When Redskins people talk about new quarterback Dwayne Haskins, they rave about his strength and his mind and his ability “to make all the throws,” as Coach Jay Gruden said Saturday afternoon. But there is something else that comes up in these conversations, something that excites many around the team as much as anything Haskins does on the field — his leadership.
Some suggest it might be the biggest quality he will bring and was a big reason the Redskins targeted him with the 15th pick of last month’s draft even though Haskins only started one full season at Ohio State. The implication is simple: His ability to naturally make others follow will carry him through even if his other skills aren’t fully developed.
“He has high expectations,” said former NFL quarterback and Elite 11 coach Trent Dilfer, who worked with Haskins when he was coming out of high school at Bullis School in Potomac, Md.
Leadership was a common theme of Washington’s April draft. Several of the players the team chose in a draft that has drawn praise around the league were team captains at their college. Some, such as Haskins’s Ohio State teammate and receiving target Terry McLaurin, were two-year captains.
The Redskins are not saying this was a conscious decision. They went after players they hope will be good. But the selection of captains wasn’t accidental either. “If it’s close between two players and one of them is a two-year captain wide receiver with the skill set Terry has, it’s an easy pick,” Gruden said Saturday after the second session of the team’s three-day rookie minicamp.
Washington had what many would consider a good locker room last year. Players generally got along and respected each other, but the team’s overall lack of leaders was exposed when quarterback Alex Smith’s season ended with a broken leg in November. While a procession of quarterbacks followed Smith, not enough of the veteran players filled the void his departure created.
Expecting rookies to command a locker room is foolish. As McLaurin said Saturday, “The bottom line, you have to be established as a player first.” But in their past three drafts, the Redskins have been adding players who are considered strong leaders with what appears to be a hope that their voices will grow stronger the way defensive lineman Jonathan Allen’s did last year — his second as a starter. Part of the reason Washington threw $84 million at safety Landon Collins on the first day of free agency is because Collins was considered one of the leaders on the New York Giants’ defense during his first four years in the NFL.
“Terry’s always vocal,” Haskins said. “He always knew what to say when it needed to be said, and that’s very important with being a leader. Everybody respects the guy that has to talk all the time. Terry did a great job. He was respected in the locker room there for five years and put all the work in. When Terry spoke, we listened.”
In addition to McLaurin, guard Wes Martin, a fourth-round pick from Indiana, also was a two-year captain. Running back Bryce Love was a captain at Stanford, and fifth-round center Ross Pierschbacher was voted captain by teammates at Alabama. On Saturday, he called this “the biggest highlight” of his college career.
“It allowed me to grow a lot as an individual,” he said. “The level of responsibility just shot through the roof.”
When Martin interviewed with teams in the weeks before the draft, he said several of the coaches and executives he met with told him how much it mattered that he had been a two-year captain. Some even said they try to fill their locker rooms with former college captains to try to generate a culture of accountability and responsibility.
“All teams want those leadership qualities,” McLaurin said. “It really stands out to them if you have them.”
Said Gruden: “You find good people who are also good leaders, [and] it’s a win-win for everybody.”
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