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Is it true that the Redskins haven’t given Dwayne Haskins enough “weapons”?

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The national narrative vs. local wisdom

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Gregg Rosenthal recently published an article that purported to project the starters for all four NFC East teams, and the article included some limited commentary on each team. His article is indicative of the views of the media and NFL fans across the country. Here’s part of what Rosenthal wrote:

Dwayne Haskins is not set up for success, to put it mildly. The new offensive coaching staff led by Scott Turner has more ties to backup Kyle Allen. The receiver group may be the youngest in football, and there’s not a strength elsewhere for Haskins to lean on.

This wideout crew is quietly frisky. But it would look a lot friskier with Amari Cooper at the top of the depth chart and the young guys filling in below. Cooper apparently turned down a massive contract offer, instead returning to the Cowboys.

Terry McLaurin may have been the best receiver in the 2019 rookie class, while Kelvin Harmon and Steven Sims both looked like they belong. But it’s expecting way too much out of Haskins to carry a group of second-year players.

Pro Football Focus piled on this week by ranking the Redskins wide receiver group dead last, and added some unflattering comments of their own:

Terry McLaurin was awesome as a rookie last season. Outside of McLaurin, though, there really isn’t a whole lot to get excited about here.

Kelvin Harmon and Steven Sims did some nice things with overall grades of 64.7 and 64.6 in 2019, but neither of them can be counted on at this stage.

The tight end position is a giant question mark, and the only players the Redskins brought in this offseason to improve the receiving corps were Cody Latimer (has never played more than 400 snaps in a single season in his six-year career and was recently arrested), Antonio Gandy-Golden (a fourth-round rookie who projects as a possession receiver) and Antonio Gibson (intriguing player who can slot at either running back or wide receiver).

Those additions are unlikely to move the needle all that much next season

Is this a narrative that Redskins fans should buy into?

Should we believe that the Redskins young corps of playmakers is destined to be among the worst in the league, if not the very worst?

Is there nothing to be excited about?

Personally, I think the national media is writing off this young, exciting group of offensive weaponry a bit too cavalierly. While I’m not ready to predict that the Redskins will have the top-rated offensive attack in the league, I think this season’s offense will be a far cry from the moribund slug that the Redskins put on the field last year.

Let’s start with the coaching change

I’m not, in general terms, a Jay Gruden basher, but it was obvious at the end of 2018 that the organizational structure from the owner to every level of the coaching staff was broken. Jay was sent into the ‘19 season with the sword of Damocles hanging above him. Coaching for his job, he was loathe to pin his career on the skills of rookie Dwayne Haskins, and Jay’s tight end-centric offense took a lethal hit when Falcons’ safety Keanu Neal delivered a brutal illegal shot on Jordan Reed, ending his season and possibly his career. Subsequent injuries to players like Derrius Guice and Case Keenum sucked whatever dim spark of life remained out of Jay Gruden’s offense.

The season fell into disarray, and the interim coach, Bill Callahan, adopted an old-school, 20th century approach to football, stressing conditioning, basic technique and a sustained running attack. Callahan brought relative stability to the organization for a while, but it was clear that a great deal more was needed.

The new year brought a cleansing fire to the Redskins organization that started close to the top. Bruce Allen and Eric Schaffer were shown the door. The head trainer was unceremoniously dumped. The bulk of the coaching staff was sent packing.

In hiring Ron Rivera, Dan Snyder proclaimed a new “coach-centric” organizational philosophy that would see ‘a real football guy’ in charge of things at Ashburn for the first time since... well, maybe since Bill Callahan’s offensive philosophy was effective. It was, aside from the Personnel part of the organization, largely ‘out with the old, in with the new’, and Rivera was imbued with sweeping authority to make changes.

One of the many changes was made at Offensive Coordinator, when a new face with a familiar name was hired. Scott Turner, son of Norv Turner, is now in charge of the offensive design and playcalling in DC.

