RICHMOND, Va. — As one Washington Redskins quarterback received the playcall from the coach, another — rookie Dwayne Haskins — would inch his way toward the huddle. Then, as the other quarterback — either Colt McCoy or Case Keenum — relayed the play in the huddle, Haskins would lean in to listen. And learn.
It’s just part of Haskins’ continuing education as an NFL quarterback. The Redskins are trying not only to decide on a starter, they’re also trying to speed Haskins’ development. Even if he’s not the starter entering this season, he remains their future. And with only 14 starts in college, the Redskins — and Haskins — know they have work to do.
“It’s just going to happen naturally, organically,” the No. 15 overall pick in in this year’s NFL draft said. “I had to come to terms with that. Now that I’ve been here for a little bit, it’s like, man, it’s a process. … By no means am I settling. I know that I want to be great and I know I will be great. It’s just that I have to be in a place where I know what I’m doing.”
For Haskins, it’s a graduate-level course in quarterback play. As he pointed out, though he started only one season at Ohio State, he was there for three years and in the same system for two. He was able to learn the playbook with one full offseason, something he didn’t have this year. He could play freely.
“He’s not going to come in and have all the answers and know exactly what to do,” Redskins quarterbacks coach Tim Rattay said. “That’s the natural progression. It’s not just throwing the ball, it’s getting us in the right play, getting the right protection, protecting himself, where are his eyes and feet. Those are the things we have to hammer every day.”
Haskins’ traits were on display in the Redskins’ 30-10 loss in the preseason opener at Cleveland last week. He completed 8 of 14 passes for 117 yards — but was intercepted twice. He showed his arm talent and poise; the Redskins like both, and they provide a base for his growth.
“There are a lot of things we have to clean up,” Rattay said.
Such as making sure he gets the right protection calls. Against Cleveland, one failed protection call resulted in a free blitzer who sacked Haskins. On a pick-six interception, he needed to be more patient to let a running back clear the linebacker before throwing. There were times his eyes were late to a target and his feet were off, leading to a high throw. On another interception — this one an overthrow — Haskins said given the down, distance and time (second-and-10, 1 minute, 10 seconds left in the half), he should have thrown a checkdown.
“I’m a learner,” Haskins said. “I learn all type of ways: playing, listening, reading, studying. I want to grasp and be a sponge and learn as much as I can and be ready to play whenever they need me. I know I can do that and get the job done. All the vets are telling me I can and everyone has confidence in me. It’s just being consistent.”
“I know that I want to be great and I know I will be great. It’s just that I have to be in a place where I know what I’m doing.” Dwayne Haskins, Redskins, on learning to play QB in the NFL
That’s why Haskins decided to start listening in on the huddle. It’s something he did at Ohio State, but he didn’t start doing it with the Redskins until Saturday. Haskins wanted to hear how veterans McCoy and Keenum called the play, how they directed the formation call at the receivers, how they directed the protection at the line, etc. There’s a calmness.
“Calling plays is like an art,” Haskins said. “It doesn’t help when you get a new system and then you get a new install every day. I thought I had the plays last week; I got new plays this week and it’s just throwing everything at you. I’m doing all right; I can do better.”
When he’s not in the huddle, at times he’ll call the play for Rattay as if he is.
“He’s got to be telling our quarterbacks coach his footwork, his read, his progression,” offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell said, “where he would’ve thrown the ball, what protection call he would’ve made, and all of a sudden if he’s taking those reps in addition to the third of the reps we’re giving him, he can start to grow at a rapid pace with the work he’s putting in off the field and his physical skill set.”
Every morning before all the quarterbacks meet, Haskins will meet with Rattay for at least 30 minutes to an hour. They’ll meet another time at night. They go over a variety of topics, including proper footwork in the run game — making sure Haskins is turning the right way — or knowing all the formations and the accompanying routes. Sometimes he’ll meet with coach Jay Gruden to go over a handful of plays.
“It’s the huddle, his cadence, making sure guys are in the right spot and then it’s what is the proper drop?” Rattay said. “We’ve got to tie in our drops to the route. He’s been doing better in practice, and in the game he had a couple where he didn’t. He can see if my drop isn’t right, my throw is going to be late. It’s going to be inaccurate. There’s a lot of coachable things. The good thing is all those things are easily fixable.”
The coaches will correct Haskins on the field — just as they do the other players. On one throw last week, Gruden shouted out, “You’re late! You’re late!” They know he could afford to be late at Ohio State and make plays consistently; that won’t be the case in the NFL.
Haskins does more work on his own, too. That’s something else the Redskins like about him: the desire to improve and work hard. He’ll call the plays with roommate and former college teammate Terry McLaurin several nights a week.
Keep in mind that Haskins is going from a no-huddle offense to one that has up to 15 words for one play. Haskins has been using a wristband for some of the wordier plays, but does not need to check it all the time.
He will get the list of plays for the next day’s practice, then give the sheet to McLaurin and have him call a random play. Then he’ll repeat it back to McLaurin. The receiver makes it tough for Haskins, too. If he messes one up — Haskins knows right away when that happens — he’ll repeat it and then go on to a few more plays. Then McLaurin will return to the one he messed up.
“I see it translate to the field the very next day,” McLaurin said. “I can’t remember the last time he’s stumbled over his words.”
Haskins said it’s more about making sure he has it all down. Sometimes, he said, it’s hard to hear with the headset on, so he might hear the formation, but not the protection.
“I have to remember, this play has this protection,” he said. “Sometimes you have to put stuff together. Jay might call [part of] a play wrong, but you have to call it the right way because you’re supposed to study it.”
Against Cleveland, Haskins was better in the second half when it came to breaking the huddle and getting to the line with about 15 seconds left on the play clock. That allowed him to read the defense longer, helping him gain a higher level of comfort. When he stepped into his throws, he delivered strikes. His coaches liked his poise in the pocket.
“I wish we had more practices,” Rattay said. “But the reality is we have to get him caught up. He’ll learn a lot from this game and be cleaner in the next game; that’s what I’m hoping.”