He’s going to have to step up and become a leader.” Sounds like Ron doesn’t believe that #7 is a leader yet.

“You’ve got to be where you need to be; you’ve got to do things you’re supposed to do.” I’m a university teacher, and if I wrote this on a student evaluation or said it to a student face-to-face, it would be a sign that I was not impressed with the student’s diligence or maturity. This could all be very general coach-speak and part of Rivera’s spiel that he’s developed over the years, but I don’t think so. Ron has had a month of preparation, and he knew he would be asked about Haskins. He knew what he wanted to say. It seems clear to me that Rivera believes that there are concerns with the maturity level of the 22-year-old Haskins, and that the young man still needs to learn about responsibility.

There have been a lot of ‘media moments’ for Haskins this season. We had the photo showing his distracted stare into the distance early in the year, as his coach was reviewing things with Keenum and McCoy, who were both intently focused, just a few feet away. Of course, we had the selfie moment, when Case Keenum had to run on the field and take the final snap, because Haskins was busy snapping selfies with a fan before the game ended. Asked about it in the post-game press conference, Haskins snapped again — this time at the reporter, telling him that the game was already over when he was taking the pictures.

There has also been some indirect evidence — suggestions (even from Jay Gruden) that Haskins struggled to learn the playbook during training camp, and second-hand reports and hints in press conferences that coaches were not satisfied with his work ethic or preparation in the early part of the season. Those concerns seem to have eased as the Redskins reached the final few games of the year, but it’s a concern that these things might ever have been a concern to begin with. Dwayne, it seems, is going to have to prove himself to a new coach, in a situation where it doesn’t seem like he is starting out with the benefit of the doubt on his side.

And there’s that suggestion again — the same one we saw with the later interview with Tiffany Blackmon — that Haskins will face competition from veteran quarterbacks.

This time, though, Ron sounds rather ominous: We won’t know until we get ready to open up in September.

We won’t know what? Presumably, who the starting quarterback of the Redskins is. That is the topic on the table, right?

If I was Dwayne Haskins, this, more than anything else I heard all week, would keep me awake at night.

There’s a couple good veteran quarterbacks that [will] get some opportunities to play as well. We won’t know until we get ready to open up in September, so until then, everything is just a process.

Rivera sounds like he’s ready for an open competition, and that Haskins isn’t getting a three-second head start.

Of course, the only thing I’m unclear on is the identity of these other “veteran quarterbacks” the Redskins have. Aside from Haskins, the only quarterback under contract beyond March is Alex Smith, who doesn’t look like a guy who will be ready for the rigors of training camp come July, much less the brutality of an actual NFL game come September.

It would be perfectly understandable if Ron Rivera knew the current roster but not the contract status of Case Keenum and Colt McCoy. Perhaps he hasn’t gotten that far in the process yet. In fact, that seems pretty likely. He certainly would have had a lot of higher priorities over the four weeks he spent deciding whether to take the job.

Rivera’s references to veteran quarterbacks could be taken another way, however. After all, he spent 35 hours with Snyder. He’s studied the roster. He’s got notes on the team.

Let’s say he’s perfectly aware of the contract status of Keenum and McCoy. His comments could be a sign that Riverboat Ron has already been busy putting together a target list for free agent QBs. That list could include Case and Colt, but it might also extend to other players that Ron wants to target. The fact that he twice referenced “veteran guys” without adding names could be a tell. Perhaps Ron is slick enough to think he can get away with deliberate vagueness because it will be assumed he isn’t fully aware of the roster and its makeup. After all, by the time anyone thinks much about it, he’ll be out of touch. He won’t have to answer questions from reporters again until the Combine or later. Right now, he can just get to work.

Bottom Line

Bottom line, I think Ron Rivera is telling us (and, more importantly, telling Dwayne Haskins) that the young man has already established a reputation that makes people doubt his preparation and commitment, and that he’s gonna have to not only work hard, but fight off competition for the starting quarterback job.

It seems like Ron Rivera is taking up the fight against complacency in his young quarterback right from the get-go. He has a reputation as a no-nonsense stickler. He mentioned in his press conference that he grew up in a military family. So did I. My father was a career Navy man, and we did things the way he wanted them, or there were consequences. You may remember the game in late 2016 when Cam Newton was benched for the opening drive of a game because he didn’t wear a tie on the plane. Imagine how Ron would’ve reacted if Newton missed a play because he was taking photos with fans prior to the end of the game.

It seems like Dwayne Haskins is in for a direct challenge in the coming months. I imagine he’s up for it, and that he’ll grow from it, and be better for it. I get the sense that Ron Rivera is gonna keep pounding.