In a theme that you will see repeatedly in this article, it is Sott Turner’s youth and relative inexperience that provides the promise for this 2020 season.

Scott Turner is entering his first full year as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, but, as the son of an NFL coach, he grew up in the game and was weaned on offensive philosophy and play-calling. While I’m not ready to say he’s the equal of wunderkind offensive designer Kyle Shanahan, I see a lot of similarities between the two.

In addition to learning at the knee of a creative offensive scheme designer, Scott Turner resembles Kyle Shanahan in his ability to design an integrated running and passing scheme that should create uncertainty and hesitation among defenses — especially those who will be seeing it for the first time.

Mark Bullock, former Hogs Haven commenter and contributor — now a full-time writer for the Athletic — wrote an excellent and detailed article in March that discussed what the Scott Turner offense would look like, based on a film study of Turner’s Carolina Panther offense.

Running the ball

Some coaches prefer to specialize in a handful of running schemes, like the Shanahan and the zone scheme, while others like to overwhelm opponents with various schemes, switching between zone and gap schemes, like the Ravens. From the four games Turner called at the end of the season, he appears to be in the latter camp, running different types of schemes depending on opponents and matchups. The base of his run scheme, however, is the zone run with a jet sweep action attached.

Something Turner does exceptionally well, particularly with the jet sweep action, is sequential play-calling. This is showing the same look multiple times, but making some tweaks to the plays to catch the defense by surprise.

Turner uses a lot of these types of sequential runs, combining zone schemes with jet sweep actions to generate favorable blocking angles. However, he’s not tied to just the zone scheme. He showed a preference for the crack toss scheme to get McCaffrey working on the perimeter.

Crack toss, also known as pin-pull, is a simple scheme and often given away by two receivers stacked close to one side of the formation. Those two receivers will block down, critically pinning the defensive end inside to allow the tackle to pull out to the edge. That tackle will then act as a lead blocker for the running back as he receives the toss.

The Redskins offensive players seem well suited to this scheme, with the deep speed of Scary Terry, the explosion and shiftiness of Steven Sims and Antonio Gordon, and the blocking skills of players like Kelvin Harmon and Thaddeus Moss.

Transitioning from run to pass

What stood out with how Turner designed and called his offense was how he tied together his running and passing game with smooth transitions between the two.

Every offensive coordinator has his sets of play-action passes and Turner is no different, using multiple schemes seen around the league weekly. Turner used bootleg schemes to get his quarterbacks on the move and half the field to simplify the read while also using drop back play-actions to get the linebackers to bite up and open up the middle of the field for the quarterback. He also included various shots and common passing schemes like sail and dagger off of play-action.

But most impressively, Turner also had subtle transitions from run to pass through sequential play-calling, where he got creative with his personnel groups, formations, shifts and motions.

Turner’s use of his flexible personnel like McCaffrey and Samuel, along with smart sequential play-calling, allowed him to show similar looks with slight tweaks and adjust from run to pass while not giving the defense much of an indication what was coming. It was without a doubt the most impressive part of his brief spell calling plays with the Panthers. It wasn’t his only way of transitioning from run to pass, however.

Turner had various creative screen passes in his Panthers playbook

Turner also has a handful of run-pass options (RPOs) plays in his playbook.

RPOs and screen passes are both great ways of transitioning from run to pass without tipping off to the defense that you’re doing so. Turner uses both regularly, but without a doubt, his creative use of personnel, shifts and sequential play-calling were most effective at making opposing defenses have to concern themselves with both runs and pass on any given play.

I’ve gotten increasingly excited about what Scott Turner can do starting with a blank white board in 2020. My excitement went up several notches after the Redskins drafted Antonio Gibson. One of the big differences between what Turner had in Carolina and what he inherited in Washington was that the Panthers had a unique weapon in Christian McCaffrey, who is one of the most uniquely skilled and productive offensive weapons in pro football.

As a rookie in 2017, McCaffrey accumulated over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. By 2019, he represented the bulk of the Panthers offense, putting up nearly 2,400 yards from scrimmage at a rate of 5.9 yards per touch.

In an effort to give Scott Turner an multi-purpose offensive weapon of the same ilk, the Redskins drafted Gibson who is bigger, stronger and faster than McCaffrey, and then doubled down by signing Isaiah Wright, who plays a different position but has many of the same traits as Gibson.

Gibson was a college highlight reel, averaging 11.2 yards per carry and 15.6 yards per reception at Memphis.

This is not to say that Gibson is Christian McCaffrey or that he will approach McCaffrey’s level of production, because Gibson’s production at Memphis was limited to one significant season in two years with the Tigers, and that season is the only one of Gibson’s career which was spent playing running back. Prior to that, he was a wide receiver.

In fact, Gibson’s entire career at Memphis saw him touch the ball only 77 times — an incredibly limited sample size. He is not the polished player that Christian McCaffrey was when he was drafted. Gibson is talented but raw, possessed of great athleticism, but a toolbox of still-developing skills.

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner believes Gibson can operate as a “true running back,” and plans to utilize all of the former Tiger’s abilities.

“That’s what he showed through the draft process,” Turner said. “Then you add the versatility of splitting him out, putting him in the slot, taking advantage of matchups. That’s what we’re going to do with him: recognize the things that he does well, have him do it, and, as he matures as a player, if he can handle it, he’ll get more and more action.”

His very youth and inexperience provide reason to be excited about Antonio Gibson, who is likely to grow and improve from week to week in the Redskins’ new, multi-faceted and potentially dynamic offense.


Recommended: A film breakdown of Redskins draft pick, Antonio Gibson


It’s clear to Redskins fans that the Redskins offense in 2020 will look a little different from the traditional NFL offense, and that makes it hard for national reporters to assess the skill level of the offensive roster.

Scott Turner shares Kyle Shanahan’s skill at designing plays that can be called sequentially, transitioning seamlessly between the running and passing offense. He has Gibson, a wide-receiver-turned-running-back with incredible athleticism, whose skill set is backed up by Isaiah Wright, a wide receiver with skills that allow him to line up in the backfield.


Read this: Isaiah Wright is another versatile offensive weapon in the Redskins’ arsenal


These two players represent the almost “positionless player” — the offensive weapon in the mold of Cordarelle Patterson — in the hands of a play designer and play caller who cut his teeth on an offense built around Christian McCaffrey.

The national media is overlooking the offensive multiplicity and expansion of play design and play calling that is represented by the drafting of Gibson and signing of Wright. It will likely end up being a surprise to the everyone — a pleasant surprise for Redskins fans, and a brutal wake up for the rest of the NFL.

The threat posed by hybrid runner-receivers

Earlier this month, PFF published an article about the emerging threat of hybrid runner-receivers in the NFL.

When we think of hybrid running backs, we tend to think of players whose receiving skills are good enough that they can be motioned out of the backfield and into the slot — or even out wide — and asked to run wide receiver patterns.

Christian McCaffrey, who’s maybe the current prototype of a matchup problem in the passing game, averages...7.4 yards per reception when he lines up as a receiver compared to 9.0 when he’s in the backfield.

Between players like Percy Harvin, Cordarrelle Patterson, Ty Montgomery, Randall Cobb, Hernandez and Tyreek Hill, the league has seen a lot of players in recent years whose teams have occasionally used this tactic as a way of maximizing their impact. At least three of those players had a game or more in which they played more running back than their “designated” position. Do the numbers shift when specific players are the moving pieces?

If we look at the plays where Harvin, Patterson, Hernandez, Montgomery, Cobb and Hill lined up in the backfield (including the playoffs), the average yards per play number jumps a yard to 6.92.

This strategy may not be a full-blown offensive schematic cheat code, but it is something that has been notably successful in small sample sizes and causes a problem for a defense every single snap it happens.

Hybrid receivers who can pose a rushing threat have been successfully trialed — let’s scale up their operation.

These excerpts from the PFF article do a pretty good job of laying out the argument for having a hybrid WR/RB on the field. This is why Antonio Gibson was drafted, and — I believe — why Isaiah Wright was signed to provide depth at the “positionless” position of “offensive weapon”.

Consider what the Ron Rivera said about Gibson after he was drafted a few weeks ago.

He’s an exciting prospect. We’re excited about this kid, man.

He’s a swiss army knife, obviously was playing a little bit of wide receiver and running back at Memphis. He’s a return specialist, he’s got good hands.

He’s 228 pounds, he runs fast, he plays fast, he’s got physicality to him. We really viewed him – where the excitement came – not only from the tape, in the background, in the character, how he’s wired.

Also, speaking with [Offensive Coordinator] Coach [Scott] Turner and how he’s going to utilize him along with the other backs. You know, it’s not just like a normal running back that you’re like, ‘okay, here’s his skillset.’ You can put him on the field with Adrian Peterson, with Derrius Guice, with J.D. McKissic. You can use this guy in a lot of different ways, so it opens up a lot of different options for our offense.

He’s a little bit bigger than Christian, but he’s got a skillset like Christian.

He’s shown some position flexibility playing in the slot, then he shows position flexibility playing in the backfield. Ran some wildcat with him behind the center taking direct snaps.

This is a very versatile, young football player that we really think is going to be a guy that can get on the field for us early and contribute.

I think to be able to contribute, [it may involve] a situational role for us, specific packages. I also do think he can make an impact on our special teams. So, I’m excited about the young man’s ability to come in and help this football team from the beginning.

Nate Kaczor really likes him. He thinks that this is a guy that can come in and contribute from the beginning on special teams. He’s also had some play time as a gunner, as a cover guy, so this guy is going to get on the field for us early. We’re excited for who he can be for us as a football player.

In assessing the Redskins offensive weaponry, I think the national media is making a huge mistake in overlooking Antonio Gibson. His early deployment may be in the form of “packages” so that he can learn to do a limited number of things very well, but we’re likely to see his role in the offense grow week-by-week, with defenses, according to Ron Rivera, forced to defend him from a variety of positions. Asked whether Gibson was a wide receiver, a ball carrier or an H-back, here’s what Ron had to say:

I think that is going to be the key to how Scott Turner and the coaches want to use [his flexibility] in terms of creating games that we can take advantage of. Create situations for the receivers around him, or the tight end, or the ball carrier. This is how we are going to use it.

We understand that he is a very dynamic football player. He had a statistic that one in nine [touches] led to a score in his last year in college.

He’s a guy we have to figure out how to use. Whether we put the ball in his hands or use [him] as a decoy, he’s a young man who can have an impact on our offense.

Since first hearing Coach Rivera talk about using Gibson as a ‘decoy’, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. As defenses see more and more film on Gibson, he will become more and more effective, because the opponents will have to devote more and more time to game-planning against him, and if Turner’s offensive design and play-calling can get the attention of the defense focused on Gibson as he shifts positions or comes in the jet-sweep motion that is so integral to Scott Turner’s offensive design, it will help create opportunities for other players on the field.

Changes from the Jay Gruden Offense

There seem to be at least two position groups that the national media (and even Redskins fans) focus on when assessing this offense and concluding that it lacks weapons — the running backs and the tight ends.

Running backs

At running back, the criticism is that the players on the roster are too old (Peterson) too inexperienced or injured (Guice, Love, Gibson) or just not talented enough (McKissic, Barber). I think that this will be prove to be unfounded concern.

First of all, Peterson’s age is irrelevant. He is a physical specimen who is still capable of being a workhorse back. Guice and Love represent two opportunities at upside, but having Barber and McKissic on the roster represents insurance against possible continued injury woes for the two dynamic young runners.

More importantly, in my mind, is that Turner’s offense is likely to look much different from Jay Gruden’s, even to the casual fan. We saw in Coach Rivera’s comments above a reference to putting Gibson on the field with AD, Guice or McKissic. We never saw Jay Gruden put two running backs on the field together unless one of them was lined up as a blocking fullback.

It seems almost certain that Scott Turner’s offense will feature a number of two-back sets, with Gibson being one of the two — and he won’t be a blocking fullback or running behind one. In the Scott Turner offense, the two-back set won’t signal a heavy package for the run game, but a multiple attack formation, flexible enough to attack the defense anywhere on the field.

If there had been any doubt about this, it should have been eliminated by Adrian Peterson’s media session this week.

[Scott] Turner was in Minnesota, so some of the offensive is kind of familiar, but one thing I’ve taken from his offense thus far is, the running back has a really big role. So, they’re going to ask us to do a lot of things, we’re going to have multiple backs on the field at times as well. Just going over and learning offense right now has been exciting to see, just our role in our offense.

We saw, with Bill Callahan’s offense last year, one way to make the running back important, but I don’t think the Turner offense is going to be predicated on running Peterson repeatedly into a loaded box for 3 yards and a cloud of dust.

I’m expecting a new look with the dynamism described by Mark Bullock in his projection of the Redskins new offensive scheme. With the running backs being another position group that, outside of AD, features a lot youth and tons of upside potential, Redskins fans should be excited about the promise of these runners, who, individually and collectively have very high ceilings.

Tight End

The tight end position will look very different to Redskins fans in 2020.

In Jay Gruden’s offense, a lot of the emphasis was on creating mismatch opportunities for Jordan Reed or Vernon Davis. Reed was an elite pass-catcher with top-notch route running skills, and Davis was on the back end of a career that will likely land him in the Hall of Fame — things that can’t be said of any of the current tight ends on the Redskins roster. Neither one, however, was a skilled blocker.

Scott Turner has said that he will tailor his offense to the skills of his players, and says that he has a long history of doing so. He clearly understands the concerns about the tight end position, as demonstrated by these comments from January:

The tight end is very important to our offense. We’re going to try and get as much talent as we can on offense. You look at that in different ways, obviously what is on the roster currently, but then we will look in free agency and we’ll look in the draft. Those are the different avenues to acquiring talent and we’re open to all of that.

If you look at the offense and the system that we have been a part of, talking about my dad and going back to him – the different places that we’ve been our offense has looked a little different. It is still the same system, but we have versatility within our system where we’re going to really fit and play to our players strengths.

So right now, as a coaching staff we’re really trying to get to know these guys. We have a little experience with some of them as far as like I was saying...but, just really trying to figure out the pieces that we have on offense and then fit our scheme to our personnel and what they do well and not ask them to do stuff they don’t do well.

It seems like Turner understands very well that the tight end group is made up of a number of limited players.

Carrying forward a theme from the top of the article, this limitation is likely to be addressed in part by coaching. The Redskins appear to have upgraded the tight end position coach spot. Consider this from a recent Hogs Haven article.

Tight Ends Coach, Pete Hoener...coached several Pro Bowl tight ends, including Delanie Walker, Vernon Davis, and Greg Olsen. Both Davis and Olsen have been effusive with praise for Hoener in the past:

“He is probably the best coach I’ve ever had, and knowing so much stuff is part of that,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “He knows anything you could want to want to know as a tight end.”

Olsen’s take:

Pete has been my coach every day since I’ve been here. He’s been unbelievable for my development. He believed in me and gave me a chance when I was kind of on the fence about whether I was going to be that next breakout guy or if I was going to be just another first-round bust, so to speak.”

Recall that before being traded to the Panthers for a third round pick in 2011, Olsen was a first round pick for the Bears who had spent 4 years putting up fairly mediocre numbers. Olsen blossomed under Hoener, with three Pro Bowl selections and two second-team All Pro recognitions.

Hoener felt strongly enough about Logan Thomas’ athletic ability that he apparently worked in concert with Rivera to bring the converted QB to Washington to be a key part of the offense.

Based on this excerpt, the Redskins may be more skilled at tight end than most observers give them credit for. But even if they aren’t as talented and face limitations at the position group, there are strategies that can be employed to deal with this.

One strategy is to utilize the skills that specific tight ends possess. We’ve heard, for example, from multiple sources that UDFA Thaddeus Moss is a willing and competent blocker with limited athleticism but reliable hands. A few years ago, that would’ve sounded like the prototypical definition of an NFL tight end.


Related

Thaddeus Moss Could Bring Incredible Versatility to Scott Turner’s Offense

Redskins 2020 UDFA profile and film review: TE Thaddeus Moss


We may, in fact, see the return of the blocking tight end to the Redskins offense — a positional skill that has been MIA for far too long.

Using more single-TE sets would allow the Redskins to use different tight ends — and between Thomas, Rodgers, Hentges and Moss, the Redskins should have plenty of capable options — taking advantages of the best skills of each rather than relying on the wider skill set of a pair of a more well-rounded tight end. This strategy fits with the part of OC Turner’s strategy of asking players to do what they do well, and not asking them to do what they don’t do well. It’s almost Belichickian.

But another opportunity arises when the offense relies fewer two-TE sets — the most popular formation in the NFL by far. If you take a tight end off the field, you have to bring someone else on, and that creates new opportunities for the offense. It’s already been made clear by Coach Rivera and Adrian Peterson that we can expect more 2-back sets, but the other option is to use more 4-wideout sets.

The wide receivers

Do the Redskins have enough depth and skill to run 4-wideout formations?

I think they do, yes.

Let’s start with the obvious — Terry McLaurin is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.

Terry McLaurin

As a rookie, playing in 14 games and catching passes from 3 different quarterbacks, with some of them throwing incredibly erratically at times, Terry McLaurin started out his career setting records, and finished with an incredibly productive year on a team that was incredibly dysfunctional.

What is he likely to do in a season likely to be re-focused and re-energized by an off-season of change and revitalization?


Article and videos: How many times can Terry McLaurin make “the catch of the year”?


Our own Andrew York, in a film review of Terry McLaurin that will be published in the coming week, wrote:

Watching tape of McLaurin’s 2019 season, it became clear that other teams saw him as the number one threat in the Redskins passing game. Opposing defenses either shadowed him with their best CB or shaded coverage in his direction to account for him.

Whenever defenses left him 1-on-1 against non-elite CBs, he was able to get open for a big play, though he was often missed by inaccurate Redskins QBs early in the season.

Indeed, the only games where he had less than a 50% catch rate were against the Patriots and Lions, where he was shadowed by Stephon Gilmore and Darius Slay respectively. However, he fared better against those CBs than Amari Cooper. After watching both WRs in those matchups, I think the difference was McLaurin’s physicality and ability to win contested catches....McLaurin was harder to jam and had stronger hands wrestling away 50/50 balls.

Based on his incredible rookies season, McLaurin isn’t being overlooked by the national sports media, but it’s likely that the rest of the receiver group is.

Steven Sims

The Redskins started the 2019 season with Trey Quinn playing most of the snaps at slot receiver; Sims was relegated to backup and special teams.

When he was called on to play early in the season, one play — an interception thrown by Case Keenum in an attempt to hit Sims in the middle of the field — gave a strong indication that Sims was a backup at least in part due to the fact that he was still learning the playbook and his responsibilities in the offense.

By the end of the season, however, Sims had taken over the starting slot receiver role, and was dynamic. Let’s look at his final quarter of his season:

In these four games, Sims had the following stat line:

  • Rec 20
  • Yards 230
  • Avg 11.5
  • TDs 4

This production has been completely overlooked by national media, who look only at his career production of 310 yards and sniff, but by season’s end last year, Steven Sims was a force to be reckoned with.


The 5 O’Clock Club: Ladies and Gentlemen, Steven Sims!!


Kelvin Harmon

Harmon is less explosive and dynamic than Sims, but he was a very good receiver at NC State, and he is definitely an NFL quality player as well.

As a rookie, Harmon caught only eight passes in his first nine games, but, a bit like Sims, really began to hit his stride in the second half of the season, pulling in 19 passes for 257 yards in the last 7 games.

Harmon adds a dimension that Sims doesn’t however. The 6’2”, 215 pound receiver is a skilled blocker, which always enables offenses to produce more big plays.

Harmon, Sims and McLaurin spent 2019 developing an understanding of how to play in the NFL, and in the latter half of the season they got valuable game time to enhance their chemistry, individually and collectively, with Dwayne Haskins. That should all pay dividends early in 2020.

Antonio Gandy-Golden

Gandy-Golden is almost certain to be one of the top-four receivers on the roster. He is a big receiver at 6’4”, 223 pounds, and he should add new dimensions to the Redskins offense.


Related

Washington Redskins Select WR Antonio Gandy-Golden - Tyler’s Take


Many people see Gandy-Golden as the player that the Redskins tried to draft in Josh Doctson, but AGG is two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier. The trait people have focused on, however, is his ability to win “jump ball situations” against defensive backs, using his innate athleticism (he has been, among other things, a competitive gymnast) to his advantage.

With a long-stride, Gandy-Golden does not have the quick explosion of Sims or even McLaurin; he needs a bit of space to build up speed, but he has the physicality needed to win without separation, and if he can get the ball in space, he can use those long strides to eat up ground after the catch.

He seems to be a good complement for Kelvin Harmon, offering a similar skill set, but a bigger body. Additionally, however, I can envision the team using him as a big slot receiver at times, where he can act almost as a de-facto tight end, creating opportunities in the passing game.

AGG may not be an immediate starter in this young Redskins wide receiver corps, but he adds size, strength and another player with the ability to win on contested balls. With him on the roster, the Redskins again expand their opportunities to attack defenses.

The fifth receiver

It’s May, and because of the global pandemic, NFL teams have not been able to set foot on a blade of grass together. It’s far too early to project the depth of the roster for most teams. I feel quite confident that the four Redskins wide receivers discussed above will be on the roster opening week against the Philadelphia Eagles.

When it comes to figuring out if the team will carry 5 or 6 receivers, or who will fill those positions, I’m much less certain. Candidates include Trey Quinn, Cody Latimer, Cam Sims, Darvin Kidsy, and at least 4 others. Whoever it is, there’s a good chance that the fifth receiver will be active on game days, and will see the field in the Redskins offense.

This will, undoubtedly, be a young receiving group — possibly the youngest in the NFL — but it should be a quality group nonetheless. The top three guys were all rookies last year, and they all started and played significant snaps in the second half of the season, meaning that they are more ‘seasoned’ if you will, than most second-year NFL receivers.

The national media is looking at the Redskins receivers and seeing one good guy — Terry McLaurin — and nobody else. This is because they haven’t looked closely enough. This is a dynamic group that will improve every week as they grow in the Scott Turner designed offense that will create opportunities. This is a group that is defined by skill and potential.

A maturing Dwayne Haskins

I’ve been watching Redskins football for over 50 years, and I can’t remember more than a handful of seasons (if that many) when Redskins fans were satisfied that we had the right guy behind center. Washington has never really been a one-quarterback town, at least not for more than a season or two. It seems appropriate that Joe Gibbs is the only NFL head coach to win three Super Bowls with three different starting quarterbacks; we’ve just never had the John Elway, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers kind of stability that is commonly found in the NFL.

So, it’s no surprise to find that the Redskins fan base is once again embroiled in a discussion of whether the current quarterback is the guy. After cycling through seven starters in the last three seasons, and roughly one per year in the past two decades, it seems only natural for us to argue over the question of whether last year’s 15th overall pick in the draft, Dwayne Haskins, is really our franchise quarterback.

When it comes to understanding whether Haskins has enough weapons, the last and perhaps most critical factor is understanding Haskins himself. Is he a capable NFL quarterback?

In a theme that surely must be growing tiresome by now due to its repetition, the answer to this question probably lies in looking at 2019 in two halves and focusing on the latter.

I addressed briefly, at the top of the article, the horrible situation that Jay Gruden was in at the start of 2019. I doubt whether any Hogs Haven reader needs a refresher course on the impact this had on Dwayne Haskins and his development.

Judging Haskins’ potential on the first half of his rookie season when Gruden got fired, Haskins was thrust into games without any practice reps, and the young man looked totally unprepared for life on an NFL field seems unfair.

I choose to focus instead on his last six quarters of football before being knocked out of the Week 16 game against the Giants with an injury.

Statistically, Dwayne was pretty impressive in those six quarters, going a combined 31-43, 394 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Watching as a fan, I felt like I was watching a capable NFL quarterback at work — a guy who has had only seven starts to his name in his NFL career.

Looking at those two games against the Eagles and Giants, I felt like I was seeing the Dwayne Haskins of the future. The guy who could lead the Redskins back to playoff contention.

Ron Rivera focused on a different game. He said that he became intrigued with Dwayne Haskins by watching the Week 12 game against the Lions, a game where the quarterback went just 13-29 for 156 yards but led Washington on back-to-back fourth quarter scoring drives. Haskins went 7-10 for 79 yards on those two drives, including a 17-yard completion to Terry McLaurin in the final minute that set up Dustin Hopkins’s game-winning 39-yard field goal for the 19-16 victory.

“The two drives when they had to score. He was very calm. He was very calculated. He showed his poise. He showed his leadership and put them in a position to win a football game,” Rivera said on Haskins. “And that’s what you want from your quarterback, a guy that gives you a chance to win, a guy that can help you win because of him and you can win with him. That’s what’s exciting.”

Haskins is no stranger to success. In his final season at Ohio State, he threw for over 4,800 yards, 50 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions.

With his rookie year behind him, there’s every reason to feel confident that Dwayne Haskins is ready to take a huge step up in 2020.

Again, coaching is likely to be a big factor in Haskins’ emergence as a consistently reliable NFL signal caller. In this case, the new guy on the coaching staff is QB coach, Ken Zampese.

Zampese should pair incredibly well with Scott Turner, as both are thoroughly grounded in the fundamentals of the Air Coryell offense, but both are also interested in innovating on its basic tenets in an ever-changing league:

“His expertise, his vision of the offense — any time you get an opportunity to put your hands on something you’ve been a part of, you get a chance to push it in new directions,” said Marv Lewis.

Of course, one of Zampese’s top responsibilities will be helping to groom Dwayne Haskins to lead the Redskins and develop his skills as an NFL starter, a role he served for Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton, and Mayfield, among others.

In a recent interview on the Redskins Talk podcast, Haskins looked noticeably slimmer than the 2019 season, and earlier this week on social media Haskins said he had his weight down to 220 pounds; last year he was listed at 231 pounds.

An ESPN report also showed that Haskins lowered his body fat last season from 17 percent to 13 percent — another reason to believe he should have increased mobility this fall.

Right from the jump, Ron Rivera challenged Dwayne Haskins publicly to dedicate himself to football and do everything necessary to become the best version of himself he can be. It appears as if Haskins has responded. At the very least, Rivera refrained from going out and getting a Haskins replacement. The Redskins did not draft a quarterback with the second-overall pick in the draft, nor did they sign a clear starting quality veteran to challenge him in camp, though plenty were available. Instead, the team signed third-year player Kyle Allen, who has barely more playing experience than Haskins, but has the advantage of having played for Rivera and Turner in Carolina — something that may prove valuable in this COVID-19 affected season.

If Haskins is able to master the Scott Turner offense, then the weapons he has around him probably will be sufficient for him to demonstrate that he is the present and future for the Redskins